I was a good supervisor but I shortchanged many of these people because I was shortsighted. I know better now.
To be the kind of leader I want to be requires much more investment in our subordinates and in ourselves. A supervisor can follow organizational doctrine and be successful but a good mentor has to open many more doors to increase their knowledge and arm themselves with useful tools they can leverage to develop their people beyond professional acumen.
We all have dreams and are eager for someone to believe and invest in those dreams. Many of the young people I’ve encountered have goals that take them beyond a stint or two with the Army, and from a big picture perspective it is more than okay. There are only a finite number of senior positions for our young people to work toward and it is a highly competitive climb.
However you decide to approach your mentoring role it should genuinely reflect who you are and play to your strengths and expertise. My military background lends a specific approach to planning that I incorporate whenever I take on a new protégé. Here are a few steps that work for me:
Find and focus the vision.
Mentoring starts with trust and genuine conversation about goals and aspirations. The ‘five year plan’ is cliché but it is important to visualize the road to the end state. I often charge my protégés to develop a vision statement we can discuss and refine as the plan takes shape. Vision statements should incorporate the whole person, including health, leisure, education, and family as part of the conversation. These elements significantly impact what would otherwise comprise significant gaps.
Your protégé needs to define each element of the vision statement individually. Maybe that includes attaining a specific graduate degree or credential. It might also spell out a specific management position. In the end you’ll have a series of clear conditions or statements that demonstrate how to achieve the vision. Not only do these statements allow you to measure effectiveness, it is a great tool to help your protégé maintain the right azimuth.
For each condition there are steps to take along the way. If the goal is to become a managing director then identify and map the positions from that goal. Think like a person whose goal is to run a marathon. In order to reach 26 miles on date x they must be able to run 20 miles by date y. Continue working backward to connect the target with the present and repeat for each condition to build a solid map.
Not all conditions are equal within the vision formula. Talk about the importance of each and categorize their priority within the overall equation. Some goals may change over time for a variety of reasons, particularly as they overlap or conflict.
Gather outside investors.
Just because you’ve formulated a great plan on paper, don’t forget there are others who get a vote because they are also affected. It is a really good idea for your protégé to talk through this plan with their stakeholders – a spouse or other important people in their life. Stakeholders who understand the vision and the map are more likely to support the effort, and they understand each element’s priority so they can decide where and when to lend support. Don’t be surprised when the map changes based on stakeholder input – it’s a good thing to have buy-in.
Conduct routine azimuth checks.
Every person and plan requires varying levels of coaching along the way. Sometimes that might mean revisiting the plan biweekly, monthly, or less often. You’re looking for factors that may necessitate slight changes to the plan, or to offer advice on adjustments to reach certain steps. You may find over time that the current plan looks much different than the original plan but don’t worry because it is your protégé’s map to reach their vision.
Don’t make them drink.
This level of investment isn’t for every person you work with. You have to decide, based on each individual, how much time and effort makes sense. You might encounter a person who doesn’t share yours or the organization’s values or is simply there to meet an end of their own design. These are examples of people who require a leader to supervise over the short term; this is an opportunity to save white space for others. Lead them to water and let them decide whether or not to drink; it is their plan and they assume the risk and reward.