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The Authentic Mentor

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Steve Henderson is a Command Sergeant Major in the United States Army, currently serving at Fort Jackson, SC. He recently finished serving as the Senior Enlisted Advisor in the Office of the Chief Legislative Liaison (OCLL) in Washington, D.C. Coming into the Army in 1998 and through his 24 years of service, he has served in a variety of positions at the tactical, operational, and strategic level, giving him a clear-eyed sense of what it means to be authentic when mentoring.

People from all walks of life seek out mentors to provide advice and counsel on a variety of personal and professional endeavors which can have a life altering impact. Mentorship is a great responsibility, but a deliberate analysis of mentorship initiatives is often overlooked. Mentors implement a variety of methods and techniques in their mentorship efforts, but one key characteristic is often overlooked, authenticity. Mentors should ask themselves the following questions which will help improve their mentorship programs. What does it mean to be authentic? How do new mentors incorporate authenticity in their mentor and mentee relationships? Can you train yourself to be more authentic?

An authentic person is generally defined as being genuine or true to one’s ideals or principles and demonstrating those beliefs through their actions. Those ideals and principles originate through experience otherwise known as lifelong learning and is the most impactful characteristic that defines a person’s authentic self. Lifelong learning is not limited to formal education, and one could argue that career and life experience are far more relevant and impactful. Those that are most successful in achieving their authentic self are able to analyze and internalize the experience gained through lifelong learning. Simply put, mentors who possess a high degree of authenticity also possess the self-awareness needed to understand the relationship between lifelong learning and their authenticity.

Mentorship is a deliberate process of providing guidance or counsel to an individual to reach a specified goal. Those goals vary in scope and length and can be professionally or personally focused. Often, mentors fail to plan a mentorship program that will be mutually beneficial for each party. When asked to enter this relationship, mentors will often struggle to clearly understand their role and revert to anecdotal experience. Not all mentorship programs are created equal, and their experience may not benefit either party. Mentors will often place up a façade to demonstrate to their mentee they are experienced and ready to take on their new responsibility. While not immediately transparent, mentees will see through the façade, ultimately damaging the relationship and mentor credibility.

If staying true to oneself defines authenticity, then honesty is the main driving force behind those beliefs. With honesty in mind, new mentors have a tremendous opportunity when establishing a new mentor and mentee relationship. Having an honest conversation about personal experience and expectations displays a vulnerability only found with the most authentic mentors. While it may be uncomfortable, showing those around you that you are vulnerable can be a powerful statement that the mentor is indeed “human.”

More often than not, mentors are characterized as leaders with expectation that an effective leader is also an effective mentor. The latter could not be further from the truth, and the mentor (leader) must actively look for ways to improve their mentorship capabilities. The most difficult attribute to perfect is authenticity, but once proficient, can be the most impactful. One cannot simply declare their authenticity through spoken word and like most other effective mentorship initiatives, actions speak louder than words. Mentors must identify their core beliefs and principles which may be contrary to their current belief system and difficult to accept. Only when the mentor has accepted or confirmed their belief system, can their authentic self be achieved. Once accepted, mentors must assess their mentorship relationships to ensure both the mentor and mentee are still aligned and benefiting from the relationship.

Mentors who wish to become more authentic must be deliberate with how they demonstrate their core beliefs and principles. A person’s authentic self can only be achieved if they are dedicated to demonstrating their core beliefs and principles. As previously stated, honesty can be the most powerful characteristic of one’s authentic self, and mentors must be honest with themselves and their ideals and principles. Mentors must analyze and reflect on their belief system to confirm their accuracy. If those beliefs change, mentors must have the courage to evolve and accept in order to achieve their authentic self. Finally, mentors must consistently demonstrate their authenticity with their actions rather than their words. Only when those actions become a subconscious part of their internal makeup, can a true authentic self be achieved.

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