"Sometimes our light goes out and is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light."
Albert Schweitzer

Fulfilling The "Generativity" Promise

By Joyce Cohen
Founder, Unconventional Wisdom, LLC
Senior Consultant, Career Systems International, Inc.

"I choose to risk my significance
To live so that which came to me as seed
Goes to the next as blossom
And that which came to me as blossom,
Goes on as fruit."

~ Dawna Markova 2000
From Creating A Mentoring Culture by Lois Zachary

You may ask, What is "generativity" and how does it relate to Mentoring? Generativity is a term that describes the concern for and interest in the well-being of future generations. One's generativity can take many forms, including philanthropy, teaching, mentoring, volunteering, passing on talent and/or insights, family lore and heirlooms, and providing community service. Perhaps Lois Zachary said it best in her book Creating a Mentoring Culture: "Generativity is our collective bet on the future. It demands that we care for, are concerned about, and stay connected to each other and to the next generation. Since generativity is about promoting the next generation, it stands to reason that we come to accept we won't be here forever and anything we can do to leave a positive legacy for the future is in everyone's best interest. Eric Erikson wrote a great deal about generativity and said, in the final analysis, a person may come to realize that I am what survives me."

What better way to invest in the future than to prepare ourselves and our talent in the best way possible? We can seek out the best available teachers, tools, skills, and challenges, and opportunities for practical applications.

Over the years, mentoring relationships have changed from hierarchical and traditional to become more open, flexible and reciprocal. Recently, mentors and mentees have begun to blur the roles of teacher and learner. Mentoring relationships are assuming even greater shifts as the workforce becomes leaner, more diverse and uncertain, more tech savvy and age disparate, with an increased need to rely on one another and our collective skills.

Link that reality with this opportunity to be generative...to partner, to care, and to listen in collaborative ways across generations. As people try to juggle multiple commitments in a frenzied world, the single essential skill in mentoring is clear communication. That is, the willingness to "think about our thinking" before we speak, articulate what we mean simply, and convey thoughts in a way that builds interest, respect and finally trust.

When mentoring relationships are embedded in a culture committed to learning, sharing, questioning, and growing, lessons are more apt to be passed on in the future through wiser choices. This fertile environment is the foundation upon which new mentoring relationships can grow exponentially.

In this down-turned economy, many organizations wallow in uncertainties. Talk in hundreds of halls is peppered with anxious queries such as: "Will I be next on a layoff list?" "Should I see what other jobs are out there?" "Is my résumé current?" "You want me to do what?" "Do I really have to learn yet another new technology?"

With all that fear and doubt swirling around, we all could use a "Personal Stimulus Package" about now! Since something like this probably won't arrive in the mailbox anytime soon, you can produce it for yourself. And when it finally does come to the workplace, there is much that can be done to create your own reality and place yourself in the exalted position of one who is learning, thriving, and growing. Here's how:

As a backdrop, understand the time of profound change in which we're working.

  • Many of the 76 million boomers will continue to work, either because they want to or because they perceive the need to, due to financial losses and economic instability
  • The youngest workers enjoy working with and learning from the eldest
  • The mature worker is glad to share tips, know-how, and the history of an organization
  • Many retirees are already reentering the workforce with strong skill sets and knowledge of what works and what doesn't, and of efficiency
  • For the first time in history there are five generational cohort groups working side by side creating unlikely yet productive new relationships.

Each of these trends creates unlimited potential for Mentors and Mentees (teachers and learners) to engage together and expand creative problem solving within the organization. What does this mentoring process look like? Here's a proven example from the toolkit of Career Systems International.

