Mentorship

Getting Mentoring Right: #Reviewing Athena Rising

Getting Mentoring Right: #Reviewing Athena Rising

This book tackles the question of why men are terrible at mentoring women and how to fix it. The book is written as a practical, common-sense guide aimed squarely at men who can recognize opportunities for cross-gender mentoring, but aren’t sure how to start. If you’re a man, do a quick inventory of your mentoring relationships. If none of them involve women, pick up a copy of this book and use it as an opportunity for structured self-reflection on that topic. If you’re a woman and looking to start a mentoring relationship with a man, use this book as your initial outreach. If nothing else, it will make a great conversation starter to get things going.

Reflections on Mentoring and #Leadership

Reflections on Mentoring and #Leadership

The U.S. Armed Forces are in for lean times ahead. Budget cuts, continuing operational demands, and ongoing attempts to re-learn the core competencies of conventional warfare will all come together to make resources scarce. Unit-level leader development efforts will have to function with minimal outside resources and assistance; even the minimal assistance higher echelons provided in the past is likely to look luxurious by comparison. At the same time, we should view this period as an opportunity to re-embrace some skills we’ve allowed to atrophy - or at least lay fallow - over the last decade of intense operational activity. The deliberate practice of professional mentoring is one of these skills that, if thoughtfully applied, can pay great dividends for military leaders in the immediate future.

Reflections on #Leadership: Investing in People

Reflections on #Leadership: Investing in People

That next generation of leaders who will decide the fate of thousands on the battlefield almost certainly stands in our ranks today. The most valuable thing we can do now is to invest our lives in them, mentor, develop, and counsel them so that when history calls, they will stand ready to do their duty. If we expect to have Eisenhowers and Pattons on tomorrow’s battlefields, we must begin by creating a cadre of Fox Conners today from the leaders currently in our ranks.

Coaching 2.0: Developing Winning Leaders for a Complex World

Coaching 2.0: Developing Winning Leaders for a Complex World

Coach, Counsel, Mentor.  Every leader uses these developmental methods...or do they?  These principal methods are the cornerstone of leadership development used by all the military services. However, we are only trained to implement two of them.  This is a problem because, in the military, we grow our own leaders.

So You Don't Have a Mentor

A Few Thoughts for Walking the Lonely Road

The time has come to take the next step in your career. Behind you lies a string of accomplishments and a legacy that would be the envy of any leader (or not). In front of you the destination is clearly visible in the distance. But the road ahead is narrow, winding, and shrouded in uncertainty. Courageously you step off into the unknown, walking the path of your future where you have never tread before. You have an idea of where you want to go. You have a road map and maybe you have taken a swing at planning the trip yourself. But do you have a guide? Do you have a mentor?

Sometimes the answer is an emphatic NO, or worse, the more ambiguous NOT REALLY. It’s not your fault, just a condition of the circumstances you find yourself in. Perhaps your primary sounding board has moved on to another post. Maybe their new job keeps them from staying in touch, and they are not the sort who reaches out. Or you may have taken the near-heretical step of switching branches, leaving the service, or choosing the Harvard Strategist Program over a berth with Project Warrior. You feel lost, uncertain, and alone. So what are you going to do about it?

Self-pity is a backwards step on the road to the future. Focus instead on self development and actively seeking a mentor are positive steps that will jump start your journey.

If the answer is to sulk and drag your feet, then it could be that no amount of mentoring can get you to where you want to go. How many qualified leaders simply give up and either A) get out of the military spouting anti-service rhetoric, or B) stay in simply for the pay all the while filling a valuable Modified Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE) slot and taking no action to improve themselves or the organization? The first thing to do is make a decision to not be like so many who have squandered their potential in an endless cycle of melancholy. Self-pity is a backwards step on the road to the future. Focus instead on self development and actively seeking a mentor are positive steps that will jump start your journey.

Startups.Co.Uk/Andy Chew

Startups.Co.Uk/Andy Chew

You do not know what you do not know, but there are resources to help light the way—start reading. Reading will sharpen your mind and prepare you for almost anything. The resources for reading in the digital age are truly tremendous. Ideas on what to read can come from an all encompassing source, such as the Chief of Staff’s reading list or from a more focused venue such as the Basic Strategic Arts Program’s reading list, or a series on a particular part of history. Then of course there are the ever applicable doctrinal and conceptual publications that many claim to read but few follow through with. If all that is too much, there is always the option to read something relevant once a week that would still put you ahead. Pick works that are relevant to your profession and your career desires, and maybe a few works purely for pleasure, and plow in with gusto.

