“We are wired to come together across the ages,” says Harvard Medical School’s Professor Vaillant. That rings true in mentoring where a wiser, more experienced person helps another to grow and learn. Often that means someone older mentoring someone younger and less experienced. In reverse mentoring, it means junior staff teaching senior leaders a different way of thinking, communicating and learning. Whatever the relationship – it is across ages.
The research by Professor Vaillant reported in Harvard Business Review’s Ageing Societies Should Make More of Mentorship looks at the growth of the ageing population and the importance of building mutually-beneficial, cross generational relationships.
Mentoring stands out as a wonderful example of the value of multigenerational connections. Professor Vaillant finds “that older people who mentor and support younger people in work and in life are three times as likely to be happy as those who fail to engage in this way.” It states “there is a substantial body of knowledge showing that younger people themselves can reap many benefits for this kind of sponsorship and support. He says the benefit derived these connections isn’t just luck, it’s essential to human nature—stating simply that ‘biology flows downhill’ that we’re wired to come together across the ages.”
Our experience of mentoring supports this. Our mentors often comment that they get as much out of the relationship as the mentee. It is an opportunity for mentors to reflect on their own careers, choices they’ve made and consider new and different ways to approach an issue – personal and professional. In the most successful partnerships, both parties are engaged, stimulated, learning and inspired. Although one person is more experienced, mentoring is a reciprocal relationship that encourages respect and equality regardless of the difference in age.