Mentorship for the Ages and Sages

Years ago I was introduced to Sadhguru and the Isha Foundation through a lunch and learn at work. I began watching some of his talks and one of his interviews stands out in my memory as an analogy of how today’s hiring and thought process should be viewed. He discusses the role of the guru in relation to new technologies in his characteristically humorous way.

Traditionally a mentor has been defined as “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person” (Merriam Webster Dictionary online). This definition implies a sense of significance in the transfer of knowledge for the greater good.

Paradoxically, in the world of hiring today ageism is a reality and the value of experience is being overlooked or underestimated by labeling “older” workers of 40+ as outdated on technology, too expensive, or stagnant in their thinking. How did we get here?

My conversations with these “older” workers have revealed two common themes. First, many are devoting more time to learning than ever before to stay current and boost their competitive position. With the advent of multiple online learning options, they are no longer bound by the politics and bureaucracy in their organizations for developmental programs. Online mentoring groups are flourishing and are specialized by industry in many cases.

Employees are no longer waiting to be engaged or tapped by upper management in an invitation only style to receive an organizational mentor.

I have spoken to several people who found an external mentor online through groups or networking apps with the intent of transitioning out of their rigid organizations. Some found mentors with their competitors and moved on. Others landed in a more open-minded work culture that is a better fit for them and supportive of their contributions and continued potential.

A second theme has highlighted the creativity that is inspired from reverse mentoring pairs. This refers to a process of reciprocal learning between generations of workers and its applications are endless.

During the course of my involvement with coaching international students, I have learned just as much from them as they have from me. I attended a networking event with an international graduate student and he asked me to observe his behavior and interaction with stakeholders present in his target industry and offer feedback. He later introduced me to a research project he is planning and highlighted our respective strengths for collaboration. These relationships offer a mutual benefit and smart organizations capitalize on the results.

In another example, a newly hired engineer offers recent technical knowledge in her field and she is paired with a mentor who is a highly experienced engineer who coaches her in communication and negotiation skills with contractors who provide design work. The mentoring role transfers back and forth as the new hire adds relevant technical application.

To Sadhguru’s point, we can all find ourselves in unfamiliar terrain. There is room and a viable need in organization for both the guru and GPS. Native knowledge retention in organizations is a vital commodity for competitive advantage. Experience is the greatest teacher, and a diverse workforce in terms of age is a strategic imperative that should be a tour de force, not overlooked or demeaned. After all, no one is retreating on the age spectrum. Diversity and inclusion should apply to all candidates.