Academic journal article Military Review

Mentoring, Coaching, and Counseling: Toward a Common Understanding

Academic journal article Military Review

Mentoring, Coaching, and Counseling: Toward a Common Understanding

Article excerpt

There is an old joke describing how a soldier, a Marine, a sailor, and an airman each responded differently to the command to "secure the building" The soldier quickly assembled his platoon, posted a guard mount, and controlled all entrances and exits. The Marine mobilized his force, outlined the plan, engaged the building with indirect fire, assaulted on line, cleared the building, sequestered survivors, and prepared to repel counterattacks. The sailor leisurely walked in; unplugged all the coffee pots; turned off the lights, computers, and printers; locked the doors; and left. The Air Force officer immediately contacted a real estate agent and negotiated a multi-year lease with an option to buy.

Similar confusion often occurs when talking with joint and interagency colleagues about how to help junior leaders progress. As military leaders, we help others develop through various means, including offering advice, providing support, allowing mistakes, and setting the stage for career advancement. When discussing leader development with our peers in partnering organizations, we often share insights and exchange techniques. It is important to establish a common understanding of the words mentoring, coaching, and counseling to help define the role of a leader.

A leader's tool kit to develop others contains three main tools: mentoring, coaching, and counseling. These terms have different meanings between the military services and government agencies, and among leaders within a service as well. To add to this confusion, different generations of Army leaders often use the terms differently. Just what do we mean by mentoring, coaching, and counseling?

The meanings of these words have been evolving in military doctrine as each of the services attempts to define them. The Army took a hard look at leader development and tweaked its use of the words of mentoring, coaching, and counseling in the latest leadership doctrine (Army Doctrine Reference Publication [ADRP] 6-22, Army Leadership). (1) Perhaps the biggest difference in how the Army and other services and agencies view these functions is reflected in the concept of mentoring.


One of the challenges in discussing mentoring is that people usually use the word in ways that reflect their own environments. Army Regulation 600-100, Army Leadership, defines mentorship as the "voluntary developmental relationship that exists between a person of greater experience and a person of lesser experience that is characterized by mutual trust and respect." (2)

ADRP 6-22 uses this definition and further expounds upon the doctrinal view of mentoring relationships. A key point highlighted in ADRP 6-22 is that "mentoring relationships are not confined to the senior-subordinate relationship. They may occur between peers and often between senior NCOs [noncommissioned officers] and junior officers." (3) This distinction expands the mentoring relationship beyond one of rank. It also focuses on the aspect of a mentor as someone with more experience helping to develop someone of less experience based on individual developmental needs. In the Army's view, a mentor is usually a person who specializes in the same occupational field as the mentee. For example, a more experienced artillery noncommissioned officer may serve as a mentor for a young artillery lieutenant. This doctrinal view shifts the emphasis of the action of mentoring from an inclusive view of a leader serving as the wise and trusted counselor for every soldier in the command to the view of a person exercising leadership as a wise and trusted counselor to an individual.

From the Army's perspective, the interactions between a mentor and mentee are at the personal level. An informal relationship reflects a personal commitment from both parties to improve the mentee. This shift in the doctrinal construct does not abrogate the responsibility of leaders to develop their subordinates but instead adds a responsibility for each leader to devote time to be a mentor to a select few. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.