Five habits of a successful reverse mentorship

Since gaining prominence in the late 1990s thanks to ex-GE CEO Jack Welch, reverse mentoring has grown in popularity around the world. It has provided benefits for two generations of employees while allowing executive ranks a window into new and developing ideas and technologies.

" Today, I have a deeper understanding of how to leverage social media to increase my visibility in the community, engage in virtual discussions and provide thought leadership."
Anouk De Blieck, General Manager, Human Resources at ANZ

As part of a program to develop social media and digital capability among senior executives at ANZ, I have been partnered with Hagan Shakespeare, an associate director of Transaction Banking, since September 2015.

We catch up regularly to cover topics ranging from digital communications tools to social media techniques. At the same time, Hagan gets an insight from me into leadership and a broader organisational view. 

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Anouk (R) has worked with ANZ's Hagan Shakespeare (L) since Sep 2015. Photo supplied.

As a seasoned leader, I am used to being a mentor to younger colleagues who look to me for advice and guidance. What I did not expect was for my reverse mentor to serve as a bridge-builder between the younger generation and me. Particularly in the emerging realm of social media the world is changing so quickly – and one which, as a leader, I recognise is going to be a fundamental to modern business.

While the program was set up with social media capability in mind, I’ve also learned a lot about how the next generation of leaders think, how to leverage their view of the world and to be aware of new technologies. It has provided me with broader perspective and insight. I have my mentor to thank for this. It has been a mutually beneficial partnership – a true win-win.

Reverse mentoring helps executives keep up with a fast-paced world full of social networks, emerging technologies and new ways of consuming information. Below are five lessons I have taken from the experience:


From the beginning, Hagan and I agreed on a set of objectives including how we would work together, areas of interest, frequency of meetings and how we would measure success.

I needed to be clear about what I wanted to achieve from social media so Hagan and I could map out a plan to support my vision. This was a worthwhile exercise to reflect upon the trajectory ahead of us. 


We set goals at the start of the program to ensure I was able to benchmark my progress. Hagan would help to monitor my activities, providing feedback on how I was tracking against my objectives and where I could improve. 

When I first started, I was very cautious about having an active voice in LinkedIn and Twitter. I did not feel confident to engage or interact in this space.

Today, I have a deeper understanding of how to leverage social media to increase my visibility in the community, engage in virtual discussions and provide thought leadership. I am also using social media in a more targeted manner by effectively managing my LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers and maximising these connections.

I have seen a noticeable increase in my activity and following. On Twitter, my following grew from 100 to ~500 over a period of six months. I have set a new target to double this in the next six months – perhaps an ambitious goal but I am convinced with Hagan's support it is possible. 


To truly see the benefits of the partnership, both people need to make the concerted effort to understand each other’s perspectives, respect and adapt to each other’s communication style.  It is also important to create an open and safe environment, one where there is an opportunity to test and learn, and where honest feedback can be provided.  As a leader it is important to set the right tone.

In addition, carving out time for these sessions is vital. Both parties will have busy schedules to manage, however if you do not set a date and make the time, you won’t be able to effectively build the foundations of a successful partnership. 


When I started working with Hagan, my main objective was to increase the visibility of my profile on social media and build more confidence doing so.

I wanted to learn new tools and get tips on how to build a following while also actively engage with others in a virtual manner.

Hagan would look into new tools such as Follower Wonk for Twitter analytics and Person I Find which helps me search for like-minded influencers with similar subject matter expertise or areas of interest.

Through our regular conversations and Hagan’s feedback, I also have been able to keep a finger on the pulse of my own organisation – again, a clear demonstration of how important the digital and social world is today.


I have found reverse mentoring extremely refreshing. For all of us, it is so important to keep learning, broadening our exposure to new things. It is important to understand you cannot know it all.

Having someone working with me who has such a different perspective is great fun and forces you out of your comfort zone, allowing you to test and explore within a ‘safe’ environment. 

I believe the experience has made me a better leader by engaging with new platforms. I am growing to be more adaptable and flexible in using different ways to connect with people.

I’ve found the more active you are on social media, the more likely you progress from being a spectator to an active participant in this new world.

Those who are not connected will fall behind.  

Anouk De Blieck is General Manager, Human Resources at ANZ. You can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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