Mentors. We all know how important they are. I am sure that if I took a poll, everyone would have at least one leader they looked up to, who they could rely on for advice and development outside of their own chain of command. Some of us are lucky and have more than one mentor.
Sometimes the mentors we have are within our immediate chain, other times they are from somewhere else. I have mentors from other states, from active duty, and from different branches. I even consider some top notch NCOs to be my mentors.
Being mentored is one thing. It takes a lot of humility and willingness to accept that there is a lot that we still need to learn, especially in our leadership development.
Mentoring, on the other hand, is a huge responsibility. Sometimes, we mentor without even realizing it. There are no requirements for gender when it comes to being a mentor. A lot of my mentors are males, but I have a few special female mentors. They are there for a different reason, and it’s because they’ve been very successful in a still male-dominated profession.
While there are a lot of women in the Army today, there are even less in the officer corps (so it seems). It’s harder and harder to seek out like-minded peers and mentors. I am going to offer two tips for being a mentor, and three tips for being mentored by someone else.
For being a mentor:
1. Realize that you are mentoring without knowing it. What I mean by that is a few things. Of course, as leaders, we are mentors by nature, because many others look to us to set the example of what right looks like – in EVERY way, and this is irrespective of gender.
Soldiers are always watching us.They want to see how we act in any given situation, or when you know what hits the fan. Other officers junior to us look to see how things are done, or how they can fit into the unit. As a female, it is even more important to realize this, especially if you are in a combat arms battalion and probably one of two or three female officers. It may not sound PC, but that’s just reality. All eyes are on you.
2. Seek out those who show promise, but also keep your eyes on those who fly under the radar. It’s easy to seek out those who remind us of ourselves – we want to help others who are like us, that seems to be human nature. Of course, it’s easiest to give advice and receive when it is this situation.
However, sometimes the best mentors come from unlikely places, and from people I never imagined. It all involves being open to new possibilities and not limiting yourself by what is familiar or safe. Just like meeting challenges in the Army, take a chance on helping a new person if the opportunity arises.
For being a mentee:
1. Be open to advice. Don’t act like one of those who knows it all. We all know we don’t really know it all, so don’t act like it. Be open to receiving advice, and you will learn far more than if you keep yourself closed off. Confidence is one thing, arrogance is another.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This seems like obvious advice, but you don’t have to sit and wait for someone to seek you out and offer their opinion. Sometimes you need to make the first step and just ask.
3. Rank doesn’t always matter. I consider some fine senior NCOs to be my mentor. There are many CSMs, 1SG and even SFCs who have been there, done that and written the book…in circles around me. I would not hesitate to ask their advice in any situation.
Mentoring and being mentored are what make the military thrive. There’s doctrine, there’s experience, and there’s learning from those who came before us. What are all of your experiences with mentoring in general? Tell me about your mentors, or opportunities you have had to be a mentor for someone else.