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Learning Down to Train Up: Mentors are More Effective When They Gather Insights from Below
Mentorship, advising, and coaching are vital for individual success within one’s organizations and across one’s career. Although most mentors believe that knowledge resides at the top of organizational hierarchies, the current research demonstrates that mentors are more effective when they are open to insights from below. We introduce and define a downward learning orientation as the recognition that individuals lower in positional power are valuable sources of knowledge and learning. The current studies test whether the beliefs mentors have about the direction of learning affect their mentees’ performance and desire to learn. A field study at an online coding academy finds mentors with a downward learning orientation produce mentees with greater appeal in the labor market. Two additional studies involving career advice demonstrate a downward learning orientation produces better mentorship because these mentors create greater psychological safety and are more engaged. A final experiment establishes causality and demonstrates that learning direction is malleable and open to intervention. Importantly, we show that learning direction differs from a general learning orientation (e.g., growth mindset). The current research demonstrates that beliefs about learning, and the direction of that learning, are not only critical to one’s own success but also the successes of others.