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Moving From Desires-Based to Needs-Based Mentoring

Updated: Oct 10

This article comes from Miguel Moyeno, an active-duty Captain in the Armor branch of the U.S. Army. He was commissioned from the United States Military Academy as an Infantry officer in 2012 and recently completed the Eisenhower Leader Development Program with a graduate degree in Social-Organizational Psychology (Leader Development) at Teachers College, Columbia University. He was also a 2020 Center of Junior Officers Leadership Fellow. These experiences frame the thoughts he shares here, getting us to think a little more about what we need from a mentor relationship rather than just what we want in one.

Have you ever said, “I want a mentor!”? Throughout my career in the Army, I have found myself saying this statement countless times. During times of transition and change, I remember saying this thought more vividly. Yet like clockwork, I would receive coaching, counseling, attend presentations, speak to peers, subordinates, and superiors and would receive advice. Most of the advice was centered around a career timeline, a catalog of jobs, and experiences of what made that individual successful. Remarkably or accidently, countless of these conversations helped me this far in my career.

Over the past year the Army afforded me the opportunity to attend graduate school as part of the Eisenhower Leader Development Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. This opportunity allowed me to broaden, stretch, and reflect on my career thus far. The major takeaway of my reflections is what Marshall Goldsmith succinctly wrote for his 2007 seminal work - “what got me here, is not necessarily going to get to where I want to go”. I always wanted a mentor but now I need a mentor, particularly an executive mentor. I want to highlight the word “executive” because the mentor I need is someone that has experience in my industry and has walked the career path I intend to pursue.

I made a list of the reasons I need executive mentoring to assist me to determine why I deliberately seek an executive mentor:

Reason 1: I want to remain in the service.

Reason 2: I want to be a senior leader in the organization.

Reason 3: I want perspectives that cannot be easily extracted and that are more relevant than just lessons learned from books.

Reason 4: I want to be prepared for what lies ahead.

Reason 5: My life is more complicated, and I’m interested in how others manage the complexity.

Reason 6: I need feedback that is constructive, and purpose driven.

Reason 7: I want to be challenged.

Reason 8: I want to give back to the profession.

This list of reasons should serve as thoughtful and meaningful reflection on determining what you want against what you really need. Make your own list. Throughout my professional career, I have benefitted from consultation, coaching, education, training, and Army counseling. These experiences have provided wonderful opportunities to improve performance and acquire new skills and knowledge. I still intend to seek and benefit from these professional developmental approaches. However, the current need is experiences and insights from a senior that provides guidance, perspective, and highlights a path to my professional destination. This type of professional development was something I wanted but now I need.

The idea of a mentor was foreign to me and irrelevant during my developmental junior officer years. I’m indebted to the countless leaders, raters, peers, and followers that helped shape my leadership and career choices. Today I have grown and matured into a midcareer professional with a desire to serve in higher levels of responsibility. I’m confident in my abilities to learn and adapt, however, my developmental needs could be addressed best by executive mentoring.

Based off my reasons and those that you may have, consider starting this conversation with a potential mentor. It may be the spark to transform, prepare, and equip you for the journey ahead to get you where you want to go.

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