Mentorship – Taking care of Airmen

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Steven Hawkins
  • 436th Operations Support Squadron

If you take a moment and think about those people that you admire and consider successful, have you ever asked why are they are so successful? If you had, you might have heard things like, “they worked hard and went above and beyond any expectations,” or “they had innovative ideas allowing for more effective mission accomplishment,” or “they already knew how to lead their organization to a higher level.” All of these are fantastic attributes, but if one were to ask the follow-up question of where did that successful person learn these attributes of work ethic, innovation, leadership, etc., you might hear about a special person or persons, a mentor or mentors who shaped the successes you admired.

The Air Force defines mentorship in AFH 36-2643 as, “a type of professional relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally.” That guidance might sound like a gentle push toward resources, a personal story about when they themselves faced a similar challenge, or just simply taking the time to listen because they care. “Mentoring promotes a climate of inclusion that can help foster and develop the diverse strengths, perspectives and capabilities of all Airmen.” Therefore, as leaders, or soon to be leaders, in our organizations we all have the opportunity to be mentors.

So how does one mentor others? I have found it best to start by asking how I can help and then actually listening. I look for every opportunity to sit down with the Airmen I work with to listen to their concerns and talk through their ideas and plans. This often allows for better understanding, while hopefully showing others that I care when they see action taken to address their concerns or transparent communication if direct action cannot be taken. This follow through is extremely important when mentoring. If you say you are going to do something or look into a problem, do so, and make sure you communicate your findings. Transparency is also critical when it comes to mentorship, because sometimes the communication and personal feedback are not positive. A mentor must be able to tell a mentee when they are messing up or are on the wrong track. This requires an established relationship and trust between all parties. Additionally, a mentor must be ready to help, but not necessarily be the expert. Rather, a mentor should know where to access resources. As an example, the Airmen and Family Readiness Center has a number of programs and resources from financial programs to relocation support to transition resources. Ultimately, a mentor must invest in others to ensure individual and organizational success.

But how does one find a mentor? One of the most formalized programs for mentorship within the Air Force is through the MyVector program. The program is designed to pair those seeking guidance with those looking to share experience. Additionally, mentorship also happens every day at all levels in our organizations. This can happen by asking for direct feedback, by seeking guidance and by sharing experience. One must also remember that a mentor does not have to be older or more senior in an organization, just someone with experience willing to guide another. The important thing to remember is that no one is successful alone; we all rely on others. Therefore, a mentee can easily turn around, pay it forward and mentor the next generation.

In all of our organizations our time is limited. But the opportunities we have to support and mentor one another are not. I challenge each of you reading this to take at least five minutes today and sit down with someone less experienced, new, or even just someone you have not spoken to a lot and ask how you can help. Then listen. You will be surprised the relationships you will form and what you both will learn.