A short history lesson: Mentorship began centuries ago, starting with the concept known as Apprenticeship. In Medieval England as well as in Ancient Rome there was a persistence and commitment to ensure that a skilled craft is honed and perpetuated over time. The Industrial Revolution morphed this idea of on the job apprenticeships as companies spent long periods of time teaching new employees before they saw profit from work. Once business boomed there was a demand for these skills that those who were in the right place could afford to jump ship for a better paying positions even before the training period ended.
You see what’s happening here: As people became more skilled, it was cheaper and more effective to poach than to train them.
Then companies started recruiting the best from colleges and universities and developed training programs to move them up the company ladder. These days, that rarely exists. Once again we’re seeing industries change at lightning speed and we’re struggling to keep up. How can you be expected to know where to go in a career that didn’t even exist twenty years ago?
Everyone knows the very definition of work is changing. The freelance economy is here, as is the remote workforce and a much different expectation of work and work life balance.
GenX has lived through these changes. They understand the traditional definition of mentorship. They are also at a stage in life where they, themselves understand what it takes for the new generation to succeed in this world of uncertainty.
Our panellists this week include
- Ryan Pannell, a middle GenXer and Hedge Fund Manager
- Douglas Knight, a middle GenXer, Founder of Connect the Dots Movement
- Benson Hendrix a middle GenXer, University Instructor and Social Media Manager
Here are the insights from our discussion:
What circumstances dictated the need for mentorship in your life?
- In all cases mentorship was not formalized. Mentors were introduced or they were sought out but not necessarily with the intention for formal mentorship.
- In some enterprise industries, there was an informal “mentor” or buddy who would show the new employee (at some senior levels) how to navigate the organization: point out key relationships that were critical, expectations of the job unit– all in an effort to enable employee success during the first 6 months.
- Technology and the state of change within industry dictated the need to collaborate with peers who were also figuring it out. Benson noted those who had tenure in industry had perceived outdated views regarding where business was going.
- For Doug, his earliest mentor was a music instructor. From this perspective, this relationship was fundamental in translating this life skill and his love for music into how it weaves into his life over time. In essence, it can create an early spark of motivation and help shape the attitudes that give someone focus and something to strive for.
- For Ryan, his mentor provided him with essential things that nobody teaches: how to shake a hand properly, how to write correspondence, how to address someone, how to prepare for a meeting.
In business school, you learn about deprioritized work forces and ROI. No one actually tells you how to be in business with the people with whom you are interacting.
In your lifetime have you seen the decline of mentorship?
- If companies functioned the same way today as they have over the past 40 years, the custodian mentality ensured one’s life work was properly passed on to the right person who will replace you and maintain that legacy. People cared about where the company was going because they were in it for the long haul.
- Today, no one has any vested interest in the company. What compounds this are the disparate personal goals that don’t align with staying at a company long term.
- Mentoring takes time and commitment. No one is paid to mentor so there is disincentive to do this if there is less commitment for the mentee to stay with the company.
- When there are are fewer job opportunities, training a junior employee these days equates to training the individual who will eventually replace you for less the pay. It becomes less about succession and more about helping a company maintain efficiency. In this “dog eat dog” world, there is a higher need for individual survival.
- Technology has changed the mentorship’s role. It automatically brings us all into a network setting.
Before networking meant grip and grin. We had to get to know people, look them in the eye and establish relationships in real life. Technology has accelerated seniority because we can build friendships quicker and more often.
What are your views on mentoring the next generation?
- GenXers agree that there is a lack of acknowledgement that true mentorship is valuable. Millennials, in their experience, entering the workforce are not getting it right but neither were GenXers at their age.
On casual Friday, I wore a Bruce Lee T-shirt and cargo pants. When a senior executive saw me, he [shook his head]. What i didn’t grasp is that despite my age, I had a high ranking position and at that moment, I shot up my own credibility.
- GenXers admit that they had the benefit of true mentorship growing up but when it came time to mentor Millennials, GenXers relinquished their duty. Their angst rose out of the “crappy” cards with which they were dealt and they were driven to follow their own path.
- There is this perception that technology has made Millennials over-confident, sometimes cocky, and less patient with their wiser predecessors. GenX needs more patience in dealing with these types of attitudes.
- These days, mentoring doesn’t have be relegated to just one person. As Doug pointed out, the idea of niche mentoring allows younger people to learn valuable skills and get wise advice over a coffee or a phone call, when a situation calls for it.
- Everyone agreed GenXers have an obligation to help the next generation navigate through this uncertain time.
What are the traits and qualities that make someone worth mentoring?
- Curiosity. There needs to be an interesting in learning and growing.
- Passion. Passion drives true motivation, not money. What footprint or legacy do they want to leave?
- Purpose. What are they looking for in the next 3-5 years? As Doug noted, “Hire for attitude and train for skill”.
- Commitment. Are they all “in”? Mentors want to know they are not wasting their time. They will engage those who show genuine interest. Those who want instant gratification will fail to commit and be disappointed.
- Humility. There needs to be a willingness to listen and ask questions. Appreciate the privilege of the relationship.
On the other side of the coin, Millennials need to be cautious when choosing mentors. Online can hide a person’s true experiences as well their true intentions. “False branding” can make people look much better than they really are. The integrity of the web these days leave a lot to be desired.
GenXers see their role as fundamental in helping the next generation. There is a certain altruism in mentorship but also a motivation in not having that knowledge die with you. There is a desire to pay it forward especially for those who will appreciate it. For Benson, whose industry experienced its own fits and starts, he accumulated a career of continuous education:
I want to see the younger professionals succeed and have a brighter career. We are out of the Mad Men era… Things are changing so fast… I think it’s my responsibility to help propel people in my industry.
You can listen or watch the full episode below: