Thursday 5 November 2020 3:26 am

Thanks to reverse mentoring, I am confident that our uncertain future is in safe hands

Sir Ian Cheshire is chairman of Barclays UK

It is difficult to recall a time when the future looked less certain than it does today.

Perhaps the only thing we can be sure of right now is that we are at the beginning of a challenging period, as we grapple with the impacts of the pandemic on the economy.

For younger people, the situation must appear particularly stark. Employers should not underestimate the impact of recent events on their younger employees.

But that future depends on the creativity and energy of exactly this group. Indeed, our own research found that a third of business leaders agreed that the younger generation will be particularly significant in helping businesses thrive in a post-Covid-19 world, due to the fresh ideas and innovative perspective they bring to the workplace. 

So many businesses will rely on the efforts and ingenuity of their younger employees if they are to survive the tough months ahead. Every effort should be made to listen to them, to understand what they are feeling and how they think. 

For this reason, I recently agreed to participate in a reverse mentoring programme, through LifeSkills created with Barclays. This gave me the chance to listen — and learn — from Elizabeth, a recent law graduate who sits on the LifeSkills Advisory Committee.

I was impressed. I found a young, resilient, confident self-starter. We discovered a few areas of common ground: we both studied law, and Elizabeth’s parents are from Nigeria, where I spent some years growing up.

I was delighted at the extent to which speaking to Elizabeth, a young woman at the very beginning of her career, provided me with ideas for business, and practical takeaways for all employees.

Elizabeth told me how important she thought it was to build a network proactively, and to meet and support the people within that network. This is relevant for anyone in the business world: don’t settle for what was done before, but instead build a network that will sustain you personally, through friends, mentors and advisers. 

Through support and nurture can come new ideas, fresh thinking, and a better understanding of all kinds of issues. It’s about listening.

It’s hard to resist the temptation to be the mentor and do the talking, but I am very glad I did shut up and listen. It reminded me of the importance of working on active listening at all times, rather than just waiting for a chance to give your views.

For example, when we discussed inclusion, Elizabeth explained her perspective that true inclusion and diversity in the workplace does not involve simply getting people into the room — it’s about ensuring that they were listened to once they are there. That has given me something to think about.

I also learned a few things to improve my own communication. The workplace is changing, and the experience of lockdown has caused many leaders to re-evaluate their personal approach to communicating with colleagues. Elizabeth’s advice was to talk more about myself and not be afraid to share my own experiences and concerns. She thought this would help me to better connect with all of the employees at Barclays. I agree.

My main takeaway is that reverse mentoring is something middle-aged, white men should embrace as part of their own leadership development. I hope Elizabeth also garnered some useful advice and food for thought from our sessions. 

From my time with her I am reassured that, while the future looks less certain, it will be in safe hands.

Main image credit: Getty

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