How Can I Manage My Own National Guard Career Without a Mentor?

Here’s a question I got asked the other day.  “How can I manage my own National Guard career without a mentor?”  That’s a great question.  I’ll do my best to answer it objectively below.

First and foremost, everyone has mentors in disguise.  If you are an NCO, you have an Officer you work for.  If you are an Officer, you have NCOs working for you.  In addition, you have a supervisor and senior rater.  You also have other officers and NCOs in your unit to learn from.  You can learn something from everyone you come in contact with.  You’ll never learn everything you need to know from just one person.

Next, you need to realize that the Army will never assign you a personal mentor.  I wish they did, but they don’t.  If you are lucky enough to have a mentor who makes the time to help you with goal setting, career planning and personal development, consider yourself lucky.  I’d bet that less than 1 in 1000 people in the Army have a boss who does all those things.

In addition, I’ve also learned that most people take their boss for granted.  Because you work with them so closely and know their flaws, you rarely consider them a mentor.  If your boss counsels you in writing, consider yourself lucky.  If your boss does an occasional OPD or NCODP, be grateful.  No one is perfect.

At the end of the day, it’s your job to find a mentor.  More importantly, it’s your job to develop your own skills, to decide what kind of career you want, and become the leader you are capable of becoming.  You can’t blame your career failure on not having a mentor.  From this day forward, take responsibility of your own career.  In order to do that, here’s what I recommend.

# 1 Decide What You Want to Accomplish

You won’t have a successful career by accident.  No General ever achieves that rank by luck.  You have to decide what you want.  If you don’t know, pick something!  You can always adjust your goals later on.  Less than 1% of America has written goals.  Join the 1% and set a written goal.  Take out a sheet of paper and write your mission statement for your career.  Here’s an example.  “I want to retire with 22 years of service.  I want to retire as a Lieutenant Colonel and spend my last duty assignment as an Infantry Battalion Commander.”

# 2 Determine Which Action steps You Need to Do to Reach Your Goals

Once you know what you want to accomplish, you need to do your backwards planning.  Take your big goal and break it down into bite-sized chunks.  Determine what you need to do in the next 12 months to move your closer to your goals.

# 3 Take Action and Start Working Toward Your Goals

Once you know what action steps you must take, do it!  Enroll in the class you need, work on your APFT, work on your personal development or attitude, pursue the job you need, etc.

# 4 Evaluate Your Progress Every 30 Days

The best leaders reflect on their experience.  I’ve found that it’s best to do this every 30 days.  At the end of each month, spend an hour or two in solitude and reflect on the previous month.  Did you reach your goals? What did you do right? What did you do wrong?  What do you need to do differently next month?

# 5 Re-evaluate Your Goals Every Single Year

Once a year, you should reevaluate your big goals.  Sometimes our priorities and goals change.  If that happens, don’t fret.  It’s perfectly normal.  If your goals change, adjust your written goals and then set a new action plan for the upcoming year.  If your goals change every year, you might want to spend a little more thought into what you really want to achieve with your career.

# 6 Try to Improve Yourself Every Single Day

The best leaders strive to learn something new each day.  Try to get a little bit better every single day.  Keep an open mind and always try to learn something.  Meet new people, read books, study subjects you know nothing about, etc.

Final Thoughts

In summary, these are my best tips to manage your own National Guard Career without a mentor.  I hope you will take the advice from this article and do what you can to be a better leader and have the most successful career possible.  Thanks.

What are your thoughts? Post any comments or questions below.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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4 thoughts on “How Can I Manage My Own National Guard Career Without a Mentor?”

  1. Whether they know it or not, the person who asked you this question probably already has a mentor, or at least someone that they can learn from by watching. I do not necessarily believe that a person needs an official title, to be a mentor. Sometimes they don’t even have to know what an affect they are having on another person’s professional development to be a good influence.

    When I worked for a large company in San Antonio, there was a much older woman on the management team that I looked up to. She probably doesn’t remember me, and most certainly does not realize what an affect she had on my twenty-plus year career in the insurance industry, but I learned a lot from her. Since she was so successful in her career, I watched her like a hawk and took note of everything she did. To this day, I still remember some of her little sayings about how to do a job right.

    If someone were to ask me how to go about finding a mentor, I might tell them that in time, a mentor will come. In the meantime, just find the right person to watch.

  2. Another option you might consider is a program the Army has recently started. It is also available to the Guard and Reserve Leaders. The program is called the 360 Multi-Soucre Assessment and Feedback. The leader selects 5 subordinates, 5 peers, and 3 superiors to rate them across a standardized set of questions. That information is then processed and a report is then given to the leader for their review. During the review process the leader can request a coaching or mentoring session from one of the Army’s Coaches on the MSAF program. There can be up to 3 hours of coaching using this process. The only down side is that you must have a CAC card to access the MSAF 360 site. I personally believe this is an invaluable program for leaders as the coaching session remains between the leader and the coach. No information is shared with the unit or the chain of command. It provides a great environment for frank discussions. The website can be found at: While the assessment is currently mandatory for Officers and will be mandatory for NCOs in the near future would encourage leaders at all levels to advantage of this great program.

    1. The 360 Multi-Source Assessment sounds like a great way to figure out where you stand as a leader. I’m going to do some research on it and write a post about it. Thanks for sharing.

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