There is Power in Mentoring Emerging Leaders

In 2013, a professor asked a group of university students to collaborate on a project. After completing it, the professor asked them to provide an independent private evaluation of their group peers. Incredibly, all five group members gave each other the same rating in every category!


The professor scolded them, asking why they had given each other the same ratings. The leader responded by telling the professor, “Your instructions were contradictory to everything you’ve taught us this semester.” The professor was shocked, “How dare you tell me my instructions were contradictory; I’ve been teaching for 30 years. I specifically told each of you to rate your team members independently based upon their performances.” The student leader responded, “Exactly! All semester you have graded us as a group, and now you want us to rat each other out, no way.”

The professor, shocked at the student’s viewpoint, pushed pause and thought for a moment. He then asked, “Do you understand the difference between collusion and collaboration?” They all answered, “Yes, however, this was a collaborative project, and we all share equally in our grade.”[1] Technically the students colluded on giving each other the same grade and historically that is unethical.


Although the students expressed that they understood the terminology, they didn’t embrace the same legal or ethical viewpoint of collusion as the professor. The students didn’t know what they didn’t know, or did they?


Many members of the older generations believe in meritocracy, which is the distribution of wealth, resources, and responsibility according to merit (worthy of the reward by earning it), and not need. Those who contribute more value


to a society, a workgroup, or a college project receive greater rewards. However, the students believed in equal distribution, i.e., they all pitched in, some more than others, but in the end, they were in it as a group. Today there is an ongoing debate on these subjects in our nation. Distributive justice is a hot topic in most nations’ economic-political systems.


This story is just one example of how life’s experiences and society form each generation’s characteristics. There are hundreds of surveys filled with stories like the one above. Hundreds of thousands of Millennials have detailed their generation’s attitudes, aspirations, societal, and organizational impressions.[2]


Each generation has different perspectives, ways of thinking, accepted social behaviors, communication styles, and belief systems. Mentoring programs can assist with bridging these differences in viewpoints. There is a need to instill the value of meritocracy in the workforce. There is also a need for positive support systems from managers to subordinates. Mentoring programs can deliver both. These needs stem from the reality that many Millennial employees were raised by parents, teachers, coaches, and others who made them feel accepted regardless of their performance or the outcome of their work. The sense of entitlement and auto-acceptance in the Millennial generation is pervasive.[3]


Mentors and mentees must be aware of the differences in communication norms and be prepared to adapt. As children, Millennials were encouraged to speak and interact with adults, teachers, and coaches. The effect has been the propensity to interrupt managers and superiors, causing difficulties in relationships, respect, and middle management’s ability to get their work completed. One generation sees interruptions as disrespectful, while the other sees them as their opportunity to provide input. Better expectation setting through mentorship can mitigate difficulties in communication styles.


The great news is that younger gene