The Importance of Reverse Mentoring for Millennials | AccountingWEB

The Importance of Reverse Mentoring for Millennials

By Daniel A. Smith, CMA®, CPA
Member of the IMA Leadership Academy mentoring faculty
Senior Business Intelligence Strategist at J. Walter Thompson

For many young professionals, becoming a leader is not a pressing concern. At least at the outset, it’s not even on their radar as a goal or consideration. From their vantage point, achieving success as a leader is extremely difficult, and maybe even impossible. However, this simply is not true, and it is important for Millennials (those born between 1982 and 1999) to recognize that leadership development starts on day one of a new job, and reverse mentoring can be the perfect jumping-off point.

Millennial’s Views on Leadership

Why are young professionals so uncomfortable with the thought of being a leader? In his TedX presentation “Everyday Leadership,” Drew Dudley explains that young people believe leadership is something that is unobtainable to them as an individual. Dudley attributes this belief to Millennials being raised with popular media portraying business leaders, such as Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett, as somehow super human. This causes Millennials to believe leadership is a trait people are born with, and only the greatest and luckiest humans are able to evolve and become leaders.

Dudley also explains how Millennials tend to view society as a collective environment and perceive each other as equals. Millennials are highly collaborative by nature and would rather work as a team instead of being a standout superstar. This mindset doesn’t allow young professionals to see themselves as leaders. Instead, they feel as though people who are leaders somehow instinctively “know” they are leaders and don’t need a title to signify their position.

This altered viewpoint is a hurdle that must be overcome. Today’s leaders won’t be around forever and Millennials are eventually going to have to step up and become comfortable filling a leadership position. At the same time, mature business leaders will need to become comfortable with listening to, and learning from, someone younger than them. Fortunately, both of these roadblocks can be overcome simultaneously by the tried and true practice of mentoring.

The Value of Reverse Mentoring

As any young professional knows, the guidance provided by a seasoned professional through the rough waters at the beginning of a career path is an invaluable resource. However, many young professionals only view their mentor as a resource for day-to-day activities while starting out, and fail to tap into the great pool of knowledge they offer in terms of leadership training and development.

One method, called mentoring up – or reverse mentoring – is an example of how mentoring can help a young professional become comfortable with the idea of being a leader. In this model, the mentoring roles are flipped, positioning the young professional as the mentor and the seasoned professional as the mentee. This new arrangement gives young professionals the opportunity to engage in conversations about moving forward, not in a collaborative or passive capacity, but as an individual leader charged with guiding a project forward.

By being exposed to these activities in a safe environment, young professionals can grow comfortable with these actions and begin to see themselves in a leadership role, thus removing the stigma that leadership is something unattainable. Reverse mentoring also helps young professionals gain confidence by proving that leaders are not “super humans” and are real people who practice skills that are developed and improved upon with time.

Senior mentees also stand to benefit from a mentoring up-style program as well. Instead of being the ones guiding and leading a project, the senior mentee must listen and grow comfortable working with, and being lead by, a younger professional.

The important, career-altering benefits that can result from a program similar to mentoring up are numerous. Leadership is something all young professionals need to consider sooner rather than later, and I encourage you to discuss with your mentor how you can begin your own leadership training and development.

This blog

The IMA Young Accounting Pros Blog features the insights of IMA's Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.

More from this blog

Bloggers crew

Steve Knowles has spent 25 years in business and practice in the UK, but he also worked in the states and the years haven't dulled his way of seeing an alternative view to everyone else, and every day is a new adventure.


Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies.


Allan Boress, CPA, with over 25 years as a practitioner and consultant to the accounting profession. Mr. Boress is the author of 12 published books in 6 different languages, including a best-seller, The "I-Hate-Selling" Book.


Larry Perry, CPA, CPA Firm Support Services, LLC, is the author of accounting and auditing manuals, author and presenter of live staff training seminars, and author of webcast and self-study CPE programs. He blogs about small audits, reviews, and compilations.

Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.

Maria Calabrese, CIR, Human Resources manager for Fazio, Mannuzza, Roche, Tankel, LaPilusa, LLC in Cranford, New Jersey, Maria's topics revolve around the world of: Mentoring, Performance management, and The "Y Generation," a.k.a. "The whY generation".


William Brighenti is a CPA, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and Certified [Business] Valuation Analyst, operating an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting firm in Hartford, Connecticut, Accountants CPA Hartford.


Ken Garen, CPA, is the co-founder and President of Universal Business Computing Company (, a software development firm of high-volume, high-productivity accounting and payroll technology.


Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.


Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP is the CPA Programs Leader for Intacct Corporation responsible for leading the CPA/BPO Partners nationally.

Brian Strahle is the owner of LEVERAGE SALT, LLC where he provides state and local tax technical services to accounting firms, law firms and tax research organizations across the United States. He also writes a weekly column in Tax Analysts State tax Notes entitled, "The SALT Effect." For more info, visit his website:
Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is president of Cytron and Company, known for helping companies and organizations improve their bottom line through a hybrid of strategic public relations, communications, marketing programs and top-notch client service. An accredited consultant, Scott works with companies, organizations and individuals in professional services (accounting, finance, medical, legal, engineering), high-tech and B2B/B2C product/service sales.

Rita Keller is a nationally known CPA firm management consultant, speaker, author, mentor and blogger. She has over 30 years hands-on experience in CPA firm management, marketing, technology and administrative operations.

Stacy Kildal is the mom of two fantastic kids, an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Enterprise Solutions ProAdvisor, Sleeter Group Certified Consultant, a nationally recognized member of the Intuit Trainer and Writer Network, and co-host of RadioFree QuickBooks.
Michael Alter's blog specializes in providing practical advice to those who seek greater profitability and practice management tactics that enhance deeper client relationships.

Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, leads a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.


The IMA Young Professionals Blog features the insights of IMA’s Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.


FEI Financial Reporting Blog provides highlights from SEC, PCAOB, FASB, IASB, and other regulatory news, including reporting under Sarbanes-Oxley Sect 404. It is written by Edith Orenstein, Director of Technical Policy Analysis at FEI.


Sue Anderson has 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently she is the program director for online CPE provider CPE Link.


Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.

Caleb Newquist is the Editor-in-Chief of Sift Media US, overseeing content for both AccountingWEB and Going Concern.

Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of "The Yellow Book Interpreted" and owner of a website devoted to training for governmental auditors.


AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too! Members of our British team who publish share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.