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Mentoring in Reverse

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Business
Mentoring in Reverse

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This blog is provided by Bob Fisch, founder and former rue21 CEO.  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled OK, Boomer, OK, Millennial; Time for Collaboration Instead of Combat that aired on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020.

 

What’s the best way to find out what others around you might know that will help you and your business? First, ask them. Then, listen to them, no matter Millennials or Baby Boomers, or position in the company.

The smartest people often don’t speak a lot, it was pointed out to me by a global industry analyst, Steve Richter, I met at a Columbia University retail conference.

His wise observation is in the “Listening” chapter of my book, Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer (ForbesBooks 2019).

Mentoring in Reverse

In Fisch Tales, I advocate Mutual Mentoring to bring the generations together for the greater good. A variation of that, now catching fire in the corporate world, is Reverse Mentoring.

Just because I was in charge of 1200 stores and 20,000 employees at specialty apparel retailer rue21, I didn’t assume I had all the answers, or all the right answers. Knowing what you don’t know is a strength, not a weakness.

Ninety-percent of our people in the field were under 35, and 75% of the support center staff were 20-30 years old. I know first-hand that, given the right opportunity, Millennials can help accelerate success. Now, more than ever, they are the key to growth at both the top and bottom lines.

I didn’t assume that their age meant they had nothing to teach me. I enjoyed nothing more than walking around the office, or listening on a conference call, to find out what they thought, and learn something in the process. That was the only way our company could stay current and connect with our customer base, which was mostly the same age group.

Estee’s Esteemed CEO
Currently, the best example I’ve come across of Reverse Mentoring is what CEO Fabrizio Freda is doing at Estee Lauder. On his watch, the global beauty brand has been riding a phenomenal growth curve since he took the reins of its U.S. group a decade ago. The company’s market value today is more than $70 billion. When Mr. Freda joined the company, it was less than $7 billion. He also doubled sales volume during that period to $14 billion, double the sales when he came aboard. There’s no arguing with that kind of success.

Impressive as that is, the real story is how he did it. I suspect Mr. Freda, a Baby Boomer, would be the first to say he couldn’t have done it without the energy, enthusiasm, and brainpower of Millennials.

He explained his rationale to Harvard Business Review by saying that “the future could not be informed by the past.”

I love that attitude! I couldn’t agree more because that’s the way I always ran any company I headed. At rue21, I learned from experiences elsewhere that we’d be more successful by not following the industry’s conventional wisdom. There definitely will be those who doubt you, but I’ve found that they’ll be the ones stuck in the past as you discover new opportunities.

That’s also what Fabrizio Freda is doing with his Reverse Mentoring program at Este Lauder. It has proved to be so effective, it now numbers almost 500 reverse mentors working with 300 senior executives in more than 20 countries, according to WWD Beauty.

Teaching Up the Organization

Who knows better than Millennials how to manipulate social media for maximum impact in the marketplace? So, he has Millennials teaching senior executives at Estee Lauder all about how social media influencers work.

By deploying Millennials in the company on such a large scale today, Mr. Freda is future-proofing Estee Lauder’s business for its leadership tomorrow.

The bonus benefit is that the reverse mentoring Millennials feel more valued and respected. That stimulates them to up their game and their contributions. With this innovative dynamic that Fabrizio Freda has put in place, upper management stays abreast of cutting-edge thinking among the company’s younger ranks, and the Millennial employees groom themselves for bigger responsibilities as they ascend the corporate ladder. It’s a classic win-win for all concerned (another kind of Reverse Mentoring that any business leader already should be practicing is listening to their customers, who may be the best mentors of all).

We once were taught growing up to “respect your elders.” Nothing wrong with that. It’s sound advice, but it doesn’t stop there.

You see, Reverse Mentoring works only if the elders take it to heart, put their ego aside, and stay open to learning new things, by respecting their juniors.

 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Bob Fisch is the author of Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer and is recognized as a pioneering merchant for his bold and successful innovations in value-priced, fast-fashion retailing, notably at rue21. As CEO, he took rue21 from bankruptcy to a fast-track winning streak that included a hot-stock IPO, building a national network of 1,200 stores, and a billion-dollar-plus valuation. Bob began his career at Abraham & Straus (A&S) New York and within a dozen or so years had risen to become president at Casual Corner, a division of U.S. Shoe.  The prestigious retail magazine Chain Store Age named Fisch one of “10 CEOs to Watch in 2010.” The criteria for making the very short list, wrote the magazine, was “the influence they wield in their respective categories—and because they are willing to shake things up a bit.”

