Mentoring

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- "Do you have a mentor?" "Are you a mentor?" "Everyone should have a mentor." Mentoring seems to be the new buzz word these days. The art of teaching or counseling is how Webster defines mentoring. In real terms, mentoring is taking an interest in ones future and steering them in the right direction.

I like to think of mentoring on two levels: implied and personal. In a professional sense, implied mentoring is what my leadership expects of me. It's what leadership expects of all NCOs and officers. Implied mentoring is taking someone junior and providing career guidance. It entails communication with a subordinate to keep them on the path the Air Force expects in order to accomplish the mission. Whether that communication relates to training, education, physical fitness or off-duty conduct, mentors impart wisdom and lessons learned from their experiences to help those junior (in age, training or experience) without being demeaning.

I can think of several people who discussed the career path or recommended I attend college or even gave me advice on assignments. Although their guidance was appreciated, I don't consider them mentors. But there are those who had a genuine interest in my career and have made themselves available to help me no matter how trivial the issue or question. I trust and value their advice and have gleaned information from them. Although my mentors have voluntarily fostered that relationship, they are doing what they are expected to do as leaders and fellow financial managers -- implied mentoring.

Then there is the "personal" mentoring. Personal mentoring takes mentoring to another level. Personal mentoring can only happen if you make yourself approachable and available. Personal mentoring is subtly requested by the subordinate. It happens when you leave your desk. It happens when people know you care and value your opinion. 

Case in point: I had a civilian who was extremely knowledgeable in her profession. Her work ethic, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. She didn't come to work on time, her appearance was all but professional, and she was rarely available for the customers. She just didn't seem to care anymore. I counseled her previously but rather than change, she tried to operate under the radar. Finally, I called her in to chat. I sat across the table from her without paper or pen. I told her how important she was to the unit and how I valued her expertise. However, it seemed she was in the dumps lately and I wanted to know how I could help. I told her she was better than she was acting. This touched her and she broke down and cried. She shared with me some things she was dealing with and promised to do better. The next week, I noticed a drastic change. Her appearance changed and she seemed to take pride in her work. She was on time and told me when she was going to be out of the office. Two months went by and I stopped her in the hall to compliment her on her attire. As her eyes welled up with tears, she said "Thank You! You changed my life. I started working out again, I quit smoking, and I feel so much better."

Personal mentoring moves beyond the technician or the Airman and reaches the "person."

Whether implied or personal mentoring, remember those who mentored you and strive to be even better. Open the communication lines while maintaining the professionalism necessary for unit cohesion and mission accomplishment. Create relationships that cross time and distance.

To quote John Crosby, "Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction."