My son as my hero: Reflections of reverse mentoring

Monday, 15 August 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


I never thought I would write this column in my life. Strange are the swirls that entangle us. My son, my hero is physically no more. s2I truly experienced “reverse mentoring” by interacting with him, at least for the past five years. Today’s column is a reflection of such glimpses.


Reverse mentoring is gaining momentum in management circles. It essentially means an older and a senior person is being guided by a relatively younger and junior person. It applies to professional front as well as to the personal front. This term became quite popular with the advent of millennials  to the workplaces. In fact, it can be applicable even in a family including a father and a son. 

Multiple Generations

Generation X covers people born from 1965 through 1980. The label long ago overtook the first 

name affixed to this generation: the Baby Bust. Xers  are often depicted as savvy, entrepreneurial loners.  

The Baby Boomer label is drawn from the great spike in fertility that began in 1946, right after the end of World War II, and ended almost as abruptly in 1964, around the time the birth control pill went on the market. It’s a classic example of a demography-driven name.    

The Silent generation  describes adults  born from 1928 through 1945. Children of the Great 

Depression and World War II, their “Silent” label refers to their conformist and civic instincts. It also makes for a nice contrast with the noisy ways of the anti-establishment Boomers. 

One obvious factor among all these generations is that the very names are associated with events that took place in the west, and to a very high extent in the USA. The degree of relevance and applicability to Asian countries such as Sri Lanka is questionable. 

Emerging Generations 

The millennials or generation Y employees who were born between 1980 to 1999 have differences in their perceptions, preferences and performance.  They are much more tech-savvy compared to their generation X predecessors, having exposed to rapid advancement in information and communication technology during past decades. They are also for more flexible work arrangements. Rigid eight hour work rule will make them bored and unproductive. They are also much more ecological conscious in going green.  These triple aspects of tech-savyness, work flexibility and green-consciousness act as key indicators with regard to their preferences towards work arrangements.

There is another generation yet to enter the workplace. They represent those who were born after the year 2000. Popularly known as Generation Z, they were exposed to internet from day one of their life. Obviously they are far more tech-savvy than millennials.  Through research, Generation Z has already being identified as being curious, courageous and creative. 

My son, born in September 2002 belongs to Generation Z.  Representing Generation X I saw smart devices from phones to tabs need smartness in handling. My son was my technology adviser. He used to play with my phone and tab and tell me multiple apps which of high relevance. His focus on to the tech devices was immense and he was immersed in learning software, games and apps. 

My son my “reverse mentor”

Devnaka Abhisith Nadeepa Dharmasiri, my younger son had to leave earth on 8th August before his 14th birthday on 28th September 2016. He was a grade 9 student of Royal College. He left me, Ruklanthi, my wife and Navodi, my elder daughter. The shock and surprise experienced not only by us but many others was indeed significant.

He was an all-rounder with flare for music and favor for technology.  He was loved by everyone who had an encounter with him. This was evident in the way students, teachers, relations and friends alike  emotionally responded upon hearing his sudden demise. Being a junior prefect and a chorister at Royal College, he was in the limelight as a bright and an obedient student.

I learnt a lot by being with him. My association with him gave me many an exposure to discover him. As a life-long learner in management, it was indeed “reverse mentoring” in action. I, from Generation X, was being mentored by a young boy from Generation Z.

Lessons learnt from my son

Sadly but surely, I learnt a lot from my son Nadeepa. He despite the relatively shorter stay of 14 years on earth, has created an impact in many lives. Let me reflect on them through ten Cs.

1. Cheerful

I learnt how to be cheerful from him. He was always with a smile. This was repeatedly mentioned by his friends who came to pay their last respect. When I was stressful and tired, his warmth and cheerfulness was a relief for me. From early childhood, he was a “hugging” boy. He used to request from me and his mom, “give me a big hug”. A flying kiss was a regular feature when he was half sleep when I had to leave early morning. He  was the cheer generator at the home front. The popular prescriptions of positive thinkers were very much evident in little Nadeepa.

2. Caring

He was a guardian to his elder sister Navodi. He was conscious of the fact that she was struggling with the pressures of GCE AL. He had to sacrifice many excursions because of Navodi’s AL encounters. He care was aptly experienced by my parents as well as Ruklanthi’s parents. The way he was showing his genuine love for me, Ruklanthi and Navodi was a classic case of caring. He showed us how we should care for each other through timely action.

3. Committed

The way school teachers appreciated Nadeepa was such a delight for us as parents. He was one whom the teachers could have confidence in assigning a task.  Being a primary prefect and a junior prefect, this was further demonstrated. The fundamental elements of commitment we encounter in management could be seen in him.

4. Confident

Nadeepa was a member of the “Inspirational Choir” who sang the welcome song at the airport when Pope Francis visited Sri Lanka last year. He had made many speeches in front of large audiences and sang many a times in variety of entertainment events.  He fell down in a pool and broke his ankle last year. Subsequently, he was on clutches for two months. Yet, he never lost his spirit. All these were signs of  his confidence. I humbly admire his ways, compared to where I was at his age.

5. Carefree

My son never skipped playing. He enjoyed playing cricket and soccer with his friends. He also enjoyed playing computer games. Though I did not understand what it really meant, he told me that he is a clan leader in virtually playing the “Clash of the Clans”. He often told me and Ruklanthi not to be too serious. We in fact were worried at times, whether he is neglecting his studies. Yet, he proved otherwise in passing exams with flying colours. I learnt from him how to be relaxed yet stay in focus. 

6. Collaborative

He was a natural team leader. There had been many instances where he played a key role in organising class parties, trips and other events. The way others rallied around him was amazing. He knew how to gather friends for a worthy cause. Whilst I was teaching team work, he really demonstrated it in his own way. 

7. Creative

Nadeepa was naturally creative in many fronts. He was writing poetry and composing songs. He was handy with the camera I bought from USA and taking many uncommon shots. He won many creative writing competitions. What I insist on being creative, I saw clearly in my son. 

8. Curious 

I saw the curiosity in him the way he asked many intelligent questions, especially when we were travelling together. He wanted to think deeply and to probe. No wonder, how he found science his favorite subject. At times, I felt he wanted to challenge the assumptions and have a fresh way. What I was teaching as “out of the box thinking”, I saw in his own original approach. 

9. Credible

As a junior prefect, Nadeepa demonstrated credibility to the fullest. He was trustworthy in executing the assigned tasks bog or small. That’s why teachers approached him as the preferred choice in getting work done. Whilst being credible is a major challenge in corporate fronts, the way he demonstrated it was truly remarkable. 

10. Complete

Nadeepa wanted to be a scientist and a priest. That may sound as a unique combination. He was spiritual by nature. I saw a young pure heart brimming with genuineness in him. He was having asthma but have got quite used to an inhaler. Strangely, he experienced an acute asthmatic attack resulted in a struggle at the Medical Intensive  Care Unit (MICU)of Lady Ridgeway Hospital for three days. 

Way Forward

I still recall watching through the glass door of the MICU whilst Ruklanthi was inside sitting close to Nadeepa. She consoled me saying, “he is too precious for this world”. 

One smile for all,

One heart of Gold,

One of the best this world could hold.

Never selfish, always kind,

Many hearts warmed with your gifts,

Many souls touched with your voice,

Glorifying God was always his choice,

What a beautiful memory,

to leave behind.

Good bye my sweet angel. You will remain with us till we join you one day. 


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