The U.S. Naval Institute on Mentorship

The U.S. Naval Institute on Mentorship

Edited by P. J. Neal

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2017, 192 pages

Book Review published on: May 11, 2018

Do you want to gain a better understanding of the role of mentorship in developing leaders? The U.S. Naval Institute on Mentorship addresses this very subject. Its primary focus is the development of subordinates in a specific profession of officers in the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard. In each of the twenty-six individual writings included in the book, the authors relate their opinions of the meaning of mentorship from a leader’s perspective. The ideas they describe have value to any leader interested in advancing a chosen profession. The concepts discussed are multigenerational and span over ninety years, beginning in 1921. These concepts contain thoughts that include all five of the current generations: traditionalist, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials/Generation Y, and Generation Z/iGen/centennials.

The book has utility for the novice leader, as well as the experienced professional, seeking ideas to strengthen their own profession or to just provide insight to others. The value of The U.S. Naval Institute on Mentorship is that it explores many different reasons for the experienced leader to seek out or accept the request to provide tutelage to a less-experienced person within their discipline. The book explains why it is advantageous for maritime professionals to assist those entering the profession and uses questions to address this.

First, is there an unwritten rule that obligates the experienced professional to make their tried-and-proven knowledge base available to those new to the profession? There are those who answered “yes” to this question for the mere fact of strengthening the pool of knowledge so a perpetual source is available for future generations. If seasoned leaders who have the time-tested knowledge and proven skills make their time available to those just entering the profession and guide the inexperienced neophytes, how much might this enable early-career professionals in their particular fields?

Next, who should mentor who? Is it appropriate to mentor those of the opposite sex or should gender be considered in a mentor-mentee relationship? The book cites one essay where a number of high-ranking female executives were hesitant to candidly discuss their thoughts on mentoring other females. A primary concern was their fear of the perceptions of favoritism that could develop if they mentored another female. A large number of senior male leaders expressed concerns about the perception of inappropriate relationships if they mentored someone of the opposite sex. Is there a double standard? This author concludes that male officers are hesitant to mentor female mentees and females mentoring females is, unfortunately, nowhere near what it is between males.

Does mentoring, coaching, or counselling lead junior members of companies to greater success? Empirical evidence is presented that shows many who advance to senior executive levels in companies are often those who were mentored early in their careers. Because leadership includes more than just studying sterile formulas, models, and traits, the knowledge gained from these studies, along with the attentive mentoring and nurturing of an experienced leader, will result in the development a more skilled leader.

Since most of the book has a maritime flare with short essays centered around Navy and Coast Guard personnel, one would assume that those outside of these professions would gain nothing by reading it. This would be a big mistake, because the content discusses matters of leadership and mentorship regardless of the profession. The situations and techniques highlighted can be used in any profession. Mentorship means different things to different audiences. The authors describe what mentorship means in the different sectors of the Department of Defense— Army and Air Force included—and civilian companies at large. How is an organization to structure a mentoring program? Should it be voluntary? Should it be prescriptive? Should seniors in a company be required to coach an apprentice or protégé for the sake of the exponential advancement in the base of knowledge in a given field? How does this steward a given profession? What are some considerations to be mindful of if mentorship is mandated? The book address all of these questions as well.

I recommend this book to anyone who desires to gain a better understanding of the role of mentorship in developing leadership. It provides a broad range of topics that will assist the mentor, the mentee, and those responsible for developing such programs.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Calvin J. Owens, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas