Personal boards of directors and reverse mentoring

jed entinThe Wall Street Journal seems to have a new feature: Personal Board of Directors. Today was the second time I’ve seen such an article. The first was the focus of my blog post Even highly successful people rely on mentors.

This edition of the personal board of directors series is PayPal’s Sri Shivananda on His Trusted Advisers, subtitled The payments company’s chief technology officer turns to five different sources for guidance. Those sources are personal connections, authors, mentors, sponsors, and reverse mentors. Most of us are familiar with the first three. And I wrote about sponsors previously in the post: Forget Mentors. Find a Sponsor.

My informal scanning of tech news reveals a strong positive correlation between the number of books read per year and the success of that reader, Bill Gates being the best example. Gates generously shares his book list publicly.  While correlation doesn’t equal causation, if you are a founder and just spend your time reading posts on social media consider substituting some of the social media with books. You can start with Mr. Gates’ recommendations.

That leaves us with reverse mentors. Career mentoring assumes that a senior executive or individual contributor mentors – that is advises, guides, and provides feedback to -junior managers or contributors. There is nothing new or particularly interesting about this and it’s not the subject of, which focuses on the mentoring of entrepreneurs. However, I’ve only occasionally run into the phenomena of reverse mentors. See the post Learning from a mentor half your age.

Mr.Shivananda’s list of personal board of directors starts with his wife and includes unsurprisingly, three senior business executives. Last and perhaps least in Mr. Shivananda’s list is Jed Entin, a data engineer at PayPal, where Mr. Shivananda is CTO. Mr. Entin actually represents a class of reverse mentors:

Mr. Shivananda meets with a different junior employee to mine his or her knowledge, a practice he dubs “reverse mentoring.” He says it helps him stay current as a leader: “It gives me good direction in how I should run an organization that helps everyone thrive.” Mr. Entin is among those he’s met with.

Rather than call this activity reverse mentoring I would prefer to call it bi-directional or reciprocal mentoring, as each senior person sets out to learn from a junior employee to keep current, but the junior employee also benefits by the guidance from someone very senior in their organization.

Whatever you call it I encourage startup CEOs to put this type of mentoring on their personal roadmap. While reciprocal mentoring may not make sense when you have only three or four employees, when you hit the Dunbar limit it will become vitally important to help you stay on the pulse of your growing venture.


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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