I sincerely appreciate mentors who have and continue to invest in me. Even more than that, I appreciate the opportunity to invest in protégés. As I continue to provide counsel to others, I have ceased being surprised when a protégé tells me that the advice I give them is very different than the guidance they receive from their other mentors. That’s not to say that my advice is any better, it’s just different. Likewise, I have a few mentors I seek out more regularly than others because they give me reason to think differently than I do on my own. I like to think that is the very reason people come to me for advice: I help them think differently about the situation they are contemplating. Just yesterday, I received this note from a teammate from the last Navy Command we shared:

“Sir, I was reflecting on my time at NCDOC last week. I realize how much my time there has changed how I look at stuff. While I hope I was able to improve NCDOC, my time there certainly improved me. I find I use things you have said often. I am certain there was so much I should have learned, but what I did, I believe has made me better. Thank you.”

Just this morning, I received this note from a Naval Officer I have yet to meet…

“I’ve never served with you, but know a few officers who have. I’ve always enjoyed hearing about your unique approach to leading Sailors and getting the mission done…So, I just wanted to connect and follow the great things you are doing.”

I sincerely appreciate receiving notes like these. They serve as additional validation that my commitment to coaching teammates across and beyond the Navy is not only personally fulfilling, but also valued by more people than I know. And that brings me to the inspiration behind this post. As I prepare for the looming and inevitable transition from uniformed service, I have been reaching out to an increasingly  diverse set of advisors. These people don’t know me like the members of my Personal Board of Directors do, but they are familiar with senior military officers navigating the transition to civilian life. And just as the advice given to my protégés by many of their other mentors, it is grounded on the same assumptions. People seem to assume we all want more of the same in life. They assume that we value deepening our sense of accomplishment more than we do expanding our breadth of experience. They assume that we have the same challenge letting go of sunk costs that they evidently do and therefore encourage the execution of a plan that accelerates speed on current career course as opposed to evaluating adjacent opportunities.

More often than not, the advice we get from others has far more to do with mirror-imaging than empathy. They tell us what they would do if they were in our situation, not what they think we should do after getting to know more about our values and priorities. If the individual you are asking for advice doesn’t first get intrusive into what drives you as a human being, they are not providing you with advice. They are advising themselves as if they were standing in your shoes. As I get closer to making a decision about whether or not to do another tour of duty before navigating the transition and contemplating how best to prepare me and my family for the inevitable shedding of the uniform, I find myself being even more deliberate about the counsel I take.

Those who tell me it’s unwise to retire before truly competing for another promotion aren’t advising me. Those who encourage me to leverage my operational experiences to date and focus primarily on government employment/contracting aren’t advising me. And those who think a security clearance and the opportunity to exploit a personal network represent the most significant reasons an organization might hire me aren’t advising me. They are merely offering what they would do. The more I hear such advice the more I tend to disregard it. And, the more confident I am that my current course is one that may be in need of a “Hard right rudder!”

When giving advice it is vital that we understand the individual we are mentoring on a human level. When receiving advice we must assess just who the advisor is advising.

  • Are you on the right course for you?
  • Are you blindly following another person’s plan?
  • Is it time for a strong order to the helmsman?