WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- It is truly an honor to serve the Airmen of Air Force Materiel Command as your command chief. Every day I witness incredible things that our Airmen are doing for our command, our Air Force, and our nation. As I travel and engage with our Airmen, mentorship is a topic that often comes up. It’s a subject that I am extremely passionate about, and I appreciate every opportunity I have to discuss it.
I believe our Airmen have a good understanding of the formal aspect of mentorship, specifically the relationship that should exist between supervisors and subordinates. However, there is a group of mentors that is sometimes overlooked: the influential Airmen we serve alongside every day. You know who they are.
Similar to the informal leaders that are so valuable in our organizations, these Airmen have a lot to offer, if we take advantage of the opportunities that are right in front of us. I’m talking about the young enlisted Airman whose passion and commitment to excellence inspires everyone she comes in contact with; the civilian Airman who had a successful career in industry before realizing his calling to serve our nation; and the officer who just returned from a year-long deployment downrange, working with our sister service and allied partners.
There are countless other examples, and I challenge everyone reading this to actively seek out opportunities to learn from them. Mentorship is not about position or rank. It’s about making us all better by leveraging the talents, experiences, and strengths of our Airmen.
I sometimes get specific questions along the lines of “How can I be a better mentor?” and “What should I do if no one is mentoring me?” during my engagements, too. So I’ll end this article with a few thoughts that I encourage you to consider as a mentee and a mentor.
As a mentee:
- Are you seeking mentorship opportunities, or are you waiting for mentors to come find you?
- Are you “playing it safe” by choosing mentors who you have a lot in common with? Or are you bold in seeking out mentors who are different than you in many ways, and maybe even who you have experienced some friction with in the past?
- Are you willing to be receptive to a mentor who will challenge your beliefs and perspectives, take you out of your comfort zone, challenge you in ways you’ve never been challenged, and give you honest feedback that you may have never heard before?
- Are you willing to put in the hard work required to grow, personally and professionally, once you’ve received some good mentorship, or will you remain satisfied with where you are right now?
As a mentor:
- Have you earned the trust of the Airmen around you who might seek your mentorship? Are you honest with Airmen about the mistakes and failures in your past, or do you focus only on your successes?
- How well are you leading yourself and setting the example for others? Do you know why Airmen come to you for mentorship? Do you know why Airmen do not come to you for mentorship? Would you want you as a mentor?
- Are you paying attention to who is watching and listening? Are you aware that regardless of your rank or position there is someone around you right now that looks up to you and wants to be like you?
- Do you personalize your communication style and mentorship to meet the needs of each individual Airman you are mentoring, or are you giving the same “canned” advice you give everyone?