Army Major Julie Alderman is IT professional with experience in multiple leadership positions across diverse commands to include operational, joint, and multi-national in both peacetime and deployed environments. Her education comprises of a Bachelor of Science in Geography and a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership and Development. As she considers herself a lifelong learner, she is passionate about team building and mentorship and have experience leading two separate mentorship groups for company grade officers. Read on for a lesson she's learned.
Within the military context, Army officers frequently prioritize professional mentorship opportunities that align with their personal experience and associated career paths, such as those provided by ROTC or West Point. However, this narrow focus hinders the acquisition of valuable insights, lessons learned, and diverse experiences from individuals pursuing different trajectories. In the military, perspective-taking is vital, as it enhances organizational performance by promoting a comprehensive understanding of the team.
To establish a cohesive, integrated, and relevant professional mentorship program between officers and non-commissioned officers, I recommend that junior officers collaborate closely with their respective senior non-commissioned officers. This approach ensures the alignment of mentorship efforts within the officer and non-commissioned officer corps.
It is critical to reflect upon and reevaluate the perception of mentorship at the junior officer level. Often, the focus centers on identifying individuals who have achieved success within one’s specific career field, hoping to replicate their accomplishments. Alternatively, seeking a confidant who offers support and guidance navigating the ranks is common as well. Whereas both types of mentoring can prove beneficial, it is crucial to include another category - non—commissioned officers. Although developing such a relationship may appear uncommon due to the superior/subordinate relationship, my experience proves this mentoring dynamic is exceptionally valuable to leadership development of junior officers. I offer the enclosed experience:
During my tenure as a company commander, I had the privilege of serving alongside a senior non-commissioned officer, who previously served with four other company commanders and awaited the board results reflecting his United States Sergeant Major Academy selection. His comprehensive understanding of company operations was evident while I faced numerous challenges as a new commander. After my first week in command, my first “phone a friend” for help call was to a mentor who was in a higher echelon non-commissioned officer position herself. I had questions for her about company operations and my subordinate’s thought process about numerous issues within the company. Sure, I could have called a senior officer mentor, but it was important to me to hear from a leader who held the same positions of the leader about whom I now needed advice. Understanding the perspective of the leader who helped me to ensure the success and livelihood of our Soldiers and mission helped me change my perspective. There is a reason the Army pairs a senior non-commissioned officer with over 14 years of experience with a junior officer with 4-6 years of experience, it is a balance. Having another more senior non-commissioned officer mentor allowed me to learn from her experiences allowed me to grow exponentially as a leader because I could professionally and personally broaden and educate myself. Junior officers are tasked with tremendous responsibility with little time to adapt and earn the privilege to command on merit.
Mentorship is not only superior to subordinate; in many cases it is experience based. I found my non-commissioned officer mentor through a shared hardship and similar hobbies. Over time we shared work challenges and our roles, and I was lucky to have a sounding board for questions and problems without involving my superiors.
Raymond Kimball defines mentoring as “the voluntary developmental relationship between a person of greater experience and lesser experience characterized by mutual trust and respect.” (Kimball, page 6.) Naturally, the mentee sees something the mentor has accomplished, survived, and succeeded at, and they wish to follow a similar path. I offer my experience to share the benefit of engaging in a mentoring relationship with a subordinate but senior leader who will help gain perspective and understanding.
I am grateful to all the mentors in my career, those who invested for specific jobs and those who invested fully personally and professionally. Because of that investment, I am more prepared to lead our Soldiers and serve as a mentor to others.