It began as a few Army strategists gathering around a backyard fire pit with drinks and a few cigars. This was my initiation into two key elements of strategy—scotch and cigars. As I traveled around the world, into and out of multiple conflict, and through various jobs, two things remained — scotch and cigars.
Even more importantly, when people gathered in the informal atmosphere that these elements created, magic happened. People loosened up, dropping the trappings of rank, position, and education. Everyone’s ideas mattered. Discussion brought out the strategic dilemmas and complex challenges of the topic at hand. Ideas were tested.
Relationships were formed.
These lessons were not lost on me. From senior strategists mentoring newbies (i.e. me) at a base here in the United States to general officers hosting “Cuban Cigar Night” at a compound in Kabul, these gatherings always led to people working together on projects in the future. It even led to by-name requests for jobs that jumpstarted careers.
For me, these opportunities were more than “thinking beer calls” that provide opportunities to learn and develop, or even a new manifestation of the Officer’s Club — though both these are obvious outgrowths of any gathering of professionals. For me, these gatherings were about meeting new people, forging stronger bonds, and leveraging a strong network by growing the diversity of the group. They were a way to experience “discovery activities.”
…these gatherings were about meeting new people, forging stronger bonds, and leveraging a strong network by growing the diversity of the group. They were a way to experience “discovery activities.”
When I landed in the hub of all strategy and policy (though some would have another description) I invited a few mentors and peers over to try and establish the tradition. It became more than I could have imagined. People of all stripes and experiences were excited to take part — from military officers to civilians in the defense industry, State Department employees to academics, and journalists to historians.
Soon, simply gathering over drinks and cigars became insufficient. To encourage focus on a specific topic and drive robust discussion, we began inviting speakers. Well-respected leaders in topics as far-ranging as the integration of technology and humans in warfare, the experiences of the US Security Coordinator for Israel and Palestine, and how to deal with Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria came to give a brief talk, then drive a discussion among the participants.
What has continued to amaze me in this endeavor is that every month there are new faces that attend — and every month at least one new connection is made that leads to a new endeavor. Each month is a new speaker, a new group of participants, and a new opportunity to grow and strengthen the network of curious and energetic leaders in the defense space.
This is the “New Model” Mentoring. We are no longer constrained to mentorship by our chain of command or bosses. Instead, we get our development, support, and direction from peers and seniors in informal settings, across careers and experiences. We learn from everyone and leverage as large a network as we can each individually manage. We are constrained by our energy and drive alone…and possibly the hours in the day.
This is the “New Model” Mentoring. We are no longer constrained to mentorship by our chain of command or bosses.
I encourage you all to take this idea and run with it — as great leaders likeJoe Byerly, Aaron Childers, Casey Dean, and Jon Silk obviously have done with their “Think and Drink” group and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum have done by the recent development of their Agoras.
Reach out to any of us for support…it’s what we’re here for. And if you’re ever in DC and want a great conversation, I’m simply a direct message away.
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