Mentoring the younger ones
WHAT do you do with the information and knowledge you spent more than half your life amassing? Should you share it with others and how do you go about doing it?
For those who find themselves in this situation, there is always the option of mentoring younger workers or even family members and friends.
It is a great way to coach the younger ones and help them in their own lives.
Joseph Tan, chief executive officer of Leaderonomics Good Monday, says that mentoring is sometimes called coaching, bridging the generation divide, or even talent management.
“It’s called different names in different companies, but the essence is the same – how to ensure the passing on of the baton from the older to the younger, how to make sure that the ideals or the aspirations of the company or family don’t just fade away with the passing generation,” he says.
Tan, who works with senior managers, explains that it need not be in a formal setting.
“At the end of the day it’s about appreciating each other’s perspectives. Of course I think the attitude of the young towards the older should be one of respect, and the older towards the young should be understanding. For me, it’s like a dance. That’s what accounts for a healthy mentoring relationship.”
Importantly, when the senior citizen wants to mentor a younger person there should be motivation and competency.
He explains that almost everyone would have the motivation to mentor, regardless of what they want to mentor. He believes that the older we get, the more we want to talk and share with others.
He explains that in the old days it would be moments spent together when family traditions would be passed down from father to son, or grandfather to grandchild.
These days it is easier said that done because families are more fragmented. They don’t even sit down together for dinner on a daily basis anymore.
Because of that, Tan says that mentoring needs to be more intentional. That means to consciously meet up for meals or walks or just to spend time together on a regular basis. That’s when you can mentor the younger friend or family member.
He says mentoring needn’t be difficult or formal. Even a movie outing or a meal together can present an opportunity to mentor.
“In certain situations it is not really mentoring with any specific purpose in mind. I would call it conditioning mentoring. This is like sending your car regularly for service so that when the situation demands it, your car is able to perform,” says Tan.
Sometimes it could start from just asking them how they are doing.
By spending more time with the younger members of the family, you condition them so that the next time they have a problem, they will come to you for advice because they are comfortable with you.
“Initially our goal in mentoring is to give them roots so that they are rooted in how they view the world, in the sense of right and wrong, and in terms of their morality and values. Then the next phase is to give them wings to let them be independent if they are youngsters.
“We should work on getting them rooted in the basics. Then when they fly they will be very responsible,” says Tan.
What to do
One of the first steps of mentoring is to make yourself relevant. Tan explains that one of the dangers of those who aspire to mentor but don’t have the skill is that they tend to think of themselves as an old sage on the mountain top, waiting for the younger ones to climb to the top of the mountain to seek advice.
According to Tan, that scenario largely does not happen today.
“Learning to be relevant doesn’t mean you walk and talk like them and dress like them. You should at least know what they are talking about. You should know what are the top 10 issues they face,” he adds.
Secondly, you should learn to ask good questions. That means, ask questions that are aspirational in nature rather than problem-solving. Sometimes, older folk tend to be quite set in their ways and think that what didn’t work for them in their time, will not work for the younger ones either. They need to be less judgmental and interrogative in their questioning and ask more open-ended questions.
Sometimes the younger ones will give you sarcastic responses or comments that are way out there, just to test the waters.
For example, if your grandchild says he wants to play videogames all day and get paid for it, avoid telling him he’s lazy. Instead, try asking why and perhaps get him to start thinking about other possible job opportunities using the skills he has or what he loves doing. He may not have explored all the options.
“You capture the heart of what they are saying and graciously lead them along another path, because if they have an ability to draw, that doesn’t mean they can only go into the videogame industry.
“I think senior citizens should listen with their eyes and their heart. People long for your acceptance and understanding before they can accept your correction.
“In the Asian context, when we talk about mentoring, we tend to think of the shaolin temple type of mentoring where you have the sifu and whatever the sifu tells you to do, you do. The more painful it is, the better it is for you.
“That only works if you have a motivated student who doesn’t mind going through pain to achieve a higher performance level, but I don’t think that should be the default mode,” says Tan.
Thirdly, you need to focus on the relationship. Focus on what you are really trying to achieve which at the end of the day is for the other person’s benefit.
This means understanding the situation and the younger person and what is helpful to them rather than giving unsolicited advice or insisting your way is the best.
What not to do
One of the things not to do is to belittle the younger person you are mentoring.
“We live in a generation, for better or for worse, that is very hung up on affirmations. People tend to judge their work by the number of likes they have on Facebook. They look out for how many likes or if there are any negative comments. In a way I would say that people today are a bit more fragile in that sense. So, I think as a mentor we need to go in with our eyes open, knowing that their sense of self-esteem would need to be taken into consideration. It’s important not to belittle them.
“The other thing is don’t be too anxious to dispense your advice. Those who are mentoring have a lot of good seeds to sow. But the seed would only grow if it falls on the right soil. Sometimes as mentors we focus too much on the seed. We want to just keep planting the seeds but the thing is the soil is not ready.
“I guess in the first few conversations we need to test the ‘soil’. Is this person ready? Sometimes the heart is a bit hard so you need to do a bit of ice-breaking, till the soil a bit, do some activities together,” says Tan, explaining that this could be something simple like going for a walk together or just having a meal together.
If the younger person is ready, then only should you dispense the advice that he is ready to hear. Don’t be too quick to share your philosophy of life in the first conversation. While you may think you are running out of time to share your wealth of knowledge, the younger person is in no hurry as they have a lot of time. If you share too soon, the advice will only fall on deaf ears.
Additionally, Tan believes senior citizens who are mentoring should not feel obliged to have all the answers. Sometimes there’s a tendency for mentors to feel inadequate if they can’t provide all the answers. It is okay to admit you do not have the answers and that perhaps someone else would be in a better position to assist.
“Somehow we are wired in such a way that we want to pass on traditions or life lessons, because we want to leave a little bit of ourselves behind. As a mentor, you would feel fulfilled and satisfied that you have left a legacy and that you have deposited something into the lives of others that will potentially grow and multiply. There would be the satisfaction of having made a difference.
“It’s about getting involved in someone else’s world that will really make those rich deposits. I think it keeps you vibrant and healthy and gives you a reason to wake up each morning,” says Tan.
He believes that while mentoring juniors within the company is good, our family members should not be neglected.
“As in most things, it is the people closest to us that we take for granted because we assume that they will always be there. When it comes to mentoring, it is easier to get ourselves involved in work-related or performance-related mentoring because many times that puts us in the limelight, but those closest to us need our mentoring, too.
“In mentoring, let’s remember those closest to us,” says Tan.