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Why I chose to be a reverse mentor

Louise Foster-Key

There are many misconceptions about what reverse mentoring is or can be. For some, it can be about senior leaders finding out what their staff on the shop floor really think. For others it can be about offering the opportunity to safely challenge how the organisation or department delivers its work.

For me, reverse mentoring has offered a multitude of benefits. It has offered me the opportunity to develop not only how I engage with and present to my senior leaders, it has improved my confidence in doing so. It has also helped me to see and understand the wider picture of how decisions are taken in the Civil Service.

As reverse mentor to two senior civil service director mentees within my department (the Ministry of Defence), I have not only got to understand first hand how directors in the Civil Service think and work, but I have been impressed by their passion in wanting to make a difference and that they most definitely do care.

I have learnt that our directors love to hear good ideas, give recognition where it is due and like to hear examples to support well thought out arguments. There is also nothing more gratifying than when they write your idea in their book of notes for further consultation, it makes you feel on top of the world.

When I have my reverse mentoring meetings with my directors, the discussions that we have remain in confidence, in the spirit of developing trust between us, so I cannot in the main, divulge what is discussed.

However, I can tell you that discussions are not just about the topic that my mentee wants to talk about. In most meetings, there is some discussion on my career and how the director can help support me in taking my career development forward.

It has enabled me to ask those tough questions on career development that you have always wanted to ask someone more senior for their advice, in a safe environment. I am ever so grateful to the directors for these discussions and their wise advice, which I have found so beneficial in taking my career forward.

However, this blog is not just about me. I am leading the Reverse Mentoring Working Group as part of the Diversity and Inclusion Task and Finish Group for the Analysis Function. It is something that I am really passionate about because I want to encourage other civil servants to consider being a reverse mentor and be able to have the opportunity to benefit their career in the same way that I have.

So where are the reverse mentors? Well, why not talk to a senior civil servant within your department and ask them if you can reverse mentor them, that’s exactly what I did, nothing more than that and everything snowballed from there.

My top tips

My top five tips for reverse mentoring are:

  1. ask your reverse mentee to agree to spending some time as part of mentoring sessions to discuss your career and how they can help
  2. do not be afraid to challenge your reverse mentee constructively, they really want to hear your views
  3. keep the sessions to a maximum of 30-45 minutes, recognising that the mentee has a busy work schedule
  4. ask your mentee to explain their view on issues, so that you can learn how they think – it will help you to understand the wider picture
  5. what is discussed in the meeting between you and the director, stays in the meeting so that you can develop a culture of trust between you and the director

So, if you want to develop how you engage with your senior leaders, improve your confidence, develop your understanding of the wider picture and make a difference, reverse mentoring is definitely for you.

So, become a reverse mentor today, there is no time to lose.



Simon Skerritt
Louise Foster-Key
Simon is a Strategic Performance Manager with the Ministry of Defence. He is a reverse mentor to two Senior Civil Servants and founded the Civil Service Hearing and Visual Disability Networks, which have become sub-networks of the Civil Service Disability Network.