I have devoted a large part of my life to helping people bridge the gap in multi-generational teams because of my time in the military. There was a part of my career where I was the young kid in charge of people older than me. Also, there was a time where I was the old guy, and a younger person was my lead. I have experienced the highs, lows, ebbs, and flows of those generational brick walls, and I want to help people not beat their heads against it.
The military consistently places 2nd Lieutenants and Ensigns (Navy) in charge of older, more experienced enlisted teams. The reason why these relationships either succeed or deteriorate is based on one thing. Respect. It’s more than just respect of rank; it’s respect of the mission, respect of experiences, and respect of people. On your multi-generational team, if there isn’t respect for what you are doing, who you are doing it with, and how it needs to be done, then you’ll find yourself fighting an uphill battle. One of the most excellent ways I have experienced fostering this development of respect is cross-generational mentoring.
One of my most incredible mentoring relationships was with Brigadier General E John Teichert. Quarterly, I would get on his calendar for an hour and sit with him in his office. Because we respected one another, when I would send him questions ahead of time, he would take the time to prepare his answers and have follow-up questions for me. He would tell me at the end of our time together that he received just as much as he was able to give in our times together. Our rank differences were what they were, but we developed a genuine cross-generational mentoring relationship because of the high admiration and respect for one another. I believe General Teichert or Dragon, his call sign, will tell you that he is a much better husband, father, and leader because of the conversations he and I have had. I guarantee you that is true for me.
I would like to share ideas from the time I spent with Dragon and others on developing a great cross-mentorship relationship program with your multi-generational team.
Use a Coaching Approach
Some would say that coaching isn’t mentoring. And to those people, I would state that I agree. There are differences between professional coaches, managers, and mentors. However, as we are talking about multi-generational cross-mentoring, people need to adapt and be flexible. The coaching approach gives that ability best in a multi-generational environment. According to the International Coaching Federation, coaching is a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires others to maximize their personal and professional potential. This fits perfectly with people who aren’t attempting to boss the other around but truly gain from the other’s point of view.
Determine to be Collaborative
Officially, collaborative mentorship is the art of exchanging intellect where the wisdom of an experienced person meets the innovation and agility of a less experienced person. However, in a multi-generational environment, teammates should seek to allow the exchange to be investments into one another regardless of experience levels. The central point of emphasis is wisdom and innovation coming together. Wisdom, according to Merriam-Webster, is a wise attitude, belief, or course of action. A generation cannot define those characteristics. Engaging in collaborative determination, both parties seek to challenge the wisdom inside the other to grow and develop together.
Vary Communication Styles
Walk into cross-mentoring moments appreciating the communication style of the other person. This may be a great starting point to initiating the mentoring if you are unaware of generational communication differences. Use the team preferred communication method to ask, “What communication style do you prefer?” Start communicating while sharing your style and set up a process where both of your communication styles are used. This shows that there is value and appreciation on both sides of the mentorship. Remember the best ways to connect with those you are in mentoring relationships with. Do not expect others to prefer your method of communication if you need something from those people. Communicate your need for them with their communication style.
Focus on Encouragement
These coaching approached mentoring moments should always be about building one another up. Unless they are asking for feedback, there is no need to be critical in these mentoring meetings. If there is an issue or you see something that can improve, find ways to encourage them into it or reveal your flaws. Dr. Brene Brown, a renowned researcher on social connection and author of several books, says vulnerability is “the courage to be yourself.” Showing that you have the courage to be yourself will open the door for them to do the same. People that can be vulnerable with each other will be able to encourage each other.
Often you may know something or someone that can further assist those around you in what they need. In cross-generational mentorships, be ready and willing to offer those resources. The goal is to have the person you are with wishing they had more time and opportunity with you. The key is to be both the giver and receiver with connections. I remember that Gen Teichert was excited when I could follow up with him after I did the thing he told me to do with the people he told me to do it with. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; in fact, make that part of your agenda. When you walk into the mentoring session, have something to offer and have something you need. This way, both parties end up walking away with value.