Mentorship Throughout the Ages: Breaking Down the Generational Differences in Mentorship

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High-performing teams often strike that special balance between veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm. There are countless examples in almost any walk of life.

Many believe that bringing a puppy into a house with an older dog produces positive benefits for both pups; the young dog learns the ropes while the elder exhibits increased energy.

Great sports teams are often formed of a mix between wily veterans with seasons of experience and young stars brimming with potential.

In the corporate world, there are countless examples of mutually-beneficial relationships between employees in different generations. The modern concept of mentorship embraces this idea of shared experience and value. As each generation gains prominence in the workforce, the definition of mentorship continues to shift. Incredibly, there are now five generations co-existing in the modern workforce. How these generations interact — and each generation’s unique view of mentorship — will help inform what the future of mentoring really looks like.

Things move so fast in the current business landscape – with regards to technology, workplace standards, and best practices. The need for cross-generational mentoring has never been higher than it is now; tapping into the perspectives and expertise of another generation is a necessity for staying relevant in a rapidly changing environment. As each generation contributes their experience, the fabric of the mentorship community grows stronger.

It’s important to note that not everyone within each generation thinks of mentorship in the same way. Of course, an individual’s personality, background, and experience can determine their approach to mentorship. It’s a useful exercise to examine how the pervading definition of mentorship has changed over the years to understand how different age groups can benefit from each other’s experience.

Let’s explore a bit more about mentorship through the generations. 

How Different Generations View Mentorship

Modern mentorship is best viewed as a function of experience. In the same way, each generation’s view of mentorship likely stems from how that generation first experienced mentorship as a widely-practiced concept.

Mentorship in the corporate world is relatively new — gaining prominence only in the last 50 years or so. Traditionalists (born 1922-1945)  make up the generation that was fully established in their careers when mentorship became a regular practice. This means many older folks view mentoring only as a way to empower younger workers. Baby Boomers (1946-1964) were the ones seeking out Traditionalists, so that generation often values mentorship as a positive tool to help career advancement. 

Take Anita, for example. Anita has been a working professional for more than 35 years, and has ample experiences to share. However, Anita hasn’t always considered herself a mentor, as she hasn’t had the time to teach younger employees. What Anita hasn’t realized is that mentorship is more than just training younger employees in her company and showing them the ropes to help move up the proverbial totem pole.  

Many employees from Generation X (1965-1980) learned the ropes as technological advancements rapidly changed the business world. These changes began to flatten the process of mentoring; younger employees started helping older ones with technology, creating mutual mentor partnerships. 

Now, Frederick knows he can make an impact with both senior executives and junior employees, as he has lived experiences to share with others. As Frederick embraces the practice of mentorship, he has more easily embodied leadership characteristics in his organization and is the first others turn to when in need of professional advice. 

As Millenials (1980-2000) rule the workforce, mentorship is considered a function of experience. The ever-changing nature of the current business world has led to more specialization, and thus more opportunities for people from different generations to provide mentorship. Sharing those formative experiences is what builds a mentorship community across generations.

Carolyn, as a millennial, has been a mentor to others since she entered the workforce. She has both given and received mentorship as she knows it’s a key skill set to have. While she may not be in a place of leadership at her organization yet, she is building the skills and qualities to increase her confidence and grow as a professional. 

Mentorship Today: Inclusion and Experience

Modern mentorship is meant to be collaborative and fluid. It’s a holistic, innate, and natural process where people in the workforce can share knowledge and understanding that only comes through experience. We’re no longer talking about a directive, rigid structure where one older mentor provides one younger mentee with lessons that they feel obligated to follow.

Mentorship is best leveraged in a community setting, where multiple people can share experiences in a group. Modern mentors don’t need to limit themselves to formal, in-person meetings. There are plenty of ways to share experiences, whether through asynchronous means (online forums that allow for ongoing discussions) or synchronous methods (real-time, webinar-style sessions).

Experience is the operative word. Every person, young or old, a Carolyn or an Anita, can share valuable stories and lessons from their past life experiences. The whole community is better off when everyone feels empowered to share these insights

“Weaving the Fabric”

As we consider mentorship as a collaborative, communal process, it might be helpful to envision the weaving of a giant quilt or tapestry.

Each experience or perspective we add is a new strand of fabric. The more strands added, the stronger the fabric becomes. Once we tap into a variety of shared experiences and perspectives, we’re left with a beautiful mosaic weave. Every strand has its own value and power; each generation can contribute in its own way. When joined together, the final product is an environment in which mentorship goes all directions, and everyone involved can benefit. 

Mentor Spaces is the embodiment of this mosaic weave. We’re creating mentorship communities that help professionals — especially underrepresented professionals — connect with people in the know to make decisions with confidence. Our app will match individuals with mentors, or can be a major tool for companies looking to augment their existing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. 

We embrace the Anitas, the Fredericks, and the Carolyns of each generation. Each of these voices, experiences, and perspectives make up the Mentor Spaces community.
If you’ve got experience worth sharing, consider becoming a mentor today.