Mentorship A Personal and Force Multiplier

by Lieutenant Colonel Barbara G. Fast
Most of us have our own ideas of what a mentor is. For some, it is an individual who has been influential in our lives. Perhaps it was a coach, a teacher, or a military leader. For others, it may be a vision of a general officer or a sergeant major who brings favorite or chosen subordinates up through the ranks, helping them gain promotions and the good jobs. The purpose of this article is to define mentorship, look at two types of mentoring, and explore the applicability of mentorship to military intelligence (MI) officers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs) soldiers, and civilians.

What is a Mentor?

The dictionary defines a mentor as a trusted counselor or guide. A mentor is generally an influential, experienced individual with whom you establish a personal relationship and who actively helps you reach your goals.
The term mentor originates from Greek mythology. As the story goes, before departing for the Trojan Wars, Homer's Odysseus asked a trusted friend, Mentor, to watch over his son, Telemachus. Mentor was actually the goddess Athena, who had assumed the form of a human. Mentor personally took over the responsibility of educating and guiding Telemachus into adulthood. The mentorship of Telemachus lasted during the ten-year siege of Troy and throughout the next ten years, the time it took to Odysseus to journey home.
Mentorship in the military has enjoyed mixed success as leaders and institutions have struggled to define and formalize it. In 1985, General John C. Wickham, Jr., then Chief of Staff of the Army, published a White Paper which designated Leadership as the Army Theme of the Year. In the paper, he outlined eight precepts which establish a framework for building more effective leaders and for individual action. The first precept challenged every leader to be a mentor to subordinate soldiers. The idea is that sharing your knowledge and leadership is the greatest legacy that you can leave to your subordinates and the Army.
Subsequently published, Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-80, Executive Leadership,1 describes leadership development through mentoring. The Pamphlet places mentorship in a different context than did the White Paper: A process used to develop the thinking skills and frames of reference for sequential and progressive leader development.
Mentors can be superiors once removed from the subordinate. Their jobs are to assess these young leaders potential and develop their capabilities and a frame of reference for the future. There is another place in the Army which mentions mentorship. The Officer Evaluation Record (OER) has a designated block for raters to grade the officer on mentoring subordinates. The description of mentoring in the OER seems more closely aligned to General Wickham's idea of mentoring guiding and leading subordinates throughout the mentor's career.
With the exception of the brief mentions in the OER, Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-80, and the documents referred to in Lieutenant Colonel Rosello's article beginning on page 36. there are no thorough descriptions of mentorship in any official Army publication. So with General Wickham's charge and the Pamphlet's description as our start point, we will examine mentorship and see how it applies to us.
Kathy Kram of Boston University is one of the foremost authorities on the subject of mentorship. She cites four common characteristics found in mentorship:
So, what does a mentor look like? A mentor, in the traditional sense, is usually 8- to 15-years older than the protege. Translated to the military, it means someone who is at least two ranks senior. Normally, mentors are successful and upwardly mobile, enjoying high rank or position in the organization or Army. They are respected by their peers and possess the requisite knowledge of the Army and maintain a network of resources. They are often consulted by others. Mentors who meet these criteria are not threatened by their proteges' potential to equal or surpass them in their career. Finally, these individuals are generally consistent in their lifestyle.
Mentor-protege relationships are geared toward the longer term. This permits true development of the protege. The mentor works with the protege to set career and personal objectives and strategies for the future. Working together, they develop a career path which incorporates schooling, assignments, professional development, and how to balance a career with one's personal life.

Aspects of Mentorship

There are two aspects to mentorship: career and psychological. Each relationship is a little different and may encompass only one aspect, both or parts of the two. The career aspect of mentorship involves sponsorship of the protege. The mentor provides the protege exposure and visibility. This might be through mentioning the protege in conversation with other senior leaders, by involving the protege in briefings and meetings, or allowing the protege to accompany the mentor to field sites, conferences, and other events.
Mentors help their proteges find challenging assignments which will allow them to progress in their careers. Most mentors are in a position to know what type of assignments are right in terms of career and personal growth. It should be made clear that Army leaders are not in the business of doling out the best jobs to a selected few and ensuring promotions for their proteges. The individual's employment performance and demonstrated potential as written up in the formal evaluation are the basis of the promotion, not the mentor. Where mentors play an influential role is in helping their proteges help themselves to succeed, not in causing success.
Throughout the relationship, the mentor coaches the protege. The mentor provides advice and constructive criticism, working to maximize the protege's strengths and minimize weaknesses. Some of this is done through sharing experiences, but frank and honest discussions and observations are at the heart of the relationship. The second aspect of mentorship, the psychological one, consists of role modeling, counseling, friendship, and acceptance and confirmation of the protege. Mentors lead their proteges, not just professionally but also personally. The mentor lets the protege see how they lead and make decisions. Mentors impart values, moral and ethical responsibilities, and standards of conduct by which they live. The relationship is one without fear that is, the protege can openly discuss concerns or issues with the mentor knowing that the relationship will not terminate because of what has been shared. It is in this relationship that the pair may establish the greatest bond.
It should now be apparent that there are differences between being a leader and being a mentor. Most of us will be leaders at one time or another. Leaders develop, coach, advise, and motivate subordinates as a routine part of their duties. This is part of normal professional development and should not be confused with mentorship. The rater-ratee relationship is an example of this type of leadership. There may be the special chemistry that is found in a formal mentoring relationship; this type of leader role may only last for the duration of the rated individual's assignment.

Finding a Mentor

You are now armed with the knowledge of what a mentor is so how do you find one? Is there a Central Issue Facility or a 1-800 number? This is the hard part because most of us have not hung around in circles where these leaders hang their hats and do not know a successful senior leader well enough to make an approach. Before you begin your search, there is a little homework you need to do. First, you must understand your needs. You must be sure that you even need a mentor. Many of the successful people with whom I have spoken did not feel that they ever had a formal mentor. Rather, they had various role models and senior leaders who provided advice and perhaps someone in whom they could confide at various points in their careers. Maybe a mentor is not for you.
A self-assessment is definitely in order. You must understand your objectives and how you plan to accomplish them. Think out the future. Come to grips with what you hope to gain from being mentored. It is something you and a mentor will need to agree on to ensure all aspects of the relationship are synchronized. Finally, you must figure out what price you are willing to pay. There will be expectations on the part of the mentor. Are you willing to live up to them?
Most mentors will do a similar assessment on potential proteges. They look to see if the individual is properly motivated and goal-oriented. If the individual is not willing to seek challenging assignments or greater responsibility, the potential protege probably will not pass muster. Mentors are looking for junior leaders who show the mark (maybe at this time just a glimmer) of success and probably would not spend time and energy on individuals who are not career- or goal-oriented.
Once your self-assessment is complete, the next step is to identify and get a mentor to accept you as a protege. Many professionals believe that it is incumbent on the prospective protege to find and initiate a relationship with a mentor. While this might be so a majority of the time, it seems to me that there are also many occasions where the senior leader finds the protege. Still, you should not count on being discovered.
You must take an active role in finding a mentor. If you do not have someone in mind already, you need to study the prospects. Once you have someone in mind, your next challenge is getting your candidate to sign on. Although your own personal style will dictate your approach, there are several possible techniques:
As you can see, the key is getting your prospective mentor to recognize you and to sign up to the mentor role. At no time should you ever use the word "mentor" in your discussions this type of relationship evolves without an official stamp. The supply of prospective proteges greatly outnumbers the available mentors, so you must place yourself in the path of opportunity rather than waiting for the mentor to discover you.

Being a Protege

There is no perfect mentor. You have to discover the one that is right for you. Also, mentorship is not necessarily a lifelong proposition. The relationship may only last for three to four years or it might last for the duration of both your and your mentor's career. It all depends on the dynamics of the relationship, your needs, and the willingness of the mentor to continue to work with you.
There are also some "down sides" to mentorship. There may be a perception on the part of your peers or subordinates that you are receiving preferential treatment. There can be additional challenges in this regard with cross-gender mentoring relationships. Also, mentor-protege relationships evolve over time and can terminate with negative feelings or unfulfilled expectations on the part of one or both parties.
Earlier in the paper, we discussed the differences between a mentor and a leader or coach. The majority of us will not ever have a formal mentor. What we do need is someone to act as an advisor, role model, or coach. This is more along the lines of what General Wickham seems to have meant in his White Paper.

Mentorship in MI

The need for working with subordinates to professionally and personally develop them is particularly important in MI. Our career field does not have a singular career pattern for success. We have multiple specialty areas which collectively create the field of MI; each offers different operational and leadership opportunities. The types of jobs in which we will serve vary greatly in scope and the types of knowledge required. A senior MI leader can be highly beneficial in helping us sort through our personal professional development needs and working to establish career and personal goals. It is even more critical to have a coach in certain assignments, such as a battalion S2 who operates outside the sanctuary of an MI unit. Here, where individuals are normally more junior yet have significant responsibility, a coach can be instrumental to the success of both the individual and the operation as a whole.
The uncertainties encountered in today's Army, especially in terms of downsizing and career potential, weigh heavily on many of us. We undergo much soul-searching in making career decisions. Having trusted senior leaders who can help guide subordinates through this thought process by virtue of their knowledge, network of resources, and sound, objective advice is more important than ever.


Leading and mentoring will be more important than ever as we prepare our soldiers, NCOs, and officers for the Army of the 21st century. The complexities, shortened decision cycles, and demands placed on the intelligence community will increase the role for senior leaders in shaping junior leaders and contribute to their success. Even though technology allows us to provide unprecedented intelligence support, the ability to think critically, analyze, synchronize, and synthesize all higher-level skills is imperative to Force XXI success. These skills must still be coupled with the ability to lead and operate more independently in flattened networks and organizations. Ours is a complex business. Professional, family, and personal demands and goals must be in harmony. This is truly a significant role for senior leaders in guiding subordinates into the next century.
What we really need in MI, and in the Army as a whole, is an overall undertaking by senior leaders to help "cultivate" our junior leaders. This movement encompasses short- and long-term professional development coaching and guiding. The effort will yield dividends for the subordinate, the senior leader, and the Army. The linkage that results from these types of relationships creates a stronger bond proving the old adage that two are stronger than one. Beyond the individual strengths, we will ultimately find that the MI Branch and the Army are stronger as a result. The legacy that senior leaders leave is the future leader, not a list of mission accomplishments
The impetus to get this less formal" mentorship program into place must start with our most senior MI leaders: the general officers, brigade commanders, and the senior command sergeants major. From the top, it must be clear that mentoring, coaching, and professionally developing our junior leaders is the most important thing we do. Leaders' responsibilities to coach and mentor should become part of any new officer or NCO evaluation report form. The legacy that senior leaders leave is the development of future leaders, not a list of mission accomplishments.
So while the idea of formal mentorship is one which has great merit, the greater applicability to the force is the informal mentorship relationship. Junior leaders can and should continue to seek mentors if they decide they need or want one. However, whether this relationship develops will be a function of chemistry and the willingness of a mentor candidate to take on a protege. We should not institutionalize this type of mentorship.
It is informal mentoring coaching and guiding that can and should be institutionalized and made a part of our duties and responsibilities as senior leaders. For you junior leaders do not wait! Put yourself in the path of opportunity. Seek out a trusted or admired leader (it might even be a peer) who can make a difference. You, ultimately, are in charge of yourself.