Why Millennials don’t buy in to mentoring

Older generations must demonstrate their mastery

Last week I attended the memorial service for one of my early mentors, Dan Carr of the Golgonooza Type Foundry and Letterpress (I sometimes joke that I’m the last of the "printer’s devils"). These kinds of things naturally remind me of the wealth of ideas and wisdom passed on to me from those who have gone before and how truly influential one can be.

There are all manner of things I would never have learned or thought about had I not been influenced by Dan at the time I was. Most likely entire aspects of my thinking would be significantly different, and likely poorer.

Earlier this year, at the National Association of Realtors’ Midyear meetings, I was invited to participate in the pilot of a scenario planning program NAR put together. During this event, small groups were assembled to play some "what if" around different possible futures.

The goal of this sort of exercise is to get people to think about what changes would have to occur in order for them to thrive in the "what if" situations. The participants in my first small group identified mentorship as a critical issue.

Mentorship is a hard thing. For one, someone has to be ready to be mentored. For those reluctant to embark on mentorship (or outright hostile to the idea) the first wave of resistance is usually drawn up around the inability of mentees to be mentored.

"These Gen Y kids already know everything," they’ll say. Or, "They just think we’re a bunch of outdated dinosaurs and they won’t listen to our business experience."

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For Millennials — many of whom have been raised in an environment of extreme external praise/reward systems (6th-grade graduations, trophies for 34th place and all of the other things those of us from older generations snicker at) — it might be difficult to accept the idea that someone else really does have something worth knowing, or that there may be significant consequences for not knowing that something.

But at the same time, older generations shouldn’t take it for granted that others can see the value of learning the things we know. If we’re constantly running around like chickens with our heads cut off, incapable of having a conversation with anyone without checking our social channels or generally afraid of change, then maybe we don’t have anything worth knowing.

Who wants to emulate that kind of life? A big fat bank account, an ulcer and troubled relationships?

It becomes pretty apparent that this whole mentoring thing is a two-way street. Both mentor and mentee must want to do it. And the truth is, not everyone is cut out for it on either side.

But without it, there is an erosion of valuable knowledge.

This goes beyond that time the marketing manager quit the firm and never told anyone the login information for the critical Web stuff. Solving that problem simply requires a spreadsheet.

Mentoring addresses a much bigger problem. The problem mentoring attempts to solve is why things are the way they are. This isn’t necessarily a defense of the status quo, but a simple understanding of the environment, personalities and technologies that made the status quo what it is.

People who are a good fit for being mentored are typically skilled or developing skill with the "how" of their material. They know how to do a few things. Typically they’re knowledgeable enough about how something works that they’re beginning to examine it a little more deeply. They know how something works, but they don’t know why it works better sometimes than others.

And they want it. They aren’t convinced that knowing "how" is enough. This wanting and not being convinced will lead them to seek a mentor. Because that’s how it really works — people seek a mentor.

The danger of the extrinsic motivational triggers heaped on Millennials, if there even is a danger, is that they don’t recognize that knowing "how" does not equal in mastery of their craft.

The only way Millennials (or slacker Gen Xers like me) will realize this is by observing success that extends well beyond knowing "how." When anyone with a passing knowledge of the "how" sees an exhibition of mastery it’s painfully obvious — even in its subtlety.

The response is to either give in (in other words, stop wanting to achieve mastery), or give up and get better. And getting better at anything requires a mentor — someone who can guide.

If there is not enough mentorship in the real estate industry, as the participants in my small group in the scenario planning workshop suggested, then it is not just the Millennials who are fault for not seeking it out.

Older generations, mine included, need to demonstrate what mastery we have. If we do, those who want what we have will find us naturally.

And then the hard part begins. A hard part that can last beyond a single lifetime.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt.

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