Defining Mentoring

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.

Mentoring Myths

#1: Mentoring means favoritism. By definition, mentoring is a relationship outside of the chain of command, so favoritism should never be an issue. Our main goal is to connect military professionals with people in other units and tapping into experiences and knowledge that is hidden behind hierarchy and silos.

#2: Mentoring is networking for your next job. Mentoring is about development, not networking. If you’re not interested in that, then you don’t respect the other person’s time. We strongly encourage all of our users to block and report users who violate that respect.

#3: Mentoring means helping people like you. Mentors come in all forms, and we think that Jim and Chevy are a great example of what we hope to promote. Only having mentors who are just like you misses the benefits of seeing broader perspectives. Serendipity brought Jim and Chevy together and our goal is to connect other military professionals in meaningful ways.

#4: Mentoring means asking for help. Learning from other experiences isn’t weak. It’s part of what the military does every day. Professionals take learning and after-action reviews seriously, and mentoring is just a way of doing that.

Mentoring Skills

  • Feedback – A key process in the mentor/mentee relationship is to provide honest feedback. Confidentiality is very critical to the relationship. Mentees need to listen carefully, avoid becoming defensive, and look objectively at their behavior. Mentors have to be candid, understanding, and invested in providing timely and accurate feedback. Similarly, it is important to consider the behavior and actions that prompt positive feedback and what can be learned from this.
  • Open-mindedness – the Mentor will encourage Mentees to move out of their “comfort zone”. They will take fresh and sometimes challenging views on issues that affect the Mentee at work. There will be disagreements and these need to be handled constructively.
  • Maintaining the relationship – both parties must take responsibility for keeping the momentum going. It is also important to regularly review how the relationship is progressing and to recognise when it is appropriate to terminate the relationship.
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