Mentoring and Counseling:

A Tag-Team Approach to Professional Development

by Lieutenant Colonel Victor M. Rosello

By strict definition, I have never been formally mentored. However, throughout my career many senior officers have counseled and advised me on personal and professional matters related to military schools, key and essential jobs, and future duty assignments. Are formal mentoring and counseling two distinct or mutually exclusive activities?

Not necessarily. I really think that within the established framework of performance counseling a "mentoring-like" process is alive in today's Army. However, because doctrinal or regulatory guidance is lacking, we do not execute formal mentorship. Consequently, mentorship within the ranks does not meet the true test of formal mentoring.
"Formal mentoring" (as described in Lieutenant Colonel Fast's article beginning on page 33) may involve a selection process based on the identification of gifted or talented individuals ultimately resulting in a mentor-protege relationship. Although the concept has its merits, one concern is that this "exclusive club" borders on elitism or favoritism, particularly if the mentor is currently in the rating scheme. Playing favorites among a group of rated or senior rated officers could foment a demoralizing or even destabilizing command climate certainly something every good leader avoids.
Fortunately, by regulation raters and first-line supervisors must formally counsel all their subordinates on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending on rank. Granted, formal performance counseling is not mentoring. However, traditionally it has served a mentoring-like function. Many supervisors use performance counseling sessions to not only advise on current job performance, but also to include professional growth and guidance counseling, as stipulated in FM 22-101, Leadership Counseling.
These counseling sessions may include the discussion of future career goals that the counseled subordinate should consider. Counseling sessions also afford the opportunity to discuss reenlistment issues with the enlisted subordinate. If queried, most supervisors would describe these aspects of professional guidance as fulfillment of their counseling role in the "informal mentoring" process.
The informal mentoring process should not stop with just career guidance. Taken to a higher level, leaders should view refinement of basic skills or knowledge as the long-term goal of the informal mentoring or counseling process. This is more in line with the intent of Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-80, Executive Leadership. In this case, supervisors use their career experiences to develop the thinking skills and frames of reference for sequential and progressive leader development. This distinction is key to understanding the role of informal mentorship and its integration into the counseling process. Therefore, based on this premise (the development of thinking skills), the supervisor can impart the long-term benefits of an informal mentorship process to the subordinate.
Along with thinking skills, sequential and potential leader development gains additional importance when incorporated by the commander into a leader development program. As outlined in FM 25-101, Battle Focused Training, supervising and mentoring junior leaders is an integral component of an effective professional development program. Examples also provide ideas for the creation of unit programs. Some areas are worth highlighting because they form the nucleus of basic skill development.

Professional Writing

Throughout my career I have noted some simple techniques and procedures supervisors have devised to better develop their subordinates' thinking skills. One subject that I am particularly fond of promoting during professional growth and guidance counselings is professional writing. Although, professional writing is not a ticket to promotions or school selections, it does promote an improvement in one's self-confidence, discipline, writing skills, and research techniques: all important staff skills. A worthwhile by-product of professional writing is individual contribution of thoughts and ideas to central issues important to the future of the Branch. By making such contributions, a military writer is actively involved in his profession. Lastly, the pride and joy experienced from being the author of a published article (or book) is professionally rewarding. I still admire the many young junior officers and enlisted personnel who take this important step early in their careers.
An example of this phenomenon illustrates this point. During one of my tours, I directed all subordinate officers to develop themes for articles that we would ultimately submit for printing in the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin (MIPB). Although this effort initially met resistance from the subordinates, a push in this direction by the supervisor created the catalyst for potentially flourishing professional military writing careers by the subordinate themselves. To everyone's surprise (and delight) not only were all the articles selected for printing in MIPB, but one of the authors later received honorable mention as writer of the year.

Effective Briefing

Some supervisors enhance skill development process by evaluating the ability of subordinates to conduct briefings. Officer and noncommisioned officer (NCO) professional development presentations, blocks of instruction, operations orders, or intelligence briefings are excellent opportunities for evaluating briefing effectiveness and style. Mastery of these abilities further improves essential staff skills. In addition to assessing speaking abilities, the supervisor also evaluates the contents, format, and organization of the briefing, as well as proficiency in use of audio-visual aids, pointers, and training aids. A good critique afterwards rounds out this skill-development process.

Professional Reading

Still yet another approach is a professional reading program. As professionals we cannot know enough about our chosen military profession. An understanding of war through the ages plays an important role in shaping our knowledge base, as well as creating a stronger understanding of military art. Some supervisors even combine reading and writing by assigning book reports of important military writings to subordinates for written and oral presentation. The point being made is that through his experience base, a supervisor can be extremely effective in recommending and assigning selective military books that can shape and influence the subordinate's view of his profession.

