the shape of leadership

Two-Way Mentoring

What young leaders and older leaders can learn from one another

Mentoring is an essential component to our growth as leaders. We all can (and should) glean insight from the mentors and coaches around us.

In Acts 16, a young leader named Timothy joined Paul in his ministry travels. Their relationship grew, and Paul later wrote to Timothy, imploring him to set an example for the believers in speech, life, love, faith and purity (1 Timothy 4:12). Clearly, Paul was a mentor to Timothy.

Mentoring is not necessarily a one-way street, however. Just as seasoned leaders often mentor those with less experience, young leaders can offer valuable insight to older ones. The latter is often referred to as reverse mentoring.

Whichever direction mentoring flows, leaders of every age should be open to both giving and receiving in a mentoring relationship. Below are three things young leaders have to offer and three things older leaders can contribute.

Young Leaders

Young leaders are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to technology. As digital natives, young people often grasp technology more easily than older generations and may be more aware of emerging technologies that can help your ministry.

Older leaders can benefit from these insights by admitting what they don’t know, and then inviting young leaders to teach them how to use new tools, apps, and platforms. Listening to younger leaders and being willing to learn from them also shows their knowledge and skills are valued.

Young leaders have fresh ideas for ministry. A lack of innovation eventually leads to diminished effectiveness. Young people aren’t as encumbered by tradition or the idea things have to be done a certain way because that’s the way they’ve always been done.

The role of senior leaders is to communicate vision and values, and then create space for others to speak into the strategy, serve, and see the vision fulfilled. This can be uncomfortable at times. Yet when older leaders are willing to learn without worrying about the age of the teachers, they can discover new ways to reach their ministry goals.

When older leaders are willing to learn without worrying about the age of the teachers, they can discover new ways to reach their ministry goals.

Young leaders have a unique perspective. They have a better understanding of the experiences, values, and mindsets of their peers.

If older leaders are going to reach younger generations, they should assume a posture of humility and invite young leaders to mentor them in their generational perspective.

Older Leaders

Older leaders can share lessons from their years of ministry. Young leaders are often shielded from the most difficult leadership decisions in a church or organization. Those challenges tend to rise to senior leadership.

For example, senior leaders are usually the ones who have to deal with tough staffing challenges, difficult financial decisions, and change initiatives.

These leadership experiences give older leaders an immense pool of wisdom to offer younger leaders. Through mentorship, older leaders can help younger leaders understand how they make decisions and the wide array of variables that shape complex leadership scenarios.

Older leaders have experience managing people. Leadership often has two sides to it: programs and people. The program side of leadership is all about creating new ministry structures to facilitate effective ministry. As noted above, this is where younger leaders often excel.

The other side of leadership deals with people, and it is far more complex. The people side involves personalities, conflicts, emotions, opinions and attitudes. It involves navigating change when some are resistant or wield more influence.

When leaders don’t learn about the people side of leadership, their ideas — no matter how great they are — usually go nowhere. However, when young leaders learn the people side of leadership from older leaders, they become better equipped to navigate conflict, lead change, and build stronger teams.

Older leaders can help young leaders identify their calling. Many young leaders are still trying to determine what God is calling them to do. They want to make their lives count, and they don’t want to waste time pursuing the wrong career path. This is where older leaders can offer some great perspective.

Older leaders who have clarity about their own life mission can walk alongside young leaders and help them wade through the confusion and emotions that often accompany calling and career. Older leaders can ask clarifying questions and help young leaders see a bigger picture. I believe help in this area is one of the greatest gifts older leaders can offer young leaders.

These are certainly not the only ways younger and older leaders can mentor one another, but they are among the most common. At any age, a leader’s unique skill set will certainly contribute to his or her mentorship tool kit. The key is being a willing mentor and a teachable learner.

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