My good friend and Army colleague Ray Kimball has a new book that has hit the Amazon bookshelves. The Army Officer’s Guide to Mentoring is the book version of his dissertation, written to support his PhD at Pepperdine this year, about the state of affairs for mentoring in the specifically Army Officer Corps.
This is the book I wish that John Chverchko had had available, when I reported in to his unit as a brand new second lieutenant in 1996. Ray doesn’t prescribe what mentoring and coaching in the Army should be, he just does a great job, based on his research, of putting words together to describe what it is today. And how many of the great men and women who have coached and mentored me throughout my career, to include John Chverchko, it would have been great for them to have had a book like this, describing in plain, simple text the very things they were doing, and doing well.
As background, I’ve known Ray for more than a dozen years. He and I were both sucked into the same swirling vortex of the online forums at companycommand.com, when we were wee-young Captains. Some slightly older officers, just before 9/11 and the total changes that day and the wars brought, had written a book about preparing for command, and then created an online forums ostensibly to talk about the ideas in the book, but really as a place for near-peer mentoring and coaching to happen. And as technology developed, and the software and hardware became available to support it, companycommand.com became the place, in all of the Army, where company grade officers gathered to discuss everything related to preparing for an being a company commander, faster than the Army could write doctrine or publish field manuals.
And there, mentoring and coaching mattered. It’s at that level that company commanders grow and develop junior leaders, where company commanders struggle to work out their relationships with their first sergeants. It’s where company commanders struggle to understand their relationships with their battalion commanders, and after 6-8 years, a lot of captains begin to think longer term about where they are going in life – not just the Army – in a way in which mentoring really matters.
Ray and I were involved in companycommand.com for different reasons – I was worried about preparing for my own command, and then worried about my own command and the war that had started. And after command, I saw my contributing to companycommand.com as a means of giving back, less about finding others to mentor but certainly finding ways to find those preparing for MI commands and in need of coaching I could give them. And yes, I was especially aware of the need to help prepare MI Captains to command in combat – I had done it during the earliest of days, after I had already been on two previous deployments, but others would follow without those experiences.
Years later, the Army formally adopted companycommand.com and brought it under the wing of West Point, creating a small center at USMA called the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL). companycommand.com and platoonleader.com, and all of their related activities, moved under CALDOL. In 2011, while I was in Iraq, the call went out for LTCs to apply to take over as the director for CALDOL; Ray and I both discussed the need for both of us to apply, and I was sad when I wasn’t selected, and thrilled when he was.
In being selected, he headed off to Pepperdine, to complete his PhD. He chose to do his research on mentoring as it related to online forums, as that related to the CALDOL mission and to companycommand.com. He reached out to people he knew who had been active in the forums, as interview candidates, and he asked me if I would participate. I said I would. Of course I would. If you read his dissertation, you’ll never pick me out. I’m totally hidden, and there’s barely any reference to me at all.
And when he was done with his academic work, he looked at ways to make his boring, stodgy, dry academic work lively and readable, so that it could be a useful to and read by a broader, larger portion of the Army Officer Corps – the target audience in references and applies to. He spent weeks writing and sending new chapters to a select group of trusted agents, and asked if I would again help edit these – to which I of course said yes, even as we closed out our VA house and drove West. If you read very closely – Common Core style – you’re maybe fight a reference or two to me in the new book, too.
The book really is super. He talks about coaching, and when it’s important to work together within a career field to transfer skills from one person to another, and then to back away and let them go on alone. He talks about the importance of experiences, and the role a protege plays in selecting their own mentors based on the capabilities or functions they need a mentor or mentors to play, and why experiences are so important in this. Ray talks about how today, in the Army Officer Corps, we do not flinch at mentoring over distance, but we still do flinch at mentoring between genders – though he doesn’t have an answer for addressing that.
Because, there are a lot of great people out there doing a lot of great coaching and great mentoring. But this is the first in-depth study and look at what it is, and how it’s bring practiced in the Army Officer Corps. And the timing is incredible, coming as it is, after the addition of technology to allow it to happen in real time, world-wide, while a war is happening in multiple locations.
It’s a great read. It’s the kind of book that helps to create a climate of better mentoring and coaching, by giving people a common framework through which to talk about these concepts.
And at $10, it’s a price performer.