by Command Sergeant Major Randolph Hollingsworth
First Sergeant Richard A. Harris of Alpha Company, 306th MI
Battalion, is my guest writer for this issue of MIPB. He
advocates mentorship in the enlisted ranks and explains how to
develop a mentoring program. I ask that you consider what First
Sergeant Harris has to say.
The Mentorship Program: A Hidden Weapon
Editor's Note: FM 25-101, Battle Focused Training, discusses
mentoring as an important part of a professional development
program. Readers are encouraged to read DA Pamphlet 600-35,
Relationships Between Soldiers of Different Rank, before
initiating a mentoring relationship.
The purpose of this article is to outline what a mentoring
program is by
For years, men and women working in government, the military,
and business have used an informal, voluntary system of
counseling and advising younger men and women whom they
considered worthy of career advancement. Older, usually more
experienced individuals referred to as mentors help the younger
personnel learn the ropes, by introducing them to top leaders,
giving them challenging or viable assignments and serving as
their advocate within the organization.
- Defining the role of mentorship.
- Delineating its different types.
- Explaining selection of mentors.
- Suggesting steps in starting a mentorship program for junior
and senior enlisted soldiers.
Role of the Mentor
By definition, a mentor is one who coaches, counsels,
teaches, and sponsors others. The American Heritage Dictionary
describes a mentor as "a wise and trusted teacher or
counselor. There is evidence that the concept is not a
recent development: in Greek mythology, Odysseus asked his
trusted counselor, Mentor, to become guardian and teacher of his
son. Mentors can be seen as individuals who have been where you
want to go in your career and are willing to act as guides and
friends. Their task is to take individuals under their wings and
direct them toward the next step in their careers.
As sponsors, mentors must create opportunities which allow
their prot‚g‚s to improve their unique skills and military
occupational specialties (MOSs). In an organizational setting,
this may mean the mentor will ask the prot‚g‚ to help on a
project, analyze a problem, or make a presentation to higher
command levels. Some studies suggest that most successful leaders
have had the benefit of such a sponsor. It is generally accepted
and understood that even the brightest members of an organization
will stagnate unless someone higher up the ladder notices them.
As teachers, mentors often present hypothetical situations and
ask for input or possible solutions. An important part of the
teaching responsibility is explaining written and unwritten unit
policies, general and special orders, and so forth, which pertain
to specific situations. As devil's advocates, the mentors' charge
is to challenge prot‚g‚s to develop and use skills pertaining to
command presence in the face of opposition, conflict, or
disagreement. As coaches, mentors help to support dreams, assist
in determining what is important, and in identifying skills the
prot‚g‚ has or could develop.
Types of Mentoring Programs
There are two types of mentoring programs, formal and informal.
Most organizations use an informal approach. This involves a
voluntary effort on the part of a senior NCO or any commissioned
officer. These insightful individuals routinely recognize talent
and potential, attempting to guide and develop those traits in
However, many forward-thinking private businesses, in an effort
to operate at optimum effectiveness in today's competitive
environment, have established formal mentoring programs. Such
firms include Merrill Lynch and Company and Johnson and Johnson
and its subsidiary companies.
The program at Merrill Lynch is called the Management Readiness
Program (MRP). It is a six-month program designed to assist in
career development and build bridges between high-level
management and all other personnel. Provisions of the MRP require
The Johnson and Johnson program is quite similar to that of
Merrill Lynch. The major difference is that the Johnson and
Johnson program is geared directly toward promising female and
minority employees. They are selected on a case-by-case basis by
giving them additional responsibilities and special
opportunities. Johnson and Johnson uses the premise that women
and minorities have had significant difficulty in finding mentors
which has widely hampered these group's ability to advance into
top management positions. In fact, in one recent survey 44
percent of the managers questioned agreed that women and
minorities have a harder time finding someone in their
organization to nurture their professional growth. Moreover, when
women have a mentor, that mentor is most often an older man,
which unfortunately, typically contributes to negative gossip
about the nature of the relationship.
- The mentor teach the prot‚g‚ about the firm's history,
culture, career opportunities, and possible future direction.
- The program must include a level within the organization's
chain of command who know how to articulate the overall company
- The mentor must volunteer for a six-month period.
- The participants agree to meet at least monthly.
How does an organization instituting a formal mentoring program
select mentors? The following guidelines should be used in the
- Superiors should not be mentors for soldiers in their direct
chains of command.
- Mentors must be recognized as experts in their fields. This
is normally determined by the obvious expertise they possess,
reputations earned, or actual noted accomplishments.
- Mentors should be higher up the chain-of- command ladder
than those they are mentoring. Exceptions could be cases of
senior NCOs serving as mentors to junior commissioned officers.
- Mentors should be influential. Influence can be defined as
the ability to get things done without apparent exercise of
direct command. Soldiers must want to perform for their mentors.
- Mentors must exhibit a genuine interest in their prot‚g‚s'
personal growth, advancement, and development.
- Mentors must commit and expend time and emotion on the
- Mentorships may or may not be permanent.
Steps in Starting A Mentoring Program
A proposal for implementation of a mentorship program should
include at least the following five steps. First, post a notice
announcing the program and articulating its purpose. It should
clearly name the program, for example, "leadership and
development program" or "sponsorship, initiative and training
program." The notice should indicate that a follow-up meeting
will be forthcoming. Keep in mind that our finest soldiers will
be motivated and interested in applying for this program.
Convene a meeting of all interested parties; potential mentors
and prot‚g‚s. Explain the program and its functions, and obtain
background information on each individual. I point out this
reminder this should not be an easy program to enter nor one in
which to be selected as a participant.
Third, create a committee to match individuals, based on MOS
interests, background, hobbies, and so forth. When junior NCOs
show ability to perform at a higher level, give those soldiers
some experience to be a future leader in the U.S. Army.
The committee should notify participants who their mentors or
prot‚g‚s will be. Provide a copy of the requirements for the
mentoring program to all soldiers and mentors selected.
Finally, ensure several follow-up meetings. Schedule informal
social gatherings. Create a short form for each participant to
fill out. Ensure that prot‚g‚s are aware that the mentoring
process grooms them for future leadership positions in tomorrow's
If a mentoring program is established and the guidelines set
forth herein are incorporated, the program is likely to be
effective. It should prove to be a valuable asset for the
organization, regardless of whether it is the U.S. Armed Forces
or a private or public business. Typical and expected benefits to
be derived from such programs include a faster promotion track
for the soldier being mentored, higher efficiency ratings, a
tendency toward more formal education, greater satisfaction in
MOS assignments, highly motivated soldiers, and increased morale
for the entire unit. The most important aspect of a mentoring
program lies in the fact that it is an excellent tool in
developing junior leaders, which leads to diversity at all levels
in an organization.
First Sergeant Harris is currently the First Sergeant of
Alpha Company, 306th MI Battalion at Fort Huachuca. His previous
assignments include Senior Writer-Developer for Career Management
Field 98C at Fort Huachuca, and Senior Electronic Warfare/SIGINT
Advisor, Support Operations Team Alpha, 5th Special Forces Group
(Abn). Readers can contact thim at (520) 533-3774, DSN 821-3774,
and via E-mail [email protected] emh1.army.mil.