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Why all organisations should try reverse mentoring

09 June 2023

Richard Burleigh, Fellow and past ICE Council member, discusses the powerful opportunities of employing this mentoring method.

Why all organisations should try reverse mentoring
It’s important for senior leaders to build mentoring into their person development. Image credit: Shutterstock

During a recent mentoring session with a group of noisy and self-confident managers, I asked one simple question which brought the room to silence.

The context leading to my question was a lively discussion about the shortcomings in leadership that the participants were currently experiencing in their own places of work.

Each person was sharing examples of some of the behaviours they were encountering from their bosses and as the discussions continued, emotions were growing, and the room became more animated.

The particular theme of frustration being expressed by the participants was that their bosses were not consulting with or listening enough to them or their peers.

Each member of the group was certain that they, in their boss’s shoes, would act differently.

So I steered the conversation to focus on what were such leadership behaviours the participants would expect from their boss.

What would you do in their place?

What followed was a highly productive and inspiring discussion as the group was generating numerous great ideas of exemplary leadership behaviours: humility, listening, respect, transparency, inclusiveness, etc.

And then my question: OK, so from the vantage point of your position today, you can see clearly what your boss should be doing differently.

When you’re in your boss’s shoes, what will you do to make sure you don’t lose this perspective you’re seeing today?


With a few prompts and probing questions, the conversation took off again.

It soon evolved into a rich discussion about the significant role that reverse mentoring plays in the continuous development of any leader.

So, just what is reverse mentoring?

In its purest definition, we can say that reverse mentoring is the practice where younger (or less experienced) employees mentor older (or more experienced) ones to foster mutual learning, cross-generational collaboration, and diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

This is precisely the outcome of the group discussion I talk about at the beginning of this blog.

4 keys to successful group mentoring

Earlier this year I wrote a blog on how to mentor a group successfully.

In it I spoke of four things that are absolutely essential:

  1. Trust
  2. Mentees owning the agenda
  3. Listening and asking
  4. Summarising

To learn more, read the blog.

I believe that it’s crucially important for any senior leader to build such practices into their person development habits. The benefits are enormous, for all parties.

The ‘younger’ mentor will:

  • Develop leadership, communication and coaching skills.
  • Gain insights into the perspectives and challenges of different roles within the organisation.
  • Grow their self-confidence, visibility, and network.
  • Showcase their talents and competences to senior leaders.

The ‘older’ mentee will:

  • Preserve health, personal humility and keep the ego in check.
  • Learn new skills, technologies, and trends that are relevant to their roles and goals.
  • Gain insights into the expectations, preferences, and values of different organizational generations.
  • Foster a culture of openness, curiosity, and feedback.
  • Embrace change, innovation, and diversity.

The organisation will:

  • Enhance employee engagement, retention, and satisfaction.
  • Improve collaboration, communication, and trust across teams and levels.
  • Boost creativity, productivity, and performance.
  • Strengthen the organisational culture and brand.

A way to foster inclusivity, innovation and agility

With the successful implementation of reverse mentoring programmes, organisations can leverage its diverse talents, experiences, and perspectives of all employees.

And by creating a space for mutual learning and exchange, it can foster a more inclusive, innovative, and agile organisation.

I would endorse the benefits of reverse mentoring and I challenge senior leaders in any organisations to take a step in this direction.

Who knows, it could’ve been you that one of the mentees in my group was talking about...

Reverse mentoring in practice

Network Rail ran a successful reverse mentoring programme wherein Andrew Haines, chief executive was mentored by project engineer Inge-Sarah Andersen.

To learn more about how this programme led to personal and organisational development, read the case study in the ICE’s Anti-Racism Toolkit.

Access the toolkit
  • Richard Burleigh, coach and President's Future Leaders group mentor