Reverse Mentoring

I am pleased to be writing this week's column from the campus of Villanova University in Philadelphia. I am here with our Living Compass Faith & Wellness ministry at "EYE 2014," otherwise known as the Episcopal Youth Event. This event, held every three years, attracts over 1,200 high school youth, youth leaders, and clergy from every state in the country. The energy and enthusiasm of this number of young people all in one place is highly contagious. At our opening worship this morning, the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, canon for vitality in the Diocese of Long Island, delivered a Spirit-filed message that has set the tone for our entire four days together. My favorite quote from her message to the teens, which was greeted with loud cheers, was, "We've got some great youth programs in the Episcopal Church, where adults teach and form young people, but I think it's time for some reverse mentoring. We elders can nurture and teach, but frankly we could use your wisdom and experience on the mission frontier."

While I have always enjoyed learning from those who are younger, this concept of reverse mentoring was a new one for me. I did a little online research and found that thebusiness community has embraced this concept for some time. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, was a strong proponent of reverse mentoring. Alan Weber, co-founder of FastCompany, describes both the need and the benefit of reverse mentoring in this way: "It's a situation where the old fogies in an organization realize that by the time you're in your forties and fifties, you're not in touch with the future the same way the young twenty-something's. They come with fresh eyes, open minds, and instant links to the technology of our future."

While here at EYE14 I am surrounded by hundreds of adult volunteers who have traveled here from all around the country to serve as mentors to the youth, many of them taking a week's vacation to do so. When thanking these adults for giving of themselves to be here for the youth, many say back to me, "No need to thank me. I get more back from this than I give and I learn so much from them." They are participating in reverse mentoring with out even knowing it!

So what youth, or what person a generation or two younger than you, might you let serve as a reverse mentor to you right now? Is there a child, a niece or nephew, a grandchild, or a younger colleague at work from whom you could learn something new? At a minimum they might teach or explain to you something from their world, something they are very comfortable with, but with which you are unfamiliar. More importantly, though, young people can help you look at something in your life with fresh energy and a fresh perspective. If we open ourselves to reverse mentoring, one benefit that is sure to give us a boost is their unbridled enthusiasm and hopefulness, which is so highly contagious. I know, because I am catching it from the over 1,000 youth that I am honored to be with this week. I encourage you to connect with a youth in your life soon and catch some of their enthusiasm and hopefulness, too.