Mentorship: A two-way street

The concept of apprenticeship goes back to the early trades and guilds of the Egyptian, Babylonian, and later Roman empires. Oftentimes, the only way to enter into a trade or line of work was to exchange free labor for legitimacy. Although there are still formal apprenticeships today, many in the workforce use mentorships to refine skills and build a network that increases their legitimacy in the workplace.

As a professor, I regularly see transformation occur in the classroom through the exchange of ideas. This transfer of knowledge is the foundation we use to build our understanding of the world around us. Mentorships increase the speed to wisdom by allowing individuals to share in the application of life experiences with another person. As I have watched these connections form over the years, I have noticed one key deficiency in the role of mentor and mentee – the assumption that all the wisdom and benefit comes from the mentor.

For the first time in human history, we have five generations in the workplace providing an unparalleled opportunity to capitalize on the strengths and experience of each subsequent generation. However, the financial services industry has historically placed exclusive value on the voice of seniority. The problem with this mindset is that it seems to favor past experience. Although previous work experience is a pretty good predictor of future performance, it doesn’t correspond to exclusive knowledge of the acceleration of economic, social, and technological trends.

How do we expand our business paradigm to embrace change and position our value proposition for sustainability? We diversify our knowledge through reverse mentorship.

You might ask yourself, shouldn’t mentorship in and of itself include reverse mentorship? Yes, when done well, mentorship should be a Socratic dialogue instead of a monologue. However, too many treat mentorships as an apprenticeship of yesteryear rather than a two-way opportunity. Setting the tone for a mutually beneficial relationship and giving a voice to the next generation not only makes business sense, it also empowers the culture of a true team.

Reverse mentorship can take the form of a lunch with a younger colleague, asking a new planner for his or her thoughts after a client meeting, or having the next generation as a part of strategic planning meetings. I suspect those interactions will propel you into deeper, formal engagement and an appreciation of the voices of multiple generations. Research shows that financial advisors don’t regularly interact across multiple generations. A recent study by the Center for Generational Kinetics found that only 20% of millennials report they have ever met their parents’ financial advisors1. A reverse mentorship could be the beginning of developing the glue of continuity or ultimately a plan for succession within your team.

Engaging in reverse mentorship, like a client advisory board, can bring a multitude of benefits to your firm:

Connecting to the next generation

No matter your size – team, practice, or firm – multigenerational efforts create opportunity. Use a reverse mentorship to see with new eyes the preferences of your clients’ children, the design of the client experience, and the internal perception of team culture.

Test new ideas and new technologies

The financial planning landscape is rapidly changing with the advent of new technologies and forms of communication. A reverse mentor can be a powerful sounding board for new products and technologies within your team. Maybe you are considering new financial planning software or a monthly newsletter. The next generation has grown up in a world of technological-based interaction.

Defining a clear value proposition and delivering a consistent client experience

Strong client circles of influence center around a relatable message that can be easily retold. Is your messaging relatable to multiple generations? A reverse mentor can help you think through your value proposition. An interesting side effect of this interaction is that it helps the next generation understand the team’s vision and purpose so they can see their current and long-term fit.

I encourage you to explore mentorship as a true two-way street. Some of your peers have.

I heard recently of an owner who had his reverse mentor interview members of the financial planning team, asking senior advisors and staff, “What is our value proposition?” and “Where are we heading in the next five to 10 years?” This was not only an opportunity for a young entrant to gain access and knowledge of the institutional history of the firm, but more importantly, an opportunity to check for message and brand consistency.


1 Broadridge and The Center for Generational Kinetics (2018). Decoding the Millennial Mindset. Retrieved from https://www.broadridgeadvisor.com/docs/White_Paper_Decoding_the_Millennial_Mindset.pdf

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Macquarie Investment Management (MIM), or any of its employees.

For educational purposes and for investment professional use only. Not for use with the general public.

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