Writing is a way to record your personal experiences and leave a record of your thoughts and emotions on a variety of topics while practicing a craft of vital importance.

Writing is a way to record your personal experiences and leave a record of your thoughts and emotions on a variety of topics while practicing a craft of vital importance. To write, you simply have to sit down at a keyboard or pick up paper and pen. Do not hesitate to seek out ways to put your writing out there for review and critique by society. Medium.com is, of course, a great place to self-publish and invite the feedback of others. Forums such as the Military Writer’s Guild or the Veteran’s Writing Project are terrific ways to have your writing assessed, critiqued, and presented in a low-threat environment. Some avenues for professional publication with a strong potential for professional feedback and notice are Armed Forces Journal or your service magazine. There are numerous writing competitions to choose from, such as the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center or U.S. Naval Institute’s annual writing competitions, where you can possibly be published in a professional journal and earn a little extra cash. Regardless of your venue, be sure to edit your writing, and invite others to assist — learn your weaknesses and polish your technique. It matters not however if your writing is never published — the sheer act of writing is itself a panacea.

Seek a mentor in unorthodox ways. Learn to reach out to others — sometimes the best advice comes from someone you interact with everyday but have never looked to for guidance. Go to lunch with people in your office. Host a low-key gathering at your home or at a popular watering hole. Invite your friends, but do not hesitate to invite acquaintances or more experienced individuals you do not know personally. A mentor does not have to be your supervisor, or someone you once worked for. It can easily be a subordinate or peer who has their own unique insight and experiences. Mentorship should transcend professional boundaries. Do not waste the opportunity to pick the brain of the sergeant major with 25 years of experience, or the specialist with a master’s degree. Even if they do not have direct knowledge of your career path, they can provide unique perspectives that will enrich your own journey.

Keep your service records, résumé, and curriculum vitae up to date and ready to present.

A mentor does not even have to be someone you have met in person. Just as the internet is an invaluable tool for reading and writing, it is infinitely useful for reaching out to others. Believe it or not, you can connect with someone on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Scrub your profile(s), make sure it is professional and an embodiment of the image you want to present to the world. Keep your service records, résumé, and curriculum vitae up to date and ready to present. If you are intimidated about reaching out, ask others to assist you. The military is a small place and odds are you know someone who knows someone who can make an introduction. You may not hear back right away because exceptional mentors are usually exceptional workers and leaders, and are likely very busy. But do not be discouraged, the best mentors realize that part of their duty is to be good stewards of the profession. If you take the time to reach out to them, they will respond to you in kind.

As you seek and find your mentor(s) do not be so focused on yourself that you neglect opportunities to mentor others. Like someone who grew up never knowing a parent and vows to be a better parent themselves, you can be a better mentor to others. There are subordinates and peers who maybe in the same situation as you — full of talent but lacking a direction or facing a new career path all alone. Reach out to them, foster their growth, encourage their self development. You will be surprised how much you learn yourself from being a mentor.

As you take the next step in your career, do not be discouraged if you lack a mentor. It is a temporary malady if you wish it to be so. Use the time for reflection, self improvement, and increasing your value to your profession. Reach out to likely mentors — the worst anyone can do is say no, and you will be better for the attempt. Be a mentor to others and leave your organization better than you found it. Your time need not be wasted, and your journey need not be lonely. So you don’t have a mentor — do something about it.


Nathan Wike is an officer in the U.S. Army, and an associate member of the Military Writer’s Guild. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


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Asking the Right Questions

A Junior Officer's Perspective On Making the Most of Professional Development

Australian Army Major Claire O’Neill recently published a compelling article charging junior officers to take the reins of their professional development. As I read the article, in the background the movie I, Robot was playing and something stood out to me with regard to this subject. Will Smith is on the hunt for a scientist’s murderer; with a holographic recording of this scientist to guide him. This hologram would prompt Smith to ask questions that would help him uncover further clues. Every time Smith would ask such a question the hologram would respond with “That, Detective is the right question.”

As I read O’Neill’s charge to junior officers, myself included, I felt daunted by it. I’ve had the privilege of serving my country for a little less than four years, but am still unaware of the vast amount of opportunities afforded to military members to further their professional development. Furthermore, it would be incorrect if I said I knew where to even begin looking for them. After posting some thoughts on twitter in response to the article and the conversation that ensued; I began thinking about what the “right questions” should be for young officers.