PARTNERING POWER© guides individuals to understand that role in a mentoring relationship. It parallels the POWER MENTORING© process used by the mentor. Approaching mentoring from the learner's perspective incorporates engaging exercises and activities to help individuals understand the process, the commitment, and the tools. The commitment implies that the learners embrace the following assumptions:

  • Collaborative conversations will take place between mentor and mentee
  • Mentoring should be equally challenging for both parties
  • Agreements, commitments, and involvement are critical to each participant
  • It is important to build social capital through new and established connections 
  • It is important to reach outside one's comfort zone; go for stretch goals 
  • It is important to take on bold assignments, embracing new issues and problems
  • Volunteering precious time toward important work (especially when no one else wants to) comes with the "Mentoring" territory
  • As goals are achieved, successes are celebrated, and new challenges are created 
  • It is important to ensure that one's learning doesn't get lost in an organization. Reintroduce emerging talent and identify new contributions that can be made by the mentee, now a more polished and influential employee

There are four segments embedded in the mentoring process and associated learning.


Define agreements, commitments, involvements, talents and experience that s/he will bring to the process.

Determine focal points, milestones and goals to explore, including development areas to be tapped.

Engaging activities make learning fun and thoughtful at the same time. Explore four dynamic methods proven to promote learning and transmit knowledge quickly: (1) sharing stories, (2) encouraging dialogue, (3) offering debriefing experiences, and (4) building/expanding connections.

Here, the action plan guides the process, as the mentor watches for potential derailers that could get in the Mentee's way. Approaching closure to the formal mentoring process, the pair assess growth and emerging talent that is now available to the organization. Focus is on a more grounded, valued and productive employee who can now become more of a respected voice within the organization.


Together, the mentor and mentee define and plan what is to be accomplished. Both should be bold, willing to stretch beyond comfort zones, as agreements, commitments and focal areas are established. The best relationships are collaborative, energetic, and inspiring. Work to ensure that in the process, both partners are teachers and learners.

Determine what each person needs and wants from the relationship over time. As your comfort level expands, be courageous in your focus and development. This part of the process is where specific meaningful goals are outlined. In the next segments, those goals are tied to milestones, and reviewed periodically to ensure ongoing progress. Celebrate successes and acknowledge lessons learned.

Learn from the knowledge and wisdom of one other in the experiences you've encountered. Apply to current situations the four learning tools (stories, dialogue, assignments and connections). Collaborate to expand understandings, options and alternative solutions. Share your own experiences with the tools: your successes, challenges, and how you dealt with particular situations. Here are a few examples:
"Who, in your organization, has a strong grasp of vision, creativity, and the big picture of your industry? How might that talent be harnessed for the greater good?
"Who, in your organization, knows how to get optimal productivity and teamwork from a group? What does that person do and how might that talent be used in the broader organization? Putting talent to work where it can be maximized is everyone's job.
What can you do now?

Through a customized action plan, the mentee reflects on experience gained, lessons learned, wisdom gleaned and potential legacies to leave within and beyond the organization. As the mentoring process unfolds, partners focus on understanding the impact of their roles and on identifying what has been learned. As the mentoring pair winds down and comes to closure, they focus on Ponderables to assess changes along the way, capabilities newly achieved and expanded contributions now available to the larger organization. This contribution report becomes part of the mentoring outcome.

Depending on the intended result, metrics tie mentoring time and value back to the business strategy and why these relationships originally had formed. Measurable examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Performance improvement
  • Heightened retention
  • Expanded initiative,
  • Innovation
  • New thinking
  • Tangible, applied learning
  • Visible changes in the mentee as observed by others
  • Promotion
  • Increased responsibility
  • Assumption of greater responsibilities
  • Assertiveness
  • Confidence spikes
  • Mentee, newly confident, now speaks up, asks questions, raises controversial topics, and engages in spirited dialogue about organizational issues

Although PowerMentoring© and Partnering Power© provide a great deal of flexibility and regard for individual differences, end results will tie back to the business case made at the beginning. Did the mentoring effort contribute to the organization being more generative? If yes, in what ways? And, does the Mentee have a "personal stimulus package" that will serve both the individual and the organization in expanded ways?

Are these mentoring relationships occurring throughout the organization? If yes, you're creating a mentoring culture of learning and of generativity. At the same time, you're creating the rich fabric of a learning culture, the hallmark of health within the organization of the future.

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