The Navy has been focused on mentorship for longer than I can remember. We have witnessed forced mentorship, where mentors are formally assigned to individuals, we have seen models where mentorship is merely encouraged, as we let relationships take shape on their own, and we have seen varied initiatives that split the difference. I am currently in the Commanding Officer Leadership Course in Newport, RI and yesterday we discussed the subject of mentorship. I was not surprised when after being asked for a show of hands of which Prospective Commanding Officers had true mentors, about 10% of the class raised their hands.
Personally, I believe we have it wrong. We are focused on Mentorship, where we should be educating people on Menteeship. Mentor/Mentee relationships are not prevalent because most of us do not know what it means to be a mentee. Just as followership is the foundation for leadership, understanding how to be a good mentee is necessary if one is to have a meaningful relationship with a mentor and ultimately grow into a true mentor herself. I say "true" mentor because all too often a mentor is thought of as a person who merely provides career advice, where a "true" mentor is one who (courtesy of Australian Mentor Center):
- Tells you things you may not want to hear but leaves you feeling you have been heard
- Interacts with you in a way that makes you want to become better
- Makes you feel secure enough to take risks
- Gives you the confidence to rise above your inner doubts and fears
- Supports your attempts to set stretch goals for yourself
- Presents opportunities and highlights challenges you might not have seen on your own.
Fortunately for me, I continue to be the beneficiary of my own "Personal Board of Directors" made up of both seniors and juniors (military and civilian) who have taken a personal interest in my personal and professional development. My response to their interest (and I have been known to initiate the relationship by giving them reason to take an interest in me) continues to be that of:
- Listening to and executing on advice
- Accepting feedback and coaching
- Demonstrating initiative
- Asking questions; Challenging assumptions
- Providing feedback on advice
- Accepting new challenges
- Informing mentors of both accomplishments and failures
- Reciprocating with mentor and demonstrate gratitude
- Becoming a mentor
As a mentor, I have had a couple of relationships fracture because the mentee was not truly committed to the relationship. At the same time, I have lost a few mentors as one outgrew the other.
If you do not have a mentor whom you value, it is likely because you have not truly embraced the role of mentee. If you don't want a mentor, that's an entirely different discussion and you are missing the boat by not having sweepers on the ice helping you. We spend a great deal of time teaching new Sailors (officers and enlisted) how to be followers at their respective point of entry, so that they have a solid foundation on which to build leadership skills. Lets start teaching the same audience the skills necessary to be mentees so they can allow those who they value most the opportunity to help them grow and evolve into mentors themselves in time.