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Mentor + Intern = Mentern

2/7/2019  •  Leadership  •  Written by Beth Smith

Mentor + Intern = Mentern

Every once in a while an idea is presented and it just sticks…it makes sense, and sometimes makes you wonder, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”  That is what I was saying to myself after reading an article titled, “Think younger.  And older.” from an in-flight magazine (Southwest Airlines, The Magazine, January 2019). 

The article was about Chip Conley, former founder of a boutique hotel line who took on a role in and industry that was brand new to him …. at Airbnb, working for a boss 21 years his junior

The idea presented was so simple, it was M.E.N.T.E.R.N. (Mentor + Intern = Mentern)

You see, this idea hit home for me because I am fortunate enough to work in an environment that encourages finding and forming inter-generational relationships to learn from and develop leaders. When we think of a mentor, it usually brings to mind an older, more experienced person teaching and pouring into a younger, less experienced person. However, what we have come to realize is that the mentor/mentee relationship of old can and should be completely reciprocal. 

There are 3 pieces of the article that resonated with me and the leadership development work that we are doing at First United Methodist Church Richardson, but are applicable in any environment:

“Stop thinking in terms of old people and young people."

Wise eyes need fresh eyes and vice versa.  When we rolled our Leadership Development Classes we thought that the younger generation and the older generation might need to be taught separately most of the time.  What we learned after receiving input from our high school youth who participated in the program was that they didn’t want to be separated AT ALL.
They appreciated being part of the classes, felt empowered to contribute in the same fashion as the “adults” in the room, and also felt that they were building relationships that they never would have otherwise had an opportunity to develop.  As the designers of the course, boy were we proved wrong.  We learned that wise eyes need fresh eyes and vice versa.

“We can constantly have a growth mindset at any age.”

One need only look at one of my favorite Biblical characters to see this in action.  Think of Moses.  Not only did he willingly embrace Aaron, but he also learned from him.  Since Biblical times and before we have had examples of men and women of incredible intellect, strength and character willingly accepting someone from the younger generation as their teacher/helper/confidant.  The transference of knowledge and mutual respect for each other is demonstrated by a growth mindset from both parties.

“The workplace should be like an intergenerational potluck….where everybody brings what they have to the table – what they are best at, generationally.” 

The thing about church is that it creates a natural intergenerational potluck.  What a beautiful example of this the church can be.  When we learn to embrace, seek out and celebrate all of the generations we create the opportunity for vast richness in our relationships, as well as tremendous growth in knowledge and appreciation for each other.

Recently FUMCR has begun pouring into 12 staff members who are ages 35 years and younger.  What we discover as we do so is that as we pour our cups out and give all we can, there are those coming along beside, behind and even in front of us that are pouring their cups into ours.  After giving of yourself and pouring out all that you have, the glass is never empty for long, especially when you are a mentern!


Beth Smith serves on staff as Director of Welcoming Ministries and Leadership Development at First United Methodist Church Richardson.

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