21 January 2015

How important is mentorship? Does it stop when you reach a certain pay grade? Does it stop when you retire from active service?

It’s strange, but I used to think mentorship was a bunch of corporate rubbish. I used a much stronger word than ‘rubbish’ when I was a younger lad, but I’ll keep it clean for the sake of consumption and professionalism. Only when I became a chief petty officer did I really understand and begin to appreciate what the importance of good mentorship is. To be fair about it, mentorship, while fairly informal, is something we should be doing almost subconsciously. I found myself in the habit of thinking: ‘Hmm, I haven’t talked to (insert name) in a while. I wonder how he or she is doing.’ And then I would contact them whether via phone, e-mail, text or smoke signal; whatever works best. As the mentor, it’s up to you to initiate a dialogue.

As junior enlisted we should all have mentors. I would argue that a good portion of American youth could really use mentorship. Did I have mentorship when I first went active in 1993? No, not really - I kind of went my own way. Perhaps I even thought deep down that I didn’t need a mentor. But, it hadn’t really taken on its current luster back in the early 1990s. As mid-grade NCOs, we could probably use both a mentor and one (if not several) protégés at the same time. As a senior enlisted NCO, whether command master chief, command sergeant major, chief petty officer, or master sergeant, we should be doing mentorship almost full-time.

It doesn’t stop when one has reached the pinnacle or even a major benchmark of a service member’s career. If anything, it becomes more profound the more rank and seniority we accrue. After all, what mentor wouldn’t leverage his or her depth of experience to make the whole enterprise more enriching?

Now to the crux of the matter: does it stop once you leave active duty? Short answer:  it does if you want it to. But by the same token, it carries on if you want it to, and I think it should. I currently mentor between four and six active and formerly active service members. In some ways, my role as a mentor has become even more multi-faceted and more personally fulfilling than when I was on active duty. How is that possible?

Firstly, I have a lot more time on my hands than when I was in uniform. That alone makes for the facilitating of several mentorships. Secondly, I can give a candid and unfettered view of what I think somebody’s situation is, whether it’s a personal problem, a professional quandary or advice on life in general, or even the politics of the day. It’s not that I didn’t do that on active duty. Rather it’s the fact that I’m not really bound by hierarchical convention any longer and I can attribute a lot of what I’ve seen and done without concerns over retribution. (And, no, I’m not talking about violating OPSEC or the National Security Act when I say that.) Thirdly, and I’ve been doing a lot of this over the last year or so, I can and have put together point papers and recommendations based on observations in training ramp-ups and in combat zones. I have a certain detachment now that I’m retired from the job, but only to put it in historical perspective. In most, if not all other senses, I’m the same guy I was when I wore the uniform. In other words, I’m only as irrelevant as I want to be.

If I wanted to be a has-been that doesn’t give a damn about the future of the DoD, the Navy and my community, I could easily fly the “I-don’t-care” flag on my front lawn. There are some who have and do. Perhaps this is the Chief Petty Officer Creed still ringing in my ears from 2003, but I’m not ready to go over the hill and die just yet. I’ve still got a lot to contribute and I know you do, too, if you’ve read this far. If you want to be a part of the discussion, join one. If you want to change or advance a different point of view, initiate one. And if you want to stay active subsequent to leaving active duty, be one.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

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