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

How Can You Become A Better Mentee? By Larry Sternberg

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Empowerment
How Can You Become A Better Mentee? By Larry Sternberg

Yesterday I realized I spend a good deal of time thinking about how to be a better mentor, and how to help others be better mentors. But I don’t invest much time thinking about how to help people become better mentees. So I’m going to give it a stab. For conceptual clarity my thoughts here apply to any sort of relationship in which you’re being coached, advised, mentored or taught by an individual outside a classroom on an ongoing basis. What a mouthful. I’ll use the word “mentor” to stand for any of those types of relationships.

To begin, we must recognize that this is similar to asking, “How can I become a better spouse?” or “How can I become a better friend?” It’s individualized. It depends on the unique needs of each person in the relationship. All this is MUCH easier if the two of you are a good natural fit in the first place. When the fit is good, you’ll have to make fewer changes to become a better mentee for that person.

First principle: ask your mentor what he or she wants from you in this relationship. This might seem more formal than necessary, but it’ll serve you both. Too often, in all sorts of relationships, expectations are not clarified, which leads to problems. If your mentor has important expectations that you can’t or don’t want to fulfill, best to find out as soon as possible. I have a close friend who’s a high-powered attorney, dedicated to her career. When she married, she didn’t know that her husband expected her to cook dinner for him every night, and to otherwise perform as would a non-working spouse. Tragically, it was a deal breaker for both of them.

Next, you actually have to take your mentor’s advice. As my wife says, “Why buy a dog and bark yourself?” Sometimes the advice won’t intuitively seem like a good idea. “Really? You want me to do that?” When you have misgivings discuss them. But do it anyway. Do it despite your doubts. A good mentor will occasionally push you out of your comfort zone. If you reject your mentor’s advice too frequently, you should probably look for another mentor.

Next, don’t act on advice from every well-meaning person. Suppose you hire a wellness coach. After learning about your goals and challenges, this coach will almost certainly recommend a program for you to follow. As you do this, you’ll be bombarded — by well-meaning friends — with diverging and conflicting advice about the elements of your program. If you act on all this advice, you won’t be following a program whose elements have either internal consistency or harmony. You won’t make progress.

I’ve noticed in my career that a particular leader’s decisions and actions create a certain internal harmony (harmony is different from consistency). As a consequence, there are behaviors or tactics that will work effectively for leader A but not for leader B. Acting on advice from too many different sources can easily destroy that harmony, preventing you from progressing.

This is not to discourage you from seeking different opinions, just as you might for a medical problem. My advice is to discuss with your mentor differing advice you’re receiving before you act. That way your decisions and actions will maintain both internal harmony and consistency.

Finally, express some appreciation. Appreciation from a mentee is among the most meaningful forms of recognition a mentor receives.

Thank for reading. I’m sure there’s much more to be said on this topic. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg
President
lsternberg@talentplus.com

More Here!

How Do You Find A Mentor? By Larry Sternberg

Posted by Editor on
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Empowerment
How Do You Find A Mentor? By Larry Sternberg

Oh my goodness. This is a really tough question. It’s a question about relationships. How do you find a best friend? How do you find a life partner? How do you find a mentor? I wish I had an easy answer, or frankly any answer that would work consistently. A mentor is someone for whom you’re significant, who believes in you, who likes you as a person, who enjoys spending time with you, who enjoys helping you grow, both personally and professionally, who is loyal, and who will extend herself to help you succeed. Many more descriptors can be added to that list. But the topic of this post is not, “What is a mentor?” The topic is, “How the heck do you find one?”

Even though we’re not going to find the answer, it’s important to struggle with the question. So here are my thoughts. First, it’s important to know who you are, what kind of person you think your ideal mentor would be, and what you want to get out of a mentoring relationship. You can readily see that the answers to these questions will be different for every person, and therefore the descriptors of your ideal mentor are unique to you. It’s much easier to find something if you know what you’re looking for. Answering those questions will give you a start.

Next, I encourage you to think about how you formed relationships with other important people in your life. How did you meet your best friends? Your significant other? What were you doing at the time? What were your initial attractions? Why did you both decide you wanted to spend more time with each other? Answering those questions might well provide some valuable insight.

Next, I encourage you to participate in professional associations where you increase the odds of meeting people who share your professional interests and who might also be willing to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom. Community service groups also provide worthwhile opportunities.

Next, understand that your mentor might not initiate. You might have to ask the person on a first date. If you have (or have had) a significant other, think about how you started the relationship. Whether you hooked up or just had a beer, you probably didn’t jump into a discussion about a long-term relationship. You probably just decided whether you wanted to see each other again.

If you meet someone you think might be mentor material, don’t immediately discuss a mentoring relationship. Just ask them out. Have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a corn dog. Get to know each other. See where it goes. Maybe a mentoring relationship will develop over time. But remember, this really is very much like dating. If you don’t ask, you’re done. The possibility will pass you by.

Thanks to Matt Ream for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg
President
lsternberg@talentplus.com

More Here!

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