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
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
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.
- The prot‚g‚ can freely discuss personal and professional
dilemmas as the mentor provides opportunities for gaining
knowledge, skills and competence.
- Both participants gain from the relationship.
- The relationship occurs in an organizational context that
greatly influences when and how it unfolds.
- Perhaps most importantly, this kind of relationship is not
readily available to most of the people in the organization.2
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
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
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.
- You might decide to call your candidate about a specific issue.
- You might use a "go between" or perhaps get a referral from
someone closer to your candidate mentor.
- If you are available, you might offer to join a team, project,
or solve a problem that involves the mentor.
- You might even call for an interview.
- If you are not ready for a relationship now, but think you
might be in the future, you can periodically provide updates on
what you are doing.3
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
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
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.