My mentor knows I have a blog. Thankfully, as far as I know, he doesn't read it. That's good because I'm about to talk about him (in good ways). I've written about mentoring from time to time, both in the military context and the Christian context, but I haven't given as many real examples as I would have liked to. That stops today. In this post I want to give you a real idea of how to be a mentor.
So here's what you'll need to do to be a good mentor:
First, my mentor evaluated me. This is an important first step for all mentoring relationships. Now, I don't know exactly what my mentor was looking for, but what I do know is that there must be a reason he picked me instead of other junior 1st Class Petty Officers that he could have picked. Maybe it was because I needed so much work at the time or maybe I showed promise or maybe I was already on the right track and he wanted to continue that. At any rate, there was something he saw that made him want to mentor me. This is evaluation, and if this step is skipped, the relationship will be off from day one.
Second, my mentor let me know who was in charge of the relationship. One of the first things he said to me was, "If you'll do exactly what I tell you to do, your career will take a new turn." This left virtually zero room for me to run the relationship. I wanted my career to take a new (better) turn, therefore I had to follow him, therefore I would not be leading the relationship. Do you see how he did that? If you are just enjoying a modified friendship in your mentoring, then its fine, but not necessarily mentoring. Mentoring means one person is guiding the other. My mentor has guided me for going on two years.
Third, he gave me chances to make decisions. Even though he was in charge of the relationship, he knew that I needed confidence and that only came through being in charge. I can remember one day, when I was standing watch as the Combat Systems Officer Of the Watch (CSOOW), I asked him about an issue and what I should do about it. He said, "I don't know...you're the CSOOW!" I had no choice but to make the call, and I did! I was shaky for a long time; maybe too long, but you wouldn't know it today. Now, in most situations, I make decisions without him even knowing I'm making them. I don't have to consult him as much anymore because he instilled in me confidence in my abilities. One of his favorite phrases over the past few years has been, "FC1, you know the answer already." And most of the time, he was right!
Fourth, he gave me responsibility. About six months ago, I was given the title as Combat Systems Department Leading Petty Officer. With that came the responsibility to literally be the go-to man in my department. I am the departmental mentorship coordinator, department career counselor, CSOOW watch coordinator, and CSOOW trainer, along with many other jobs. In short, I have a lot of responsibility. Senior Chief gave me increasingly more responsibility as I grew. He doesn't question my authority in front of others either, even if I'm wrong.
And on that note, when I'm wrong, he waits until the situation is over (as long as safety isn't involved) and counsels me on the issue privately. Then he gives me the chance to fix the problem. If I told someone to do the wrong thing, I am the one who gets to fix it, which is humbling, but at least the embarrassment is kept to a minimum.
Also on the note of responsibility, Senior Chief backs my play. A few months ago I was having trouble with a fellow first class. When senior ordered the other first classes to report to me on an issue, this particular sailor skipped me and went straight to Senior Chief. Senior's response was, "Run that through FC1 Smith, just like I told you, and he will give it to me." Yes, it was an extra and maybe an unnecessary step, but the fact is, he was building me up as the authority. It is an authority I carry today without argument in the department.
This is how Paul worked on Timothy's behalf. "I Paul, with Timothy..." is how many epistles start. There were many reasons for doing this (one being that Timothy might have carried some of those letters), but it also served to build Timothy's authority. Can you imagine showing up at a church not just carrying a letter from Paul, but being PART OF the letter? Instant authority, and that is what my mentor does for me.
Fifth, and finally, Senior Chief defends me. Once a chief, who clearly outranked me, essentially ordered me to do something that I disagreed with. I told the chief that I would have to run that past senior chief, who happened to be walking in at the time. When he found out about the order, he told the chief that I was right and that I wouldn't be doing anything of the kind. He totally defended me in that situation.He has proven this over and over.
You know, if it weren't for my mentor, my career would still be mediocre. Because of him, I have had a stellar two years as a First Class Petty Officer. I have risen from the lower middle of the pack to someone who now competes for a top spot among 40 senior sailors. I am grateful to God for placing me under Senior Chief's care. It is only because of God's provision that I have had this opportunity, and I will always be thankful.
So thanks, Senior...and I'll see you at work in a few minutes!
What about you? Did I miss anything?