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Cross-generational mentoring: Who really benefits?

Every other Wednesday, I spend 30 minutes on the phone with a 30-something businesswoman named Jessica from California.

She’s a social media superstar who asks great questions. We talk about work-life balance, business models and how to deal with unrealistic client expectations.

We search for ways to improve communications, accountability and value.

Jessica’s world is both larger and smaller than mine. She provides social media solutions that literally circle the globe, yet she works mostly in isolation, from her home or on her cellphone.

I remind her that relationships are important. She suggests new tools I can use for multitasking or for reaching today’s younger consumers.

Together, we discuss an important question for all business managers: “What is the biggest challenge your business is facing?”

Most days, it’s an easy question to answer.

The second question is the hard one: “What will you do today to begin to solve that problem?”

Traditionally, organization leaders follow one of three paths when they are seeking a solution to an important business dilemma. They may:

1. Stay up nights thinking about the problem

2. Involve others from their leadership team

3. Talk to another business owner within their industry

While all of these are important, there is a danger in relying only on the same internal advisers: You may never see the bigger picture or consider new strategies for problem solving.

Cross-generational mentoring allows you to discuss your challenge with someone entirely new to your industry. As you attempt to describe the situation to them, you are forced to define the issues clearly. And, as your “outside adviser” works to understand the problem, she is more likely to ask an unexpected question that leads you to a fresh solution.

One word of caution: If you decide to venture into regular conversations with your decades older – or younger – counterpart, be prepared for surprises.

Every other Wednesday, my friend Jessica calls promptly, ready to dive into an interesting conversation. The result is energizing for both of us.

Jessica insists that I am mentoring her, but I am quite certain I’m learning more than she is. Imagine what would happen if we were in the same city, having coffee together every week?

This is the kind of mentoring Wichita’s new e2e Incubator program encourages between business people of various ages and experience levels. Young leader Jacob Wayman is working to match beginning entrepreneurs with senior-level business owners.

There are other places to have similar encounters in Wichita, for those who are interested: Visit the Downtown Wichita Rotary Club and see the generational transformation taking place there.

You’ll see Jacob sharing stories with second- and third-generation Rotarians.

Or get involved with Young Professionals of Wichita and its mentoring program.

Even mentoring someone within your own organization can be a rewarding experience, and everyone benefits from the results.

Susan Armstrong is president and CEO of Armstrong Chamberlin Strategic Marketing. Contact her at 316-522-3000 or at susan@armstrongchamberlin.com.

Interested in writing for “Business Perspectives”? Contact Tom Shine at tshine@wichitaeagle.com or 316-268-6268.

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