A Mentor's Time

Good mentors are often those individuals who can maximize impact while minimizing the number of interactions.  Sometimes they don’t even know they’re changing lives.

Some of the best mentoring moments happen in the spaces between big events on a calendar.  The year was 2000.  I was a young specialist running WF-16 inside of the V Corps Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and checking on my customers.  One of the officers around the big table recognized me from church and started a conversation.  I made sure he knew what we were doing to get his comms up and running.  He seemed impressed with my work ethic.  Then he told me how valuable a work ethic was to him as an officer.  “Some Soldiers seem to think they’re job is to go to work in a motorpool and they look for excuses to stay away from the field.”  He then told me about a few Soldiers in his unit who looked for ways to stay home and finished with a firm, “the real job of a Soldier happens outside the motorpool.”

Fast forward to 2012 and another good mentor was giving nearly the same speech prior to our unit’s deployment to Afghanistan.  Both of these leaders were addressing the same problem that can sometimes creep up in a formation.  There will be times when some part of the population doesn’t want to go and do their job.  Most Soldiers I talk to joined the Army to make a difference and I’ve covered how we’ve been doing that in previous posts.  When new Soldiers arrive one of the first things we tell them is how glad we are to have them as part of the team.  More than one person has heard me say during my in-brief, “plan on spending 90 days out of the year away from your bunk.  You joined the Army to make a difference and this is place where you can do just that.”

Sometimes we narrow our vision and try to only make a difference the way we want, instead of the way the Army needs us to.  Imagine if we took that logic to our customers and we set up our assemblage to provide NIPR access when the requirement was really for SIPR.  Would that endear us to our customers?  Would they be able to accomplish their mission?  The same logic applies to us when we try to narrow down the area reserved for us to make a difference.  We don’t always get to decide when or how we’ll make the biggest difference in our careers.  Some of that comes in the moments that happen in the spaces between big events on a calendar.

Now is always a good time to prepare to make a difference.  When you’ve got those moments between calendar events or you’re stretching out after PT, what are you doing to make a difference to those you work with?  Have you learned anything worth sharing that helps them become a better/more effective person?

It really doesn’t take much to get started, just recognize the space for mentorship exists and start a dialogue.  Ask a networking question you saw in one of your certifications.  Ask about the color coding for RJ-45.  Ask someone how they’re doing and listen to their response.  When they’re talking they’ll reveal things that are important to them and be able to give you a lead into a potentially life changing conversation. 

That V Corps officer listened to how I was working to take care of his needs and responded by showing me how valuable my work ethic was to him.  He also gave me insight about how important a Soldier’s work ethic is to an organization.  Now in command I use that insight often when recommending Soldiers for awards or promotion.  Do they have a work ethic?  Are they self motivated?  Are they applying their best creativity to innovate within their assigned job?

The lesson about work ethic has paid off in more than just my professional life.  During the summer of 2000 I started applying my work ethic to college studies and made the dean’s list.  Within a few years working nights and weekends I had my associates degree.  While working on my bachelors a disciplined work ethic allowed me to earn my University’s Man of the Year award, completed 25 semester hours in one semester, and published a paper in an academic journal.

Don’t underestimate the value of a few short minutes of mentoring.  If you’re not actively mentoring then you’re missing out on making the biggest difference of your career.