Think of your first mentor. It’s possible this individual still influences you.
“The web defines a mentorship as a relationship between two people where the individual with more experience, knowledge, and connections is able to pass along what they have learned to a more junior individual within a certain field. The more senior individual is the mentor, and the more junior individual is the mentee,” NSWCDD Technical Director John Fiore stated. “I agree with that definition, and I would add mentoring focuses on teaching. Mentoring is a careful consideration of another’s goals compared to their capability gaps and strategically working to find ways to close those gaps through experience, training and education. Mentoring requires we know something about each other.”
In honor of Women’s History Month in March, Stephanie Hornbaker, Gun and Electric Weapon Systems Department head and Senior Scientific Technical Manager (SSTM); and Robin Lacy, Integrated Combat Systems Department head and SSTM; reflected on the importance of mentorship, role of it throughout their careers, and their roles in supporting the warfighter.
The importance of mentorship
“I think it’s really important to give credit to people who have done a really great job with mentoring,” Lacy said.
Lacy attributes her supervisor to the success she experienced when she began her career at Dahlgren in 2004.
“He saw promise and took the time to help me develop. He worked with me to understand my professional goals and pointed me toward opportunities that helped me grow and successfully pursue next level opportunities,” she said.
Lacy developed the skill sets necessary to compete for line management and became a branch head in the Advanced Platform Integration Branch.
Hornbaker started her career at Dahlgren in 1984 as a math aide in a pre-co-op program prior to her freshman year of college.
When talking with mentors early in her career, she’d ask questions about how they approached problems and what techniques they used to solve issues .
“I think there are all kinds of mentors, and there are all kinds of mentorship,” Hornbaker said. “You can’t learn everything from a book, and you need people to help you through your career.”
It’s important to branch out of your comfort zone, Hornbaker and Lacy advised.
Hornbaker said with a laugh, “We all like to meet with people just like us that have exactly the same opinion that we do, but that doesn’t always get us to where we need to be.”
They highlighted the importance of variety and multiplicity when selecting mentors.
“You need different types of mentors. If you just gravitate to people just like you; you’re not necessarily going to grow,” Hornbaker said.
Lacy added, “Everyone needs a mentor and if you can’t name one, you need to go get one. Once you have one, you need to get another one… One of my big things with mentoring is you need to have multiple because that’s how you’re going to really grow. Many mentoring relationships evolve organically but if they don’t, you need to actively pursue them and formalize them. You might need to ask – ‘Will you be my mentor?’”
Role of mentorship throughout career
Hornbaker reflected on 2011 when she was the deputy department head of the Warfare Systems Engineering and Integration Department, now the Integrated Combat Systems Department.
She noticed few employees applying for branch positions, so she saw an opportunity to reach out to those whom were interested in line management.
Seeing the need for a new position bridging the gap to line leadership, she established a 12-18-month developmental assignment. After completing the assignment, more employees competed for leadership positions.
Today, the developmental position resides in Strategic and Computing Systems, Gun and Electric Weapon Systems, and Integrated Combat Systems departments. Five division heads and at least 10 branch heads have emerged from this developmental assignment across the center.
“To me looking back, that’s an area where I actually influenced other people in terms of having their career broadened enough to move up in leadership,” she said. “Purposefully and deliberately identifying and fostering the development of future leaders, especially in a highly technical organization, is critical to that organization’s long term relevance.”
Supporting the warfighter
As the leaders grow leaders, they do so with the same mindset – supporting the warfighter.
“What we’re doing is really important, and we need to take it seriously. We need to be the best at our jobs to make sure we are giving our warfighters the best,” Lacy said.
Hornbaker would agree.
“It’s like hearing the National Anthem,” Hornbaker said. “When I know systems we have created have helped the warfighter … or the way we used the system has impacted our ability to make the Sailors safe – that’s what it’s all about.”
Fiore concluded, “Excellence starts at the top. It’s the only type of organization that will successfully meet the needs of our Sailors and Marines. No matter where you contribute here at NSWCDD, seek feedback and pursue excellence.”