Tip of the Month, June 2019 – Tips on Passing the Torch
In this month’s blog (click here), Jill discussed how we pass on information, knowledge and wisdom when we are leaving a position and/or a role. She also discussed commitment to one’s profession, where passing the torch is also about advancing one’s profession to new members of one’s discipline.
In Tips, this month, we will explore strategies to pass the torch across generations, to new members of our field of study and in succession planning.
The most important tip in this article is to be clear about your values and your way of being. If your goal is to win at all costs, this column is probably not for you. If you have a desire to improve yourself, develop others, advance your profession and contribute to bettering your organization and its outcomes, then be courageous; share what you know and be open to learn from others.
In The Career Handoff, Steinbinder and Ganann (our very own Thunderbird people!) identify six strategies to pass on information. All of these strategies are relevant throughout your career life cycle. Thank you to Steinbinder, Ganann, Malloch and Porter-O’Grady for providing the framework for our tips this month.
I: Mentoring is mentioned throughout the book. It is usually perceived as a more experienced professional/leader imparting knowledge, wisdom and opportunity to a newer/lower ranked individual in the organization. Mentoring has always been done informally where mentor and mentee self-select and develop a supportive relationship.
One of the challenges with self-selection is that it tends to exclude people of difference from mentorship. Senior male leaders may be afraid to mentor incoming women for fear that they would look predatory. People of different race/ethnicities may not self-select or be selected because of cultural barriers or discomfort. This can result in inequities in advancement for people of difference. So more formal mentoring programs have been designed to facilitate inclusive growth opportunities.
Effective formal mentoring programs provide clear expectations and role definition for the mentoring relationship and also recognize that both mentor and mentee benefit. The official mentor offers institutional knowledge, professional wisdom and development opportunities to the mentee. In a healthy relationship, the mentee also offers important knowledge and wisdom – perspectives from areas of difference (generation, gender, race/ethnicity, technology knowledge, etc.) to expand the mentor’s world view. This notion of cross-mentoring honors what each member of the relationship contributes and enriches the outcomes for the individuals, the organization and the profession.
Mentoring can still be informal and can start from anywhere. A college student can mentor high school students interested in the same career path. A senior in college can mentor freshmen. A new professional can mentor those in training. As you can see, passing the torch can start very early.
What do you share? The Career Handoff differentiates information, knowledge, wisdom and insights. Information is the data, content, how-to’s; knowledge includes application and context; wisdom describes the why’s of application, and insights are those amazing “aha!” moments we celebrate. In a mentoring relationship there may be times when information and knowledge are shared, but the power of mentoring comes from wisdom sharing and moments of insight (for both the mentor and the mentee). This often happens through the second handoff strategy, storytelling.
II: Storytelling is a way of transferring knowledge at a deeper level, including context, emotion and humility in the delivery. It humanizes the storyteller and allows for empathy, access and connection even across differences in role, status or personal identity. Through empathy, we build bonds of understanding that strengthen the learning experience. We remember stories, we remember the lessons and we care about the story teller.
It is a powerful way to share difficult and uncomfortable lessons, to learn more about individual perspectives as well as organizational culture. It is a way to keep organizational history alive without stifling growth and change.
III: Powerful Questions can be used in both formal mentoring sessions and informal “mentoring moments.” Rather than “telling” others what to think or what to do, the mentor, the wise or experienced person, invites the other person to teach themselves through open-ended exploratory questions. Tell me how you came to this conclusion? What was your thought process? What would happen if? In your mentor role, ask from a position of curiosity, not with a single answer in mind. (Don’t lead the witness.) You may be surprised and learn something new from your mentee about a different approach to the issue.
IV: Career Planning is another aspect of passing the torch. What does an individual need to know or do to advance and/or grow in their career? What opportunities are available to them? Once again formal or informal mentoring plays a significant role. Remember that the old way of advancing may no longer apply. Generationally, we have different expectations for how we advance. Boomers believe in “paying one’s dues,” whereas subsequent generations believe in earning one’s place based on abilities and knowledge, not time in the trenches.
One of the most powerful aspects of career planning is helping an individual see possibilities they did not even consider. Recently a senior administrator I work with was describing a conversation with a newer member of his profession. He asked her if she had considered applying for an open first-level management position. She responded that she had not because she is not a leader-type. He pointed out to her that she was indeed a leader-type as he observed the way her colleagues sought out her opinions and advice. In that 90 second conversation, there was a mentor-moment (a possible “aha!” as well) and a chance for the newer professional to rethink her career trajectory.
V: Collaboration is a practical application of sharing knowledge and wisdom across generations, life experience and expertise. In successful collaborations, all participants contribute to a successful outcome from their areas of strength in an environment of mutual respect. If you are the wise elder of the group, be careful not to impose your opinions early on. Allow your collaborative team to find its voice and direction. Observe their way of problem solving. Insert your wisdom and perspective in a way that adds strength and context to the team.
VI: Recognitions and Celebrations are ways to honor contributions while ensuring that the torch is passed. Storytelling as a strategy in recognition and celebration offers context, history and emphasizes organizational and professional values.
We always have the opportunity to “pass the torch,” to share what we know and understand with others no matter where we are in our career. It requires us to be generous with our knowledge rather than fearful that what we share will be used against us or to best us. Consider “passing the torch” as a way of being and a way of thinking and as Brene Brown might describe it, a whole-hearted practice.
 Malloch, K. And Porter O’Grady, T (eds). (2016). The career handoff: a healthcare leader’s guide to knowledge and wisdom transfer across generations. Sigma Theta Tau International.