AT&T exec swears by this 2-word tactic for building relationships and getting ahead


If you're anywhere past the point of entry-level jobs, Kathryn Bockman has a leadership tactic for you: Reverse mentoring.

It's an effective way to build relationships and encourage communication in the workplace, says Bockman, assistant vice president of revenue operations at telecommunications giant AT&T. At its core, the idea is simple — ask your younger colleagues about the strategies they use to do their jobs.

Bockman didn't create the idea or coin the term, but she learned its value firsthand when her son Greg — now a senior production manager — was hired by AT&T as an entry-level sales consultant in 2016. The more they talked about work, the more she realized her son was gaining skills and perspectives that she didn't have.

"He opened up a door for me. I was learning from him — the complexities [of his role], how to [handle] customer relationships and problem solving," Bockman tells CNBC Make It, adding that she didn't know how to do much of what Greg did.

"[I didn't know] what it took to put on a town hall, or do an interview with a department head, or talk about a product or service that the company was going to launch," says Bockman. 'So I found myself sitting there going, 'Wow, how do you do that?'"

Bockman uses this tactic with other colleagues now, too — even interns, she says. It may benefit both parties: Reverse mentorship can help young professionals feel valued, heard and recognized at work, according to a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, leading to increased retention rates.

It's often hard for managers to admit they don't know something, and daunting to teach your boss something new. Getting over that hump takes some emotional intelligence and self-awareness on both sides, Bockman says.

The best employees often speak up and contribute ideas, Microsoft Asia president Ahmed Mazhari told Make It in March: It helps foster authenticity at work and strengthens communication with bosses.

If you don't feel comfortable speaking up regularly, you can find a small group of allies — an "awkward army" — who can invite you more organically into conversations, workplace expert Henna Pryor told Make It last week. Creating your own can help you feel more confident when speaking in front of others, Pryor noted.

And bosses can ask more questions of the people around them. It shows strength and resilience, not inferiority, says Bockman.

"Step out of your comfort zone," she advises.

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