October 1, 2009 | Editorial|
During my first few hours as the III Corps commander, I had the opportunity to pass on my command philosophy to my subordinates and to the III Corps staff. I feel is it extremely important to set the tone and establish an environment of two-way communication right out of the gate.
Two-way communication is an exchange of information between a subordinate and leader. It allows each person to provide input, exchange ideas and allows the subordinate to obtain guidance and then provide feedback. Another type of relationship where this occurs is a mentoring relationship.
I’m an advocate of mentorship. I’ve been mentored many times during my career and I firmly believe it is what led me to be here today as the III Corps commander. In his article “Mentoring in the Military: Not Everybody Gets It” published in the Military Review November/December 2002, Maj. G. Joseph Kopser, special assistant to the chief of staff of the Army, spells out the role of both the mentor and the mentored. When I commanded 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Kopser was one of my lieutenants and is still one of my “mentorees.”
According to Kopser, 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.”
The first is becoming aware of your strengths and weaknesses. You must do your own internal assessment of who you are both professionally and personally before you can honestly identify what you hope to gain from and contribute to the mentoring relationship. Furthermore, in doing such an assessment, you will show sincerity. No one can possibly know everything, and as the junior member, it’s critical to understand that you have much to learn.
The second step is to understand what you would like from a potential mentor, and then seek him or her out. Much of this process is personality driven and that aspect of the relationship should be a consideration when selecting a mentor. Additionally, their unique professional background may be another consideration along with their strengths and attitudes toward mentorship.
Thirdly, once the relationship is established, work to maintain it. Show your mentor that you are interested and do the homework to keep the process going. Initiate topics of discussion, read professional literature and attend events that would enrich the development of the mentoring relationship. It is an investment for both parties. For the one being mentored, it is imperative that you do not waste your mentor’s resources – primarily his or her time. The work you do here will show your attentiveness to etiquette.
Observing mentoring rules of engagement and etiquette comprise the fourth step. Sincerity and loyalty are essential to a mentor. Being insincere or appearing to want the relationship for purely networking advantages will only help to dissolve the relationship. The same can be said for exposing information a mentor revealed in confidence. “Loyalty maximizes sponsorship and friendship.” Also, if the mentoring relationship is no longer beneficial, it is appropriate to end it. What is learned, both negative and positive, can be applied in future mentoring relationships.
The fifth step is a transition to the role of a mentor to others. At any point in your career, you could find yourself a mentor or a protégé. Application of what was learned in previous mentoring relationships will undoubtedly advance the next one – whether that is as a mentor or protégé.
Finally, Kopser reminds us that mentorship is voluntary. While it is possible to have a successful career without it, a leader will not achieve his or her greatest potential without a senior officer recognizing their abilities. A mentoring relationship is one that is pursued from a desire to do better.
Ask yourself what you have to lose and then examine what you have to gain. As a leader, it is your responsibility to become better than you are and to seek an improved and more effective way of doing things. On our Army team, our unique mission sets us apart from any other way of life. Mentorships can help decipher career mysteries and clarify questions you may have. It’s a relationship with those who know more than you, and that’s a relationship from which any of us can benefit.