To have a successful career in the Army, an officer must possess the right skills, traits, and attributes. They must work hard to become an expert in their field, and they must have outstanding leadership and communication skills amongst other qualities. While there are many factors that impact an Army officer’s success and ability to rise in rank, one of the most useful is building a lasting relationship with a mentor who can help advise and guide the officer as he or she develops. In this article, I will discuss the role of a mentor in helping officer to reach their full potential.
How Does Mentor/Protégé Relationships Develop
The United States Army has long recognized the value of mentoring in the development of officers as they advance in rank and are given additional responsibility. Over the years there has been talking of formalizing mentorship in the Army, but as anyone who has been or had a mentor will tell you, the best mentor/protégé relationships are those that come naturally. There is no single formula for finding a mentor. Sometimes it’s as simple as working for a senior officer in their command or organization. It is neither necessary nor common to define the mentor relationship, it most often comes about as younger officers seek professional guidance or advice from a more senior officer whom they respect.
Officers who are inquisitive, committed to growth, and open to asking for advice are most likely to ask for, receive, and apply constructive feedback. Mentors are usually senior to their protégé in rank and experience and are often eager to share their experiences and advice with younger officers to develop them and “pay forward” the mentoring they received as younger officers.
Why Having a Mentor is Helpful
Over time, a relationship with a mentor can be extremely beneficial. As the relationship grows over time and both officers become more and more comfortable with one another not only does the younger officer benefit from advice but sometimes the relationship can also lead to excellent assignment opportunities. The relationship is not a one-way street, however.In the best mentor/protégé relationships, the younger officer is empowered and comfortable giving the senior officer constructive and helpful feedback about their own leadership. The trust formed between the two officers over time often leads to very candid dialogue and feedback that would be otherwise difficult to obtain. A mentor that is invested in a protégé, who knows both their strengths and weaknesses can provide sound advice in a manner that may be effectively received by the younger officer.
Progression through the ranks in the Army involves moving from assignment to assignment, state to state, and back and forth from overseas. While it is possible to excel in any assignment, finding the right job at the right time is helpful. Picking the place and job that broadens one’s experience and hones one’s skills can be a critical factor in selection for promotion and additional responsibility. Mentors, through their network of friends and colleagues, can not only advise, but often assist their protégés in finding the right fit for them.
The Value of Mentorship to the Army Institution
Being an officer in the Army is not just a job. Officers are part of the profession of arms and the actions and decisions they make in combat literally affect the life and death of the soldiers charged with their care. Developing the right skills and honing one’s traits and attributes to align with the Army’s values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage is essential to success. While mentors are not required, they do in almost every effective relationship accelerate an officer’s learning, improve an officer’s leadership abilities, and help an officer make sound decisions. The passing of knowledge from generation to generation in the Army is one of the tenets of what makes the U.S. Army a professional institution. Mentorship has always, and will always play a critical role in maintaining that professionalism.