As companies are looking to address the Silver Tsunami, we hear of many that are implementing formal mentorship programs in their organizations with a particular eye on helping with succession planning and knowledge transfer.

The logic is sound.

It makes sense that having seasoned leaders interact with younger, less-tenured teammates can help prepare the next generation for the higher-level challenges they’re about to tackle.

I was recently interviewing an employee at a client company about their interest in coaching. The individual, a high-potential Millennial, wasn’t a fan.

“By coaching, do you mean mentoring? If so, no thanks. I’ve done a mentoring program at another company. My mentor had two states: either he would be disinterested, or he would get ticked off and disagree with my perspective. I learned that having a mentor was just getting another manager in the middle of your stuff.”


At a time where almost 75% of companies are expected “to face significant or moderate challenges from late retirements”– including “loss of specific company knowledge” and “finding workers with similar knowledge and skills” – it seems that one of the go-to tools isn’t meeting the need. Why?

Our experience shows three reasons:

Old tools, new problems

Most Silver Tsunami solutions are being conceived and implemented by executive leaders who are Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, often without the input of their talented Millennial colleagues. The result is a well-intentioned but ultimately misaligned program.

Mentorship isn’t coaching

Mentorship has an inherent self-interest to it. The mentor is often either invested in the success of the business or personally connected to the mentee, which clouds the discussion. Coaching, on the other hand, is just about making the candidate better and is better structured to provide candid, sometimes hard-to-hear feedback.

Mentors don’t know what they know

For many executives, they’re so experienced and things come so naturally that it’s almost impossible to teach someone else. This concept, known as unconscious competence, is excruciatingly painful to overcome, frustrating both the mentor and the mentee. 

Mentorship can be great, but only as a part of a solution rather than the answer on its own. Without coaching, especially from someone who can explore challenges outside of the political dynamics of the organization, the interactions become just another barrier, rather than an accelerator, of their growth.

If you’re evaluating, or reevaluating, your development efforts, consider this: are you growing your high-potential teammates or giving them just another manager to navigate?