Attention Military Leaders: Be a Better Mentor to Become a Better Leader

May 09, 2015



  Words By Rob Griggs, US Army (Retired).

I am not a very good mentor. I have been humbled over the years when asked by many of the soldiers I used to lead to provide advice in one form or another. I can comfortably say that I have a good relationship with scores of former soldiers, cadets and students who reach out to me on occasion, not always for mentorship, sometimes just to keep the communication channels open. We might communicate with Christmas cards and occasional emails, but communication does not always equate to mentorship.

Ironically, I am well versed in the great benefits of receiving good mentorship. Receiving mentorship has been directly tied to many of the successes I have had throughout my career. I have been fortunate to have had a couple of good mentors that have provided the right perspective or advice, often times without solicitation by me. And that’s where I think I come up short – I am not proactive as a mentor.

None of this really impacted my thinking processes as I made the transition from the military until a few days ago when my wife and I were going through the annual drill of making our New Year’s resolutions. I am not the biggest fan of “fixing” oneself based on the change of the calendar from one year to another because I think we should assess and reassess ourselves on a much more frequent basis than yearly. Nevertheless, when compelled by my better half to make my New Year’s list, I always do so deliberately with sincere reflection. This year’s process led me to the realization that if I want to be a better leader, I need to be a better mentor.

 

Think about the benefits one receives through effective mentorship. If you have been fortunate to receive effective counsel, you know the advice and recommendations good mentors provide are seemingly always spot on. Mentors operate at the top of the learning pyramid. They ostensibly have a great perspective on most every topic and apply their intuitive wisdom to provide succinct guidance to help the mentee move the given situation forward.

As a transitioning veteran, the quality that best translates into any aspect of the civilian employment arena is your leadership and management skills.  Being a better advisor – being an active mentor – improves both your management and leadership skills. When you think about the advice that you have received when mentored, reverse engineer the process to understand how good of a leader you must be in order to give the right advice so well and so often.

Before I made the decision to add “be a better mentor” to my list of resolutions, I wanted to be sure that I understand what I was signing up to do. What benefits – if any –would be derived from this change? I needed to determine what it would take to be the better mentor to see if this would have an appreciable effect comparative to the effort. So I spent some time contemplating how it could all play out.

If I want to be a better counselor or advisor, I really need to increase my reading on leadership. I haven’t been one to read only military leadership books, believing in finding great value in reading about leadership from all facets of society – business leadership, political leadership, educational leadership and yes, military leadership – so I need to increase my professional reading in those areas to give me the base of knowledge required from the best mentors.  I also need to understand personal dynamics better, read more about how people think, act, react and even become learned on being more efficient as a leader. Maybe I might take a college class in an area that will help me understand and relate to people even better.  More reading, education and other forms of self-improvement are all areas that I concluded would help me have the information, knowledge and wisdom to be a very good mentor. But then if I remain committed to growing my skill set in all of those areas to be a better mentor, wouldn’t that make me that much better of a leader as well?

 

One could say that you could adopt the “self-improvement” plan without accepting the commitment to being a better mentor, and that’s true. But I would offer that for many military veterans, the personal drive to not disappoint our former soldiers is a greater motivator than the desire to commit to self-improvement. We are more likely to be driven to excel as to not disappoint those that seek our counsel or guidance than we are to consistently work hard to improve ourselves.

I am convinced that through the process of being a better mentor, I will in fact become a much better leader. Being a better leader will definitely help in my post-military career because leadership skills and expertise are the most-prominent qualities veterans bring to the civilian world, making us exceptionally attractive to business leaders, businesses and corporations.

But the real reward of being a better mentor is the feeling of helping those that served us so well. All of us have felt the satisfaction of seeing one of our former subjects succeed, directly or indirectly because of a guiding hand or advice. Regardless of what was going on at any point in my professional life, I could always manage a smile when I heard that words or recommendations that I offered made a difference in the life of some young future leader.

Regardless of what stage of the transition process you are now, commit to being a better mentor. Regain the feeling one gets when helping others, driven by selflessness – that core value that drove us throughout time in the service. Do not wait to make the change; commit now to gaining the level of knowledge and wisdom you need in order to be that better advisor. In the process, you’ll become an even better leader. Being a better leader will only enhance your marketability throughout the transition process, regardless of what sector you are transitioning into.

Be better mentor now to be a better leader tomorrow. Do not make it your next New Year’s resolution like I did. It’s too important to you and those that will depend on your wisdom and advice to wait another 360 days to make this change.