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The Rise of Millennial Mentors: Why CEOs Are Tapping the Wisdom of 20- and 30-Somethings

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You would think the CEO of a cutting-edge fitness company like SoulCycle—which is crushing it on marketing, brand power and getting tired, overworked and hungover people on to those bikes day after day—wouldn't need much guidance, but you would be quite wrong. 

Melanie Whelan held executive positions at Virgin America and Equinox before joining the company in 2012 as the COO and now serves as CEO of this cultish-ly popular spin brand. And though she has a number of mentors, including her boss from her first job at Starwood, the mentor that she is most excited about right now happens to be a millennial. 

At the LOLA and Keds event held this week in celebration of Women's Equality Day (mark your calendars, it's August 26th!), Whelan talked about how excited she was to meet with her millennial mentor on a monthly basis. 

"As a newly turned 40-year-old mother of two who is running a company and is time starved, I am 'not hip with what the kids are doing these days,'" she told the audience. She said her mentor helps guide her as to what she should be reading, listening to and downloading. 

"She is not in my cohort, as marketers call it, so it is very useful," Whelan said.  "Great advice comes from all over the place. My millennial mentor is my new boss." 

Whelan isn't alone. Turns out, we millennials are helping some of the most powerful CEOs in the country usher their companies into the future.

Lloyd's of London's chief executive Inga Beale is also all about consulting millennials to keep her company ahead of the curve. 

"We need to be reminded of what's happening in this world and how the new generation thinks differently, behaves differently, and wants different things," Beale recently told CNBC. "I meet with them regularly to chat about what's going on in their world, how they think of things, and how we can do things differently in the company to appeal to that generation. I find things like that help me get inspired."

A number of institutions, like Bank of New York Mellon, are even setting up formal reverse mentoring programs. That's how a 31- year-old employee named Darah Kirstein began mentoring Gerald Hassell, the CEO of the $44 billion company. 

Using his "Darah list" Hassell consulted her on everything from desk-sharing to what young people invest in and how she and her friends receive information. 

With millennials expected to represent half of all U.S. workers by 2020, these relationships can be extremely beneficial on both sides of the equation. For company leaders, it's a chance to better understand the culture of technology and improve modes of communication not only with markets and clients but with their own employees. For millennials, it's a shot at bending the boss' ear and proving just how valuable you are. 

Smart leaders of any age know their limitations—and the smartest know when and who to ask for help. While there's no roadmap for becoming a mentor to a CEO, staying engaged, noting opportunities for improvement and being unafraid when the right moment comes along to share your insights, can all work to your advantage. You never know who might need your advice.  

Photos via Pixabay and Getty Images for Keds

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