We know that the word “mentor” carries a lot of baggage in the military and that it means different things to different people. Let’s fix that first.
Mentoring is a voluntary developmental relationship that exists between a person of greater experience and a person of lesser experience that is characterized by mutual trust and respect. That’s it.
Mentoring takes place when the mentor provides a less experienced leader with advice and knowledge over time to help with professional and personal growth.
Contrary to common belief, mentoring relationships are not confined to the superior-subordinate relationship. They may occur between peers and often between senior NCOs and junior officers. There can even be reverse-mentoring when a younger person shares their greater knowledge of a new subject with a more senior leader. These relationship can occur across many levels of rank. In many circumstances, this relationship extends past the time where one party has left the chain of command.
Although they are similar in many ways, mentoring is distinct from counseling, teaching, and coaching. Counseling is done by the chain of command to discuss past performance and future goals. While teaching imparts knowledge to others before they will need to apply it. Teaching is not evaluative in nature and focused on the future. Conversely, coaching is feedback that occurs during the event to improve performance rather than share knowledge.