This week’s commentary is a guest post by Eli Rothblatt, a prior-enlisted Soldier turned Captain currently out at the Army Logistics University. In this post he delves into his thoughts about positive psychology, emotional intelligence, group dynamics and teamwork. If you enjoy what you see, share it and tell others what you think. If want to write for us like he did, reach out to us. Sign up for more than just this blog at MilitaryMentors.org.

Mentorship is daily enacted positive psychology. In my time as both a non-commission officer and a newly promoted Captain I’ve come to realize that our military organization lives or dies not just on teamwork, but whether that teamwork is infused by positivity or negativity.  Emotions and stress can undoubtedly bring about a seesaw effect, so I’ve come to believe that an understanding of some basic positive psychological principles have helped me balance the ups and downs.

To consider this perspective I want to take a unique approach and contrast it with bullying, which is on the negative end of the psychological spectrum. Research says that bullying occurs when there is a lack of emotional intelligence. The bully doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to interact with the person bullied in more positive ways. The bullied person doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to influence the bully not to bully them. It is a version of a failed interaction of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the Prisoner’s Dilemma, two parties would each earn $2 if they cooperated; as a team they earn $4 total. However if one party betrays the other he can earn $3. The betrayed other party earns $0 (if both betray each other, they both earn $0). In bullying, the non-cooperating party is the bully who may get some satisfaction from bullying his victim. But both the bully and the bullied person lose by failing to become a team that positively helps each other.

In contrast, mentors and mentees have highly solved the prisoner’s dilemma. They are creating positive benefits for themselves and for society. In their team the mentor is increasing the social value of the mentee (through mentorship) and making us all richer. Bullies and the bullied as a dysfunctional team are on the lower end of the emotional intelligence spectrum. But mentors and mentees are on the higher end of emotional intelligence.

One must already have many positive psychological traits and competencies before one can be a mentor or a mentee. These include trustworthiness, being considerate, and conscientiousness. A mentor is unlikely to accept or keep a mentee (and vice versa) if the other partner isn’t able to be on time for meetings, is unable to follow up on homework, isn’t open to the perspective of the other party, or is untrustworthy.

In my experience, it is difficult to enter into a mentor relationship. It’s not because people are uninterested in those relationships; it is because most people lack the competencies required to keep these type of non-institutional relationships going. We fail to maintain communications with prospective mentors or mentees. In contrast a few people are extremely good at developing mentor relationships. They return calls and emails quickly, schedule follow-ups, do their homework, and passionately pursue goals to develop mentor relationships. These people may be few and far between.

For mentor relationships to bloom in the military, I think we need to focus on improving our social competencies, which will then increase the pool of people that can maintain mentor relationships. This will require an institutional bridge between formal leader development programs and the inherently non-institutional, informal nature of mentorship. Existing tools in the military such as discussion of mentorship in doctrine (ADRP 6-22) and programs that improve social competencies such as Resilience Training and MSAF360 already help, but we need a much bigger push. Websites like MilitaryMentors.org recognize the gap and attempt to fill it.

I ask that you look in the mirror and look to others to make a realistic self-assessment of your social capacity, emotional intelligence, team membership, and even likability. Where do you fit? I’ve realized that I need to do this often, as self-assessment is a key driver in development. MilitaryMentors.org has a whole page dedicated to a multitude of free assessments, like MBTI, FIRO-B, Give and Take, as well as others to start you on your way. They also have another page of downloadable resources that can help us start leadership conversations in our organizations that may spark transformations. I want to grow, so let’s bloom together.  


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