Reverse Mentorship: a framework for how to learn and how to guide

I had the privilege of attending NYU’s Stern School of Business. It was one of the most transformative experiences in my life. Not just because I did the program with 3 children (2 born during the program), an intense full time corporate job, as well as working with my husband during nights and weekends building a Jewish community and teaching, but the actual content of my courses and my incredible professors and classmates truly shaped my perspectives on business, interpersonal relationships and Jewish observance.

Throughout the program there was a lot of emphasis on mentorship, sponsorship and guidance. Finding the right mentor, making sure you have someone who is championing your case, who provides the right direction all the while, facilitating progress and growth.

One of the interesting discussions that surfaced around the various mentorship and sponsorship theories was reverse mentorship. I have been fortunate in my professional career to have a mentor who truly pushes me out of my comfort zone, forces me to identify my blind spots, and provides a necessary reflective perspective, which all serves to define my short term and long term goals.

In turn, my mentor has taken my feedback and my self-evaluation process as a way to challenge himself, to see his own blind spots, to use the questions he is posing me as a means of gathering information for his personal and professional growth. There have been a number of occasions where our discussions and realizations have led to ideas that have turned into company growth strategies.  We both gained from the shared mentorship and reverse mentorship experience.

As a mom of three young children, ages 5, 3 and 1, there is so much information on parenting; the blogs, the books, the sleep experts, the diet specialist, the child physiologist who tells you to leave your screaming 2-year old on their first day of school, because it is healthy separation, contrasted with the professional experts who tell you that you will traumatize your child for life. The ones who offer unsolicited advice on why you should be at stay at home mom instead of work full time, or why working full time is better for your kids because you appreciate your kids more and why your self-imposed guilt is forever present regardless of the vocational decision.  Why you should never trust your nanny, why Baby Einstein is all a farce, and why 2% milk is in fact better than whole milk.

Information overload! I found that adopting the reverse mentorship model, experienced on the academic front as well as through a live case study with my mentor, created a framework for a shared partnership between my children and me. They are my best teachers, and as much as my husband and I bring our values, guidance, environment, ideals and direction into our home, ultimately our children are letting us know if our style is working for them.

The ideas of reverse mentorship are embedded within Chanukah.  Chanukah is composed of the Hebrew root word meaning education, chinuch. Proverbs states, “teach a child according to their way.” Each child has their own qualities, characteristics, mannerisms, different ways they learn and absorb information, and ways of responding to information.

The end result of “teach a child according to their way” is adapting our styles to the individual needs of our children, but the means to that end are realized through reverse mentorship. Taking cues from our children, observing how our own guidance is absorbed by our children and being open minded enough to see how they react, how they assess, how they integrate and use that information to identify our own blind spots in meeting their needs.

As we escort the final days of Chanukah, we have an opportunity to take the messages of chinuch, of education, of bringing light and inspiration into our lives, and utilize the tool of reverse mentorship to gain insight and perspective into how we improve ourselves in the most important relationships in our lives.

About the Author
Rachel Kraus is a corporate marketing and business development executive, who spends her spare hours teaching and sharing her passion for Jewish learning. Rachel earned her MBA from NYU and has spent over a decade in informal Jewish Education, teaching across the globe. Rachel, together with her husband Daniel Kraus, live in New York, where they work together as the Directors of Community Education at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side. Balancing the corporate world, Jewish communal responsibilities and teaching, Rachel's greatest joy are her four amazing children.
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