The Army Officer's Guide to Mentoring. Raymond A. Kimball. West Point, New York: The Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning, 2015
“Mentoring matters! It matters because it shapes both the present and future of our Army. It matters because at our core, we are social beings who need the company of one another to blossom. It matters because, as steel sharpens steel, so professionals become more lethal and capable when they feed off one another.” The Army Officers Guide to Mentoring, p. 4
In The Army Officers Guide to Mentoring, Raymond Kimball comprehensively examines the roles, functions, phases, challenges, and benefits of mentoring and of being a mentor’s protégé. Kimball uses his own experiences and those of a variety of leaders to explore mentoring in detail, including recommendations for how to be a successful mentor in terms of the three functions of mentoring for career enhancement, for psychosocial connection, and for role-modeling. Recognizing that he is an officer and thus has no direct experience or complete understanding of mentoring within the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Corps, Kimball nonetheless provides glimpses into the role of mentoring for U.S. Army NCOs.
Serving at the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning at the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, Lieutenant Colonel Kimball is uniquely positioned to research and contribute to the development of mentorship for the officer corps. He is a graduate of USMA with a Bachelors in Russian and German studies and a Masters from Stanford University in History, Russian, Eastern, and Eurasian studies. Long a student of mentorship, Kimball’s work on the subject includes It Takes More than Rank to Make a Mentor, The Leader Challenge as Creative Tool, and Walking in the Woods: A Phenomenological Study of On-Line Communities of Practice and Army Mentoring, all of which can be found at http://usarmy.academia.edu/RaymondKimball.
Kimball organizes his guide to mentorship in three parts. The first addresses mentoring theory and definitions and is basically an overview and introduction to mentoring, to include differentiating between coaching and mentoring. The second focuses on the outcomes derived from the career, psychosocial, and role-model functions. The third provides suggestions for mentoring, oriented around various mentoring scenarios: chain of command, peer, and cross gender. He concludes with observations about other mentoring domains, including NCOs, other military services, and other professions. While drawn from the experiences of U.S. Army professionals, I believe Kimball’s insights can improve the effectiveness of mentors in other military services, U.S. government agencies outside the Department of Defense, and even in the private sector.
What I found interesting and informative was Kimball’s reference to and use of Dr. Kathy Kram’s four-phase model of mentorship. I had always thought about mentorship as simply a relationship, you either were a mentor or you weren’t. Kram suggests, and Kimball reinforces, that mentorship is more of a process or life cycle. Kimball notes the first phase of initiation, an enthusiastic period of up to a year in which both mentor and protégé explore their relationship. The second phase, that of cultivation, can last two to five years and can be both the most productive and most discomforting time in the relationship as expectations are met, or not. Separation, as the third phase, focuses on changing relationships between the mentor and the protégé. Kimball notes that no mentorship relationship is permanent and that the two gradually drift apart as the natural course of life. The last phase is redefinition, in which the protégé becomes a mentor to others or the mentor-protégé relationship is redefined for different purposes. Kimball observes that though the original mentor-protégé relationship changes and the mentor may no longer fill that role, many pairs stay in contact for years, full careers, or lifetimes.
Kimball also highlights the views and needs of the protégé, something many other works on mentorship do not. By interviewing professionals who have been both protégés and mentors, Kimball is able to provide prospective mentors a glimpse of how they may be viewed or the impact they may have on those whom they seek to mentor. A key factor identified in Kimball’s research on successful mentorship is the effort by the mentor to fill gaps in the individual’s development that were not being met by the position they were in at the time. For example, Kimball cites the leader who helped a young lieutenant to develop tactical leadership skills, even though the lieutenant was assigned to an institutional rather than an operational position. He also provides insights into the efforts that mentors must sometimes make to develop a relationship with a potential protégé in whom they see potential, but who at first does not seek a mentor.
Another role Kimball stresses for the mentor is that of fostering strong communications skills in the protégé. He suggests, and those he interviewed reinforce, that mentors can contribute to the future success of the protégé by encouraging and assisting them to develop and employ strong written and verbal communications skills. Particularly noteworthy, Kimball stresses that a strong mentor enables the protégé to learn how to effectively and professionally disagree with others. Such professional disagreement promotes discourse, which is critical to the health and resiliency of the U.S. Army, the other services, and any organization relying on mentoring relationships within its membership.
For those who wish to be either a mentor or protégé, or those who wish to foster effective mentorship in their organization, Kimball’s Army Officer’s Guide to Mentoring is an excellent how-to manual. His observations, insights, and best practices are drawn from the experiences of those who have profited from effective mentor-protégé relationships. They are practical, easy to implement, and sure to make each reader more aware of his or her own approach to and effectiveness as a mentor. And, as leaders become more effective as mentors, we all grow stronger and more capable.
Jim Greer is a retired U.S. armor officer, brigade commander, and veteran of campaigns in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Committed to leader development, he holds a Doctorate in Education and was the Director of the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies. Today he teaches and researches leadership for governmental and commercial organizations. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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Header image: James McConville, center, visits troops in Afghanistan in 2013 | Photo: Rahmat Gul, AP.