FORT PICKETT, Va. — Brig. Gen. K. Weedon Gallagher, the Virginia National Guard Land Component Commander, spoke to participants in the Virginia Department of Military Affairs Workforce Development Mentoring Program during an event Nov. 19, 2020, at Fort Pickett, Virginia.
During the event, Gallagher addressed the masked and socially-distanced mentors and mentees about the benefits of participating in mentorship programs and how to get the most out of that participation. The event was part of the year-long formal mentoring program which began in February 2020, the first of its kind for DMA.
The discussion began with Gallagher drawing from his decades of experience as a civil engineer and civilian corporate officer as well as his military experience to highlight the benefits of mentorship programs like the DMA’s. For Gallagher, reaping the benefits of having a mentor started at a young age working for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
“It was highly focused on training and visiting a lot of different modules of the Navfac family. It was enlightening,” said Gallagher. “My mentor at the time is retired now but he was quite an influence on my young career right out of college. That was a great experience, highly-structured.”
Gallagher said even in organizations without a structured, regimented mentorship program, there are ways to seek out mentorship, and encouraged participation in professional development organizations.
“Through those organizations I meet people who are rock star leaders, or I’d be informed about units who were doing challenging stuff I thought would be tough to do but could help me expand a little bit,” he said. “Through those organizations and that exposure, I was able to identify some mentors and ask if they were interested in mentoring me along the way.”
Participants in the DMA mentorship program were able to get matched up thanks to a kickoff event back in February, when all registered mentees were able to meet with each registered mentor for a few minutes at a time, similar to a “speed-dating” event, to make sure each mentee was matched up with the right mentor for them.
“You have to have a good fit,” said Gallagher. “That ‘speed dating’ idea is just tremendous. It’s such a great idea to make sure you have that good fit.”
Once that fit is made, Gallagher encouraged both parties dedicate time to preparing for the mentor-mentee interactions so both parties get the maximum benefit.
“Whether you’re a mentor or mentee, I’ve gotten the most out of those exchanges when I carved out time, carved out bandwidth, by preparing for those meetings, preparing for those interactions,” he said. “You’ll get less out of it if you go into it blind.”
While the benefits to the individuals in the mentor-mentee relationship are more obvious, the benefit to the organization is tremendous as well, according to Gallagher, who on the civilian side is the chief executive officer of his own small business.
“As an organization, you need mentoring. The most important reason for me is that it creates this connective tissue between strata of an organization,” explained Gallagher. “There’s strata no matter how large or small your organization is. Mentoring affords an opportunity to connect the strata, and the further apart they are, the more helpful it is for the organization in my view. If we’re participating in mentoring properly, whether we’re a mentor or mentee, we’ve got to pull back the curtain a little bit. We have to have candid conversations with one another. What that creates through that tissue gap is an informal communication between on-the-ground realities and senior leaders. It helps them understand what the perceptions are up and down.
“When you have that mentor-mentee relationship, I think it helps the more senior of the two anticipate changes in the operating environment that otherwise they would be oblivious to.”
In his conclusion, Gallagher again encouraged those in attendance to seek out professional organizations, and encouraged books as another source of professional development.
“Doing some professional reading feeds us, not just intellectually, but soulfully too,” said Gallagher. “It helps engage you in your profession and your organization. I think it’s worth doing, and it pays dividends later.”
Gallagher’s talk culminated a challenging year for the first-ever class of DMA mentors and mentees, as their fast start quickly hit the breaks with he onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges, the first year of the program set the bar high, according to Walt Mercer, the DMA chief operations officer.
“Everything was going great, started out in January with our speed-dating thing to help you pick a couple names of folks you thought would be a good fit for you, and what happened? Well, we’re all wearing masks,” said Mercer. “It kind of threw everything off for the first three or four months. Considering all that, it’s been a really good year. Overall it was a success.”
As the initial class comes to the conclusion of their formal year-long mentorships, Mercer encouraged those relationships to continue even as a new class of mentors and mentees begins in early 2021.
“In our formal policy we spelled out for our mentors and mentees while it’s formally over after January and a new group starts, we encourage and recommend they keep an informal relationship going moving forward,” said Mercer.
The DMA Workforce Development Mentoring Program is a new effort to help DMA employees reach their full potential and to ensure the department has employees ready to fill future leadership positions. DMA employees who want to find out more about the program, including anyone interested in becoming a mentor or mentee, should visit https://vko.va.ngb.army.mil/dma/Pages/mentor.aspx.