This week’s post is a from current Command and General Staff College (CGSC) student at Fort Leavenworth, MAJ Tanya Leonard. In it she shares some of her unique experiences with mentorship and offers advice from her perspective on seeking out mentors.
As I’ve seen it, mentorship is a common desire for all individuals who wish to progress in their careers. In fact, some may argue mentorship is the key to a leader’s success. After all, why go through the trouble of searching for the road to success when it’s already been paved? There are two important things to remember regarding mentorship for those who desire it; mentorship must be sought, and mentorship is a two-way street.
Seeking mentorship is often easier said than done. Throughout my career I have acquired multiple mentors. These individuals are people I consider successful, people I can trust to be honest with me, people who have my best interest at heart, and people who want to see me succeed. This experience has led me to encourage others to seek multiple mentors. Having multiple mentors offers a variety of mentorship based on various perspectives and experiences. On several occasions in my career I have reached out to multiple mentors to gain a more holistic perspective on a situation to make an informed decision. There will be instances in which a mentor has not experienced your situation but knows someone who has – this is when having multiple mentors pays off. For example, I could definitely ask one of my male mentors how to balance family and career and get great feedback. However, a mentor who is a mother may possibly give me an entirely different perspective on balancing family and career.
Throughout your own selective process of building mentorship ensure you and your mentors share some commonalities. For example, as a female, mother, and wife, I could certainly have a single male mentor, however there will be some experiences a mentor will be unable to share. This once again illustrates the advantages of having multiple mentors that share a variety of commonalities. During the time I was selected to CGSC I found out I was pregnant. My family and I were trying to determine how to balance a pregnancy, a PCS move, and school. I reached out to both male and female mentors to get a maternal perspective and general perspective. I received a myriad of perspectives on whether to attend school or to defer. The different perspectives I received ultimately led to my decision to defer CGSC a year; without these perspectives I could never have made an informed decision.
Mentorship is also a two-way street. As a mentor I check on those who often seek professional guidance to ensure they are on track. As a mentee when life changing and career changing decisions arise I reach out to all my mentors for guidance before deciding. I keep up with my mentors as they progress through their careers, and I do the same for my mentees. Communication is key in the mentor/mentee relationship – it requires consistent communication. Communicating lessons learned is key, as successes and failures are our best teachers. To breed long-lasting reciprocal relationships mentorship does not have to stay within the professional realm; I know my mentors and mentees on more of a personal level. I’m aware of their marital status, I know their children, and I know their personal and professional goals. In turn, they know the same about me – again, this relationship is a give-and-take, back-and-forth, reciprocating bond. An old Battalion Commander of mine who I constantly keep in contact with has a child the same age as mine. Interestingly we keep up with their development and milestones. I can count on him for advice in any situation, and he has encouraged me multiple times to give back to those coming up behind me. Mentorship is an agreement to invest in another person. This investment ultimately benefits both parties and the entire profession.
So why is mentorship important in my opinion? Mentorship breeds excellence and paves the way to success. Mentorship maintains our profession of arms. Why would anyone want to take a journey without a map when a map exists that will take you to your destination? If you desire mentorship, find a mentor that is willing to take time to invest in you. This mentor doesn’t have to look like you but must believe in you. Seek multiple mentors, it will pay off tremendously throughout your career. Multiple mentors give you a holistic perspective when making decisions. Lastly mentorship must be given after received, what benefit is it to hold all the “golden nuggets” to yourself? When someone invests in you return the favor and invest in another. This is how to continue the cycle of outstanding professionals and leaders through mentorship.