Everyone Needs a Mentor

“Every Soldier needs a Sergeant.” is an old Army adage based on the traditional role of Noncommissioned Officer taking care of their men. More senior sergeants use the phrase to encourage new platoon sergeants to look out for their young lieutenants with the understanding that the lieutenant is in charge, but the sergeants know what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and the correct way to do it. Smart lieutenants understand the wisdom of their sergeant’s advise and follow his lead.

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Career progression outside the military is less clear. What works in one company or organization does not work in the next. Even if you are the boss, like that young lieutenant, you need a trusted, wise guide to show you the path to success no matter how you define success. Like the old Army saying above, everyone needs a mentor.

It can be difficult to find a good mentor. Mentors are trusted guides. Typically mentoring relationship occur voluntarily between a person with less experience and another who has accomplished similar goals as the protege. The relationship is characterized by mutual trust and respect. Frequently these relationship occur outside supervisory channels.

Good mentors are interested in the success of others. They help their protege gain confidence and encourage growth. Mentors serve as role models. Mentors help their protege develop achievable goals, identify steps required to accomplish those goals, and as a result increase the likelihood of success.

Next time you take on a new task, think about finding a mentor to guide you along the way. You may find their experience leads you down paths you never would have found and methods to overcome obstacles. Every journey is an adventure, but with a mentor to guide you along the way, you improve your chances of reaching the end of the road and achieving the success you envisioned at the beginning of the trip.

Leaders Training Future Leaders

ImageAll trainers are leaders because they influence people in their organizations to accomplish the mission. The flip side to that thought is that all leaders are trainers. In too many organizations however leaders are selected based upon their ability to accomplish tasks more than their ability to influence others and too many organizations fail to train their highest performers to become leaders. Possession of influence is more important to a leader than possessing an ability to complete a task skillfully. Learning how to engage others to influence them to perform is more important skill for leaders than the task to be performed. Teaching the leaders to teach becomes that challenge for the middle and senior leaders of organizations, one that is poorly executed. Consistent leader training and development is critical to any organization’s long term success. Four simple, repeatable steps separate are the foundation of an enduring leadership training program. Those steps are telling, demonstrating, practicing and correcting.

Telling. The quickest way to transfer information is to tell the other person. When sending a message you want the receiver to remember ensure the receiver has a method of recording the information, whether it is a notebook, a voice recorder or a note on their device. Unrecorded information is sure to be forgotten. When someone writes, they remember better in the future and create a record for future reference when the teacher is absent. During the review of the lesson, the teach can have the student read back the notes ensuring all important details were discussed.

Demonstrating. You demonstrate the task. In this blog, demonstration is listed as the second step, but in practice, it is the first. When others work for you, you demonstrate leadership for them daily. When you take time to counsel the new leader, you demonstrate the importance of counseling. Your methods become the lesson as the techniques and practices you expect them to employ in their leadership role. Counseling is just one area, but the example crosses many such topical areas.

Practicing. At first you may be inclined to linger. This may not always work well. For the same reasons it may not be practical for your trainee to sit in on a counseling session with a fellow employee with a family problem, it probably is just as likely you should not sit in on similar situations unless you are invited. The senior leader has other duties. If she spends all her time overseeing one new supervisor, she ignores other areas of responsibility. It is not unreasonable to follow up by asking to see documentation of a process or to check progress of employees. This lets both the employee and their supervisor know you are paying attention to important aspects of their work and lives.

Correcting. Do this as close as possible to the performance of the activity. Often in performance oriented training we ofter students feedback in the form of an after action review within a few minutes of completing the activity. There is no reason to not apply the same practice. If you are invited to observe a process improvement meeting, plan on five or ten minutes after the meeting to review the supervisor’s performance.

When you have completed all the steps, repeat them until the leader performs them nearly perfectly. As they improve, you allow them to tell you how they can improve their performance instead of providing feed back from you. As you do so, you prepare them for increasing levels of leadership and improve the organization.

Good leaders are also trainers. They set the standard by telling, They live the standard through demonstration. They allow others to try to practice and correct mistakes so success is achieved. These steps train and develop leaders follows the same model. Tell them what the expectations are, demonstrate the way you expect them to behave, allow them to perform, make corrections and repeat. Leaders who practice these steps increase their sphere of influence, allow others to see he uses power to make the organization better, has concern for the future of the group and its people and is willing to e what he knows. Observers recognize the spark and passion of the leader doing the training and the overall success of the organization. Take the first step today with your young leaders.

Photo Credit:  tanakawho from flickr.com creative commons license

They’ve Got You Now…

At the end of Heartbreak Ridge, GSG Highway turns to CPL Jones and says something like “They don’t need me anymore, besides they got you now.” This is truly an impressive quote on many levels. Many would argue that the main character in this movie is an ideal mentor or role model, but others would argue he is the very definition of as a Level 5 Leader. One of the benefits of this discussion and analysis is that the Gunny is a fictional character and not a real person, but tDSC00585he military is full of commissioned and non-commissioned officers who are less than perfect yet meet the definition of a Level 5 Leader. This article seeks to identify why the military successfully develops so many leaders who meet this definition.

Before looking at the reasons the military generates so many great leaders, a review of Level 5 Leadership in in order. At least two authors have discussed five levels of leadership, Jim Collins and John Maxwell. Collins’ five levels appear to receive the most attention, but a comparison between both author’s writings demonstrate similar ideas for each level.

Level 5 Leaders build enduring greatness by placing the needs of the organization above their own. They blend humility with personal will-power influencing others to accomplish great things. They do the things that need doing establishing demanding standards. They do not expect perfection but rather demand excellence & continuous improvement. They bask in the reflected glory of the spotlight of success focused on those they lead. They create sustainable leadership development programs ensuring organizational success long after they leave. Level 5 Leaders are well respected attracting others who want to follow them.

While purely fictional, the actions of Gunny Highway are exaggerated but typical of many military leaders. They are humble about their achievements by acknowledging the fact they could have only achieved success through the efforts of their followers. They set high standards and expect others to meet them not occasionally, but every day. They accomplish those things that need doing whether pleasant or distasteful. They demand their followers achieve excellence and continuously improve their performance. They provide junior leaders opportunities to lead, allowing them to make mistakes, hold them accountable and permit them to try again until they succeed. These actions set an example for those future leaders to follow when promoted.

Gunny Highway’s first impression of Jones and the other members of the platoon was unfavorable. He established high standards and through his will-power influenced them to achieve those standards and succeed. The platoon went from being the laughing stock of the post to a well-respected organization capable of meeting any challenge presented. He developed other leaders such as Jones and his Lieutenant who tripped when presented problems, but learned the value of adapting, improvising and overcoming to achieve success.

At the end of the day, it was Highway and his platoon were not favorable. Previous leaders allowed them to slack off becoming regarded as a bunch of out-of-control misfits who could never succeed let along achieve excellence. Highway know one day their lives could be at stake and pushed them to achieve and exceed military standards. After an emergency deployment to rescue stranded Americans it was Highway’s platoon on the top of the hill after enduring several battles and receiving the accolades of their commander. In true Level 5 fashion, Gunny denied having accomplished much, but rather thrust his followers into the spotlight. He was humble, demonstrated tremendous will-power, set high standards, developed others, expected continuous improvement from previous excellent results and set up his unit for continued greatness for years after his retirement. Who knows, in 20 years Gunny Jones could be the one leading the charge, achieving success and passing the glory onto a well-mentored Corporal when the Commanding General teleports to that forward position. Hooah!