Academic journal article Military Review

Mentoring in the Military: Not Everybody Gets It

Academic journal article Military Review

Mentoring in the Military: Not Everybody Gets It

Article excerpt

IN NINETEEN STARS: a Study in Military Character and Leadership, Edgar F. Puryear, Jr., says that Generals George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and George S. Patton, Jr., "spent their entire military careers preparing for high command through study and through working as junior officers for the most outstanding [mentors]-Marshall and Patton [working] for John J. Pershing, Eisenhower under the tutelage of Fox Conner and Douglas MacArthur, and MacArthur through the most unique exposure of them all, his father, Arthur MacArthur.

"Regardless of how able a leader may be, he will not achieve a position of top responsibility unless his ability is recognized by senior officers. [Mentoring] is a part of success, and it should not offend anyone when it is understood that it goes only to those who study, who prepare, and who produce.

"A total of 160 members of the [Fort] Benning faculty and Infantry School students who caught Marshall's eye at the time became general officers in World War II."1

Do you have a mentor? If not, why not? This article provides a method for deciding how and when to enter a mentoring relationship. It breaks down each step in seeking a mentor and explains why mentoring is rewarding. Mentoring is far more than just teaching or coaching. Mentoring is about trust, friendship, and in the end, wisdom. There are five steps in the lifelong learning process that officers can follow to increase the benefits mentoring can provide to their personal and professional careers:

1. Become aware of your strengths and weaknesses. A serious self-assessment can maximize the benefits of mentoring.

2. Understand your potential mentor-then seek him or her out. Not everyone has a personality that is suited for a mentoring relationship. Be selective and recognize those who take the time to develop others.

3. Work to maintain the relationship as it progresses. Mentors will distinguish themselves from acquaintances as time passes. It is your responsibility to maintain the relationship.

4. Observe mentoring rules of engagement (ROE) and etiquette. Loyalty is critical for mentoring to occur. To believe that mentors would continuously invest their efforts when their proteges are insincere is naive.

5. Transition yourself to become a mentor to others. Leader development is a lifelong process. At any point in a career, a person can assume the role of mentor or protege.

I am not trying to convince you that mentoring should be mandatory. On the contrary, it is a voluntary act that is initiated from a desire to do better. In this article, there are quotes that highlight themes and questions that stimulate self-assessment. The questions should challenge you to discover how this may apply in your career.

History is rich with examples of successful leaders who participated in mentoring relationships. Leaders in the military, in government, and in industry attribute their success to people who were great role models, inspirations, coaches, and guides during various stages of their careers. Secretary of State Colin Powell provides a great example. At various stages in his career, Powell learned from a number of people, both as a mentor and as a protege.2

During exhaustive research while serving in the U.S. Army, Lieutenant General William M. Steele reported to the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, that mentoring and retention are related. The report states that younger officers felt a lack of "a commensurate commitment from the Army to them."3 When relationships progress from professional to more personal, there is a greater chance that officers will receive the fulfillment or commitment they currently lack.

Be Aware of Your Strengths and Weaknesses

In the Harvard Business Review classic, "Managing Your Boss," authors John B. Gabarro and John P. Kotter explain: "Gaining this level of self-awareness and acting on it are difficult but not impossible. …

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