How the military turned 'mentorship' into a paying profession
Last time I checked, a "mentor" was someone who works for free. Someone who selflessly shares his or her expertise. A leader who volunteers time and talent to help up-and-comers in the field. (Except, of course when a mentor turns on you--good advice on surviving mentors gone bad is here.)
But that's not always the case, apparently, in the armed forces. The military's "senior mentors" are back in the news again, this time because the Pentagon isn't clear yet on how many of the retired officers comply with a new order designed to limit outsize pay and avoid conflicts of interest.
USA Today reported on Friday that the armed services now have until July 31 to report how many of their senior mentors, originally brought in as contractors to advise active-duty officers, have been converted to government employees.
That's a delay from the original July 1 deadline set by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He ordered that these retirees be paid no more than $179,000 a year and be reclassified as temporary employees, or "highly qualified experts," which forces them to disclose outside business ties.
A little background: The military's mentor controversy (yes, I know, that's an oxymoron in the corporate world, where such programs are often exceedingly bland) erupted last year following a USA Today investigation. It found that retired officers, many of whom also served as consultants or directors to private defense contractors, were getting paid big bucks--as much in a day as an Army private makes in a month, Sen. Carl Levin (D, Mich.) said in a hearing--to advise current military leaders.
Pay rates soared as high as $440 an hour, the newspaper found, many times what the leaders would have made in their old jobs. Some of the hired hands received pensions of up to $220,000 a year on top of the cushy pay.
The military may have simply labeled these contractors "mentors," when they were in fact well-compensated advisers. But this is more than just a matter of semantics. The proliferation of these senior mentors--the extended deadline implies a difficulty in tracking their numbers--suggests a potential shortage of in-house leadership training at the very top of our nation's armed forces.
Of course, the most alarming issue here is the conflict of interest that could arise if a senior mentor is getting paid, and handsomely, by both the military and a private corporation. But I also wonder what the senior mentor program says about the armed forces' leadership bench if it must bring back so many retired generals to advise its current brass.
The outsize pay suggests that it's hard to pry these retirees away from their lucrative private sector jobs and that the military feels compelled to dangle whatever the market demands to tap their needed expertise.
I'm all for bringing in sage retirees to impart their wisdom--to a point. No doubt these consultants--let's call a spade a spade--have been a valuable resource to the current command. But if an organization becomes so dependent on outsiders that it's willing to pay staggering fees for their counsel, not to mention risk conflict of interest in the process, something is out of whack.
More in-house expertise should be retained, and young leaders should spend more time with top officers before they retire. In some places, they call that mentoring.
July 13, 2010; 9:50 AM ET |
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