Personal Anecdotes

Let me share with you an anecdote that, although personally embarrassing to admit, may serve as a reminder to you of the disadvantages of not being well versed in the military arts. The setting was a round-table discussion in my Command and General Staff College (CGSC) staff group. The topic was military history, specifically Clausewitz's On War. Unfortunately, I could not provide any meaningful contributions to the discussions because, quite frankly, I had nothing to contribute. The reason was that I did not possess the historical knowledge base to do so. I am sorry to admit that, prior to CGSC, I did not even know who Clausewitz was. Embarrassing? You bet. What made this event even more irritating was that one of my classmates had taught Clausewitz at West Point! It was very difficult to compete under those circumstances. My classmates had developed the professional discipline and desire to understand more of the military art and our profession. I vowed that I would never allow this to happen again to me or to any of my subordinates.
Conversely, this same setting can also demonstrate the merits of personal professional development. During the second semester of the CGSC, I was able to offset the awkward situation just described by actively contributing to the block of instruction on unconventional warfare, stability and support operations, and operations other than war. Prior to CGSC, I had developed a professional interest in the guerrilla warfare writings of some celebrated Communist writers: Mao Tse-Tung, Vo Nguyen Giap, Truong Chinh, and Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Out of personal interest, I had studied the written translations of these masters of guerrilla warfare. Now I could discuss matters with some degree of confidence and expertise because I was prepared. Needless to say, because of the knowledge base, my second semester was much more enjoyable than the first.
To make a full circle, four years after the Clausewitz incident, a professional military journal published one of my articles, ironically on Clausewitz. An embarrassing situation created the professional curiosity to learn more of the subject. Quite a turn-around from an initial situation that would have never occurred had a mentorship relationship existed. I have used this example with subordinates many times. The point I am repeating is that an informal mentor or counselor can make a difference by sharing experiences and knowledge to guide subordinates.

Evolution into Formal Mentorship

What happens after the subordinate departs the unit or the supervisor-subordinate relationship ends? If both the mentor and protege continue to maintain contact for the purpose of obtaining or providing future career guidance or counseling, then it would seem to me that the relationship has metamorphosed. A formal mentorship relationship has now taken root. The obvious distinction, of course, is that there is now no longer a mandatory supervisor-subordinate counseling relationship in effect. Additionally, favoritism does not taint the process. A long-term personal and professional relationship may develop between the two as both parties mutually benefit from the satisfaction of watching the upward mobility and advancement of the protege. This relationship can grow over the years and could even continue after the mentor has retired from active duty.


In summary, given specific guidelines, the established framework of formal military counseling can institutionalize an informal mentorship process. Presently, because there is no definitive guidance on the subject, mentorship is the proverbial "different things to different people." If handled under a framework of performance and professional growth and guidance counseling, it could fit the criteria for a mentoring-like process. The intent remains to further develop and prepare the subordinate for future assignments. As the process matures and the protege departs the command or the subordinate relationship ends, a continuation of this process results in its formalization.
By accepting that the mentorship process can serve as a useful vehicle for developing thinking skills and frames of reference for sequential and progressive leader development, we can take the mystique out of mentorship and make it more "user friendly." Supervisors take the first step by incorporating these methods within the framework of counseling.
The obligatory parameters of performance counseling establish the basis for more refined professional growth and guidance counseling. Although career issues are an essential part of formal guidance counseling, professional growth can be incorporated through various supervisor-initiated programs that key more on the development of basic thinking skills.


Are these procedures difficult to execute? Most certainly! Can they be accomplished? Yes, but it involves a disciplined mentor or counselor willing to spend additional time and energy in the development of subordinates. Competing against this nurturing are unit mission requirements and operating tempos that erode what time and energy are available for accomplishing this goal. Quite frankly, I have never been in an organization that has been effective in incorporating all counseling and guidance techniques for 100 percent of its personnel. Success generally waxes and wanes with the training cycles. However, it is a worthwhile standard to pursue and one that will benefit the professional development of our future leaders.
There is no question that these techniques can greatly enhance the informal mentoring process. These methods develop different aspects of professional skills. Some or all can be incorporated within reason. The degree of compliance will vary based on the supervisor's commitment to professional development of subordinates and his own experience. Based on this premise alone it may be realistic and fair to only require senior officers and NCO's to administer informal mentoring. The bottom line, for lack of any regulatory guidelines, is: some or all of these methods may be incorporated to suit the needs of the supervisor.
Supervisors take note. Although the general reaction by subordinates to skill development programs is somewhat akin to swallowing a tablespoon of cod liver oil, the long-term benefits are quite impressive. Do not allow our subordinates to get caught short in the professional development arena.
As we can all appreciate, the competition for promotions in today's Army is fierce. On-the-job experience takes care of some of the requisites for acquiring the venerable title of "tactical and technical proficiency." The other part is a sound process for subordinate development that can help take some of the edge off the competition, as we furnish the guidelines and establish the parameters for arming and infusing our subordinates with honed thinking skills.
Lieutenant Colonel Vic Rosello is the G2, 82d Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Prior to his assignment as G2, he served as the Battalion Commander, 313th MI Battalion, 82d Airborne Division. He served in El Salvador as an intelligence advisor to the Salvadoran Armed Forces and participated in Operations JUST CAUSE and DESERT STORM with the 82d Airborne Division. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Puerto Rico, a master of arts in Latin American studies from the University of Chicago, and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Readers can reach him at (910) 432-2252, DSN 239-2252, or E-mail rosellov@emh5-bragg.