Today is a good day to be a mentor

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I returned late Sunday evening from several days of Navy duty in Chicago. Whenever I spend time on our older bases, I feel the spirit of previous generations of Americans who have answered the Nation’s call to serve a cause greater than self.

That’s certainly the case with Naval Station Great Lakes, which dates back to its establishment by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. Since that time, this historic base has seen many Americans traverse its parade grounds on their journeys from civilian to hero. That list includes the five Sullivan brothers, killed in action together while serving on board USS Juneau in World War II, and Navy SEAL Mike Monsoor, posthumous Medal of Honor recipient for gallantry in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As I reflect on this past week, which one might well view as just another few days of duty, a seemingly ordinary moment stands out. In it is a lesson on the important role of mentoring in our Naval service – a concept that is universally applicable, regardless of vocation or avocation.

We were in the midst of a multi-day training session I facilitated for a group of senior officers. Each participant arrived in Chicago seeking a qualification to serve as a commanding officer, a special designation now required to lead a reserve unit. The days were long with many back-to-back presentations and the room was stuffy despite our efforts to draw in the cool air off Lake Michigan.

As we were wrapping up one of our modules, a candidate commented that as he rose through the ranks, nobody ever tapped him on the shoulder and said, “It’s your turn to start mentoring those junior to you.” It just became clear one day, he said, that having benefited from the good counsel and advice of others who took him under their wing, it was time to start doing the same for those who followed him.

I was struck by this observation, simple as it may seem, because it’s a lesson we can each apply immediately. Whether or not we serve in the military and no matter where we find ourselves on life’s journey, we have the obligation to take care of those looking to us for guidance.

We must be deliberate about mentoring. It doesn’t happen automatically and we don’t need to wait for someone to tell us it’s time to do so. One of the great joys of experience – whether it’s marked by the stripes on one’s sleeve or, more importantly, knowledge quietly gained – is the opportunity to pass along wisdom to others who are a few steps behind us on the path.

The very same morning as my colleague’s comment, just across that storied base north of Chicago, 507 reasons for applying this lesson stood at attention in front of family, friends, and dignitaries on the deck of Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall. Like most Fridays throughout the year, that day witnessed another class of young men and women became sailors in the world’s greatest navy. While on board Naval Station Great Lakes, they have been the recipients of mentoring – and they already have had their own opportunities to mentor others, doubtless the first of many such experiences during their time wearing the cloth of the Nation. What a privilege!

How about you: what are you doing today to mentor someone?

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