I see a paradigm shift taking place in the workforce today, and it’s something that needs to be identified, discussed and acted upon, as I see it morphing into a “dynamic” in the years to come.  It is the concept and reality of “reverse mentoring.”

Many years ago, as someone who was deeply involved in Corporate America, with all its highs and lows, I began a process of mentoring subordinates, including my daughter, so they could reach their true capability, and maybe avoid some of the pitfalls that I had experienced.  It just seemed to make so much sense, and enabled me to “give back” to career opportunities that had been given to me.

As the Executive Vice President of a major manufacturing company, and having several truly outstanding subordinates, I set up a process, yes, a genuine mentoring process, which had both the mentor and the mentored committed to tasking, learning and measuring progress against mutually agreed upon performance metrics.  If you are willing and able to fill this type of role, you are very fortunate.

Metrics such as:  productivity, sales goals, revenue generation, team building, etc.  I also had each person set up annual goals, usually in January, and we monitored quarterly, adjusted accordingly, and then used as a valid employee assessment tool at year’s end.  It was a very effective process, and the “buy in” of my “A” players was awesome!  Most importantly, the positive results were well received by upper management and the accomplishments did not go unrewarded.  Win/win all the way around!

So, let’s go back to mentoring, in general.  When you think of mentoring, the focus is on the mentor’s role in shaping and guiding a person’s personal growth and building confidence.  An upward journey, if you will.  (I’ll come back to this analogy later). Hardly a day goes by, when you don’t come across a story of a successful mentoring program in your community, in your state or in our country.  Good stuff, and the kind of uplifting news that we welcome today!

But, you can also look at TONS of fictional stories, often depicted in films, where the very essence of the story/movie was mentoring!   …”Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s Society, Star Wars, Harry Potter Series, Lord of the Rings Series, Coach Carter“, and on and on and on.

Let’s look at a few memorable mentoring quotes from these movies…

Good Will Hunting:  Will Hunting is a genius with anger issues, and his therapist, Sean, helps him see the world in an entirely different perspective.  He says to Will: “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to…”

Dead Poet’s Society:  Professor Keating teaches his students at Welton Academy to pursue their dreams and ambitions.  He says:  “Boys, you must strive to find your own voice.  Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.”

Star Wars: Who could ever forget this quote from Yoda to Luke Skywalker, imploring him to ‘grow up’ and yet giving support and visioning to his mentee to instill confidence and independence:  “Do, or do not.  There is no try!”

Harry Potter: Professor Dumbledore is constantly providing Harry with wisdom and advice, while strongly advocating the importance of relationships and trust.  Closely watching over Harry, at one point he says: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Lord of the Rings: Gandalf is the mentor to several members of the Fellowship of the Ring, and provides guidance and support throughout their journey, yet strives to develop courage in them to face significant challenges.  At one point he says: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Coach Carter: Coach Ken Carter takes a coaching job at his former high school in a very poor area of town. His goal is to teach his players discipline and to change their negative attitudes and focus on the positives, because he has faith in them. He tells his team: “I came to coach basketball players, and you became students. I came to teach boys, and you became men.”  This is one of my favorites.

If you think I’m “off topic,” you are right!  But, as I tell my mentees, “trust the process.”  LOL!

If this short dissertation on mentoring makes sense, let me now build a “bridge” from here to my original topic, Reverse Mentoring

A movie came out last year, called The Intern.  It starred Robert De Niro as Ben Whittaker, a 70 year old, recently retired, “senior intern” and Anne Hathaway as Jules Ostin, CEO and founder of a highly successful internet startup.  Ben became a participant in a pilot senior intern program, seemingly a sound idea brought up by one of Jules’ executives.  The idea was to have seasoned executives working with and “advising” a 20’s to 30’s aged workforce.

Without giving away too much of this extremely entertaining movie, Ben was there to learn and to help the young employees, but it soon became obvious that Ben’s skill set was truly exceptional, but in need of a “contemporary re-boot.”  Although he was assigned to Jules as her intern, she was thriving without Ben, or as she thought, and didn’t need him.  In a classic text that she sent to her HR department mid-movie, she complained that Ben was “too observant” and she didn’t want him on her team.  That changed, big time, during Ben’s stay.

Long story short, Ben was traveling on a “two way” street.  He was providing knowledge and experience to the young workers, but he was learning about them, their business, their roles and their issues.  As they “taught” Ben, he became much more productive and a very happy “new hire.”  Was it difficult for Ben to “put himself out there?”  Yes, of course it was, but it was also highly rewarding.

So, where does all this involve me and impact you, the reader?  I look at myself as Ben, the business coach/advisor with many years of experience, knowledge and problem solving and decision making expertise.  Being “out of the game” for a few years, however, I don’t feel any level of true comfort in working in today’s business climate that predominates with a “30 something” workforce.  Oh well, I guess I can read, play golf, travel, watch sports and talk a lot to my wife now.  That should be okay, eh?

Well, maybe not.  So, let me refer back to my daughter, who I mentored many years ago and who became a wonderful “intern” of mine!  Now, fully back “on topic.”  LOL #2.

She has been working in Northern California, in Silicon Valley, for about four years now.  She has climbed the corporate ladder in a Fortune 100 company, and now has a fairly senior position.  I am very proud of her.  But, here is where the Student from earlier becomes the Teacher of today…  This is the downward journey!

Being very transparent with my intentions, I am now “looped into” her and her team’s working world, and it’s hard to recognize the business climate today from mine, “back in the day.”  But, it is what it is, and for me, I must adapt if I am to survive, thrive and contribute.

The bottom line for me, feeling like Ben in The Intern, is that I truly believe that in order to perform in today’s business climate, I need to learn new and different skills, or at the very least, understand the business environment today, if I am going to get “back in the game.”

I am constantly talking or Skyping with my daughter, asking questions, bouncing ideas, or just getting advice.  I am truly blessed to have someone that can help me without me feeling vulnerable, unprepared, overwhelmed or just plain stupid!  Examples:

–   What does this word, synonym, antonym, phrase, role, metric, brand mean?

–   Why do companies, departments, management teams, individuals do this or that?

–   Where does social/digital media become a driver for strategic planning, ops, etc.?

–   When did these particular measurements become outdated…or newly important…?

–   How can I bundle my “old” skills into an offering that would appeal to a small business?

–   Who can help me, both now and on my journey?


  1. If you are a 50 something, a 60 something or even a 70 something, get out there and talk to people, re-visit your old network, meet people, do lunches with enablers and influencers…
  2. Nurture relationships with the people who have the most power to get you back in the game and up to speed. Create a familiar presence with them.
  3. Educate yourself as much as possible regarding this new business paradigm, and where you might see a possible fit. Read, read and read.  Ask questions!
  4. “It is better to give than receive” is now your mantra. Give your time and knowledge to seed an opportunity before thinking about what you will receive in return.
  5. Find one or two willing young people that could become your vehicle to move along the highway to contributing in this new world…It doesn’t hurt to ask! Quid pro quo!
  6. Set realistic expectations for yourself in terms of your needs, wants and desires, and don’t necessarily put a “timetable” on your ultimate goal.
  7. Try to build this venture from a position of “passion,” or what you likely could do, or would love to do, that gets the juices flowing every day.

In the closing scene of The Intern, Jules says to Ben, “Its moments like these when you need someone.”  Let that someone be YOU!


Garry Peterson, Peterson Advisors Group


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