How to Mentor a Young Sailor

The US Navy has long held that mentoring is a vital part of a sailor's career, both to be mentored and to mentor. I have had many mentors in my career and I value every single one of them. Each one taught me something I desperately needed to know.

There are of course many things to teach a potential mentor about mentoring a sailor, one of which is how to listen. It is vital to be able to listen in all relationships, for that matter. In mentoring, knowing how to listen sets the stage for the three suggestions I propose in this post. So if you are all talk and no listen, go learn how to do that first and then come back to this blog.

Of course most of my suggestions are based on my life as a believer in Christ. There is simply no way that I can separate the two. I am what I am.

So, without further ado, here are my three suggestions for mentoring a young sailor:

1. Build on strengths: Your young sailor has strengths. He might not even know what they are, especially if he joined the Navy for less-than-promising reasons. The man might have joined because he had to get away from a bad situation at home, maybe because he couldn't make it on his own, or maybe some other unfortunate reason. He may simply not know what his strengths are or may not even think he has any. It is your job, as his head cheerleader, to find these strengths and develop them.

I had a young sailor who actually grasped management better than the worker-bee stuff. Why he wasn't an officer instead of enlisted I'll never know. It didn't matter, actually, because it was my job to develop those strengths, not to try and figure out the method to the madness. Before we were done, he was accepting more responsibility from his division and applying to become an officer.

2. Work on the weaknesses: Just because my sailor knew more about management, and was a better fit there, didn't mean that we could ditch the rest. He was an enlisted man, and junior enlisted men get paid to work on equipment. So I encouraged him, and helped him find ways, to develop his technical skills. It's so rewarding as a mentor to watch a protege break through a weakness! You'll never know this joy unless you work on weaknesses.

3. Work on outside interests: One of the sailors I mentor is also a believer. He was passionate about his work and involved in his faith. However, because he was so excited about his job as an electronics technician, he didn't expand his horizons as a believer. I saw this as unhealthy. On a voyage to Mazatlan, Mexico (I know...real unfortunate, huh?), I asked him to join me in meeting some missionaries with YWAM. He agreed and came away ready to be involved in his faith in a very real way...he was ready to get his hands dirty.

I don't know if your sailor will be one of faith or not. Many of mine aren't, but they all have ideas that aren't Navy-related, and it's your job to be all-encompassing. Develop these outside interests too, and you'll develop a well-rounded sailor.

So now that I've made some suggestions about mentoring a sailor, what do you think? What are your experiences as a mentor? Or as a protege? Any ideas or things I left out?

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