By Heather Kline
Serving as a mentor provides benefits to those building and strengthening professional and organizational relationships. According to an article by the University of Washington, a mentor may share with a mentee (or protege) information about his or her own career path, as well as provide guidance, motivation, emotional support and role modeling; a mentor may help with exploring careers, setting goals, developing contacts and identifying resources.
But where did the notion of mentors come from?
A character in Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey,” could be called the original. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca, went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom to Mentor. He served as teacher and overseer to Odysseus’ son, Telemachus.
Like the Greeks, the U.S. Army continues to leverage the concept of mentors today. I asked four Fort Leonard Wood service members to share their thoughts on how they view mentoring in their lives.
1st Lt. Katie Biddle, 5th Engineer Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, medical officer
“My friend from West Point was struggling with what he wanted to do with his Army career and asked me for advice. We looked over additional skill identifiers that he was eligible for within his (military occupational specialty) as a way to determine what he might be most interested in doing for the next few years. I was able to help him gather all the correct forms, training materials and memos. It was incredibly rewarding to work with someone else who was dedicated to the plan we created and to see him succeed.
The greatest benefit of mentorship is having a role model to emulate. A professional mentor allows a new leader to learn through experiences, with the goal to grow that new leader into the best version of themselves, while also helping them to avoid pitfalls. There are unlimited benefits to professional mentorship, as it is a continuously developing relationship that is focused on benefiting both parties involved.”
1st Sgt. Darryl Harley, Noncommissioned Officer Academy CBRN ALC chief
“I’ve always tried to mentor every Soldier that I am in charge of. Everything that I have learned over the years I took and pushed down to my subordinates. For example, in Army Career Tracker (a professional development tool) there is a tab where Soldiers can make you their mentor. I currently teach a mentorship class to my Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Advanced Leaders Course students so they understand the importance of a mentor.
The benefits are that you, as the mentee, get a second and honest opinion or assessment about yourself. As a mentor, I get to help progress an individual’s career by planting seeds and watching them pass that knowledge on to others. I honestly think that having a mentor is the best thing for anyone who is trying to succeed, whether it be in the Army or civilian life. If that mentor is a motivated individual, they will be able to get you to places that you yourself might had never thought possible.”
Capt. Andrew Rhodes, 3rd Chemical Brigade, HHC commander
“As a military officer, most of what our job entails is not written down in a book. I think the biggest benefit of mentorship is getting the chance to talk to people who have been in the same duty position and can share their experiences. As HHC’s company commander, I get the chance to work with senior officers every day. The battalion commanders all have taken their time to try and help coach and mentor when I am given a task.”
Sgt. 1st Class Desiree Hunt, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, HHC, executive assistant to the command sergeant major.
“Anyone is capable of being a leader, but not everyone has the capabilities or desire to be a mentor. Although the Army clearly defines both leadership and mentorship in AR 600-100, the Army Profession and Leadership Policy; understanding the difference between the two is essential. There are dozens of leaders who thrive on having power and leading Soldiers; but only a few of those leaders truly invest.
The really good ones take their time when it’s inconvenient, such as mentoring someone else’s Soldier, mentoring after a long day, or mentoring even during a four-day weekend to come in and assist their Soldiers. Although a leader has a vast array of experience, their daily end state is to accomplish organizational goals where as that of a mentor is taking time outside of organizational goals to show empathy, build trust and to empower those they work for and with. Understanding the difference and being able to identify the difference is both a strength and a benefit of mentorship.”
Former President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, once said, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” In this case, the tide is the mentor who lifts the mentee.
Are you interested in being a mentor or finding a mentor? The first step is yours to take.