Mentor? Coach? or Both?

By Lu Lastra, Master Chief SEAL (Ret.)

NSW Director of Mentorship

SEAL -LuIt has become pretty common in recent years to hear the word “mentor,” but what is a true mentor? Is it part coach, or not? Can it actually be assigned to an individual? Can it be taught?

Below is a little food-for-thought.

Coaching can be delivered by most anyone with the subject matter skillset. Obviously some coaches are much more effective than others, depending on their experience, ability, subject knowledge, delivery, and personality.

Though assigned mentors can be effective, true mentors are usually undesignated and self-selected by the individual. Though I have always had mentors throughout most of my 34 year career and 52 year life, I rarely heard the word mentor or been assigned a mentor. I always knew, who I wanted to emulate, be like and learn from — or not. Those who helped me develop my character were always individuals I respected. That respect was built on how they carried themselves, their physical abilities, their knowledge, common sense, and probably the most import trait of all; that they led by example.

I still remember my first mentor. I was stationed at UDT 12 at 18 years of age. This mentor was never labeled my mentor, but he was! That person was my first OIC. The influence he had on me was based on everything I mentioned above… it was never a title.

The best mentors get into the hearts and minds first. The best coaches, just to name a few, Lou Holts, John Wooden, Phil Jackson and Vince Lombardi, were great coaches, but also wonderful mentors.

Though techniques of mentorship can be taught, effectively applying them and getting buy-in from others is a whole different story. That part only comes with time, lots of practical experience and application, and is a never-ending learning process.

Knowing “Team guys”, I believe the best approach starts with our current leaders and Teammates leading by example, demanding humility and holding our standards first. That in turn will build the character of our Whole Man Concept. Once those well rounded young Teammates develop and get into phases, departments, Boat Crews, Troops or Squadrons, it becomes infectious and develops others naturally….especially the young, who are still taking life in like a sponge.

“No written word nor spoken plea, can teach our youth what they should be.

Nor all the books on all the shelves, it’s what the teachers are themselves.”

~ Coach John Wooden


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