As the former Director of Operations of my squadron once told me, the most dangerous thing you can hear from a lieutenant is “in my experience”. It is true statement about young officers yet standing in contrast in every unit are officers that have that experience. These are our senior captains to lieutenant colonels who fill those vital first line leadership positions and have the most influence over young officers’ development. Yet due to the current operational tempo and the ever increasing amount of taskings from above, I see my leadership’s time and resources being eaten away; leaving little time for mentorship or professional development. So what are the right questions we can ask to open that door and how do we follow through to make us more educated and informed junior officers?

What’s your background?

Unless the officer in question is your squadron or battalion commander, chances are they don’t come with a published biography of their military career. Due to the vast amount of schools, assignments, fellowships, staff positions or other career options, officers can have a varied and unique background. Some of those opportunities are easily identifiable by the presence of an Air Force Weapons School patch or an Army Ranger tab, but programs such as the Olmstead Scholars, SASS, or SAMS fellowships are not. The easiest way to find out is by asking a simple question such as “what’s your background?” or “what was your last assignment?” These questions allow the respondent an open platform to tell you about their career, where they have been and what they have done. I have yet to meet a military member that doesn’t have a condensed timeline of their career memorized. This simple question allows one to learn about the unique opportunities or maybe just personal perspectives, which are often the most powerful. Whether you learn about a new opportunity or just about their previous assignment, you walk away from the conversation with more knowledge than you started with.

How did you get to that opportunity?

Once you have found out about a program, it’s important to figure out how you can set yourself up for such an opportunity. There are usually prerequisites or preferred experience that is needed to make one competitive. Figuring out these things can allow us to advocate at the appropriate time for special training or the next assignment; this is one of my biggest takeaways from Major O’Neill’s post. Commanders can have hundreds of people assigned to them and it is not possible for them to know the ambitions or goals of every member of their command.

What if you aren’t interested in that opportunity? One day some of us (junior officers) will be those squadron/battalion commanders and as such handed the responsibility of leading and grooming the next generation of military leaders. Leaders have the responsibility to place members where they not only will personally flourish but advance the military as a whole. Many of these special assignments or schools have been developed over time to produce officers with specialized knowledge and skills that makes our military force as a whole better. U.S. citizens have spent millions of dollars and years of time investing in military members, I can think of no worse outcome than squandering an officer’s talents due to the ignorance of opportunities that would develop them further.

How did the opportunity benefit you?

This question has a two part answer first it allows you to learn what the person learned from it and secondly show what further opportunities opened up. How a particular opportunity affected a person or what they learned from it should be the ultimate goal of these questions. Professional military education should not be a box we just look to check, nor should we look for the most prestigious box. We should evaluate our goals and how we can use this experience to benefit the military. Furthermore, understanding what opportunities opened up or closed because of it is also important. There are many opportunities out there that I would jump at the chance to attend however they wouldn’t line up with my own goals for my future in the military. We have a finite time in the military to take advantage of and therefore need to be aware of how taking a one to three year assignment will affect us upon in the future.

In closing, for junior officers, our own career development is our responsibility first and foremost. It is incumbent upon us to seek out those opportunities and figure out how to make them happen. We all know that this isn’t a democracy and unfortunately we always don’t get a vote in such matters, however, I firmly believe that being proactive and advocating for our own career development can make a difference. Otherwise, we just become one of thousands of boats freely being tossed around in an ocean of the personnel system; grab a paddle and start rowing towards where you want to be.

To senior officers and leaders, we need your guidance; tell us about your experiences. Professional development is a two way street, there are dozens of other questions I would like to ask but haven’t thought of yet. Help. Fostering that dialogue whether through in-depth briefings or over lunch will pay dividends by creating educated junior officers with long term goals that they can work towards obtaining.


Dan Ryan is an U.S. Air Force officer. He is an Associate Member of the Military Writers Guild. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Air Force.


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Bridging Divides: Thoughts on a Startup Conference

Bridging Divides: Thoughts on a Startup Conference

A good sign of a successful gathering is not only the interaction that takes place at the event itself, but more importantly the conversation that occurs following. In this respect the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum has been blessed; one of the reasons I’ve been remiss in reporting out on the event is the rapidity and thoroughness that some of the participants have written on salient points from the weekend.