While a lot of companies can draw on outside expertise to fill positions, the navy can’t really do that. We’ve had to, for obvious reasons, create a system that promotes from within. Our system has to grow its future leadership. This means that we’re always in the business of training our successors. Or if not, we should be.
A year or two ago, I had the great fortune to work for a boss who really believed in mentorship as a key process in developing future leaders in the organization. At the time I was a department head in a warship; my next job at sea (if I am privileged enough to be selected) will be as the second-in-command, known as the Executive Officer. Recognizing this, my boss spent considerable time in preparing me to do his job. How? By exposing me to all aspects of his role, seeking my input on problems he was facing (in most cases he had already put resolution into motion, but wanted to make me analyze the issue) and offering me numerous opportunities to actually do his job. The benefit? I will avoid arriving at the actual job like Kramer entering Seinfeld’s apartment; instead, I’ll actually be prepared. Imagine that.
Organizationally, we’ve rounded the corner on mentorship. Example? Naval officers aspiring to command in the Canadian navy need to gain a professional certification known as the Command Qualification. This involves a series of exams and culminates in a professional board examination by serving commanding officers. In the “bad old days” preparing for this process was an individual responsibility – it was approached with viewpoint of “I struggled with this, so should you.” Recent years have seen a great change to this process, with commanding officers working to mentor future leaders. Specific events are organized to bring experience together with learners. Retired commanding officers have been brought in to teach those aspiring to reach command. And the benefits are clear – success rates have increased and, in my opinion, the calibre of our leaders has improved.
Look around your organization – are you growing your own successor? If the answer is no, why not?
Mentorship stories welcome!