Mentorship: ‘I care about you’

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Robert Smith
  • Air University's Sheppard NCO Academy commandant
Are you green and growing or are you ripe and rotting? 

Each of us want to contribute to our full capacity, and one way to achieve this goal is through the wise counsel of a mentor.  Perhaps you've been in a situation where you wished you had someone, maybe a trusted, experienced leader, to "bounce" some ideas off of them?  Did you ever "crave" knowledge and understanding?  Perhaps you wondered why circumstances, policies or perspectives were a certain way.  Each of us would greatly benefit if we simply had someone whom we could reach-out to, to guide us, develop us, and well, mentor us. 

According to Air Force Manual 36-2643, Air Force Mentoring Program, mentorship is a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally. This relationship will help achieve mission success and motivate Airmen to achieve their career objectives.  Mentoring promotes a climate of inclusion that can help foster and develop the diverse strengths, perspectives, and capabilities of all Airmen.  Aside from the benefits of bolstering trust and promoting inclusion, mentoring sends a message of "I care about you."

Over my career, I seem to remember a common theme at almost every promotion ceremony I've ever attended; while you have one hand on the ladder rung ahead of you, you should also have one hand reaching down, to help the next person up.  This metaphor represents the very idea of "mentorship."  Mentoring is an inherent responsibility of leadership, and should be viewed as a privilege and honor. 

Each of us may have a different view on what "mentoring" looks like.  To some, it's ensuring they pass-on important e-mails to their work centers and sending the occasional text message to keep co-workers informed.  While to others, it's engaging in meaningful face-to-face dialog in an effort to help someone develop, and remain green and growing. 

In 2012 CMSAF James A. Roy provided a perspective on this very topic. In his commentary entitled, "Analog leadership in digital times," CMSAF Roy described how "analog leadership" means temporarily putting down the iPads and Android tablets, logging out of Facebook and Twitter, and switching phones to airplane mode to stop the stream of texts coming in and out.  It means shutting off the technology and talking to each other. 

In 2006, I was in a job, which to be honest, wasn't very demanding.  I certainly wasn't being challenged or used to my full capacity.  My group superintendent saw that I was "ripe and beginning to rot," but he saw potential in me. He knew I had a fire in my belly and wanted to expand my leadership skillset.  He invited me to his office to go over my records with me and this is one time, of many, in my career where I truly felt I was being mentored.  Sometimes mentorship can be simple and very subtle, while other times, its right in your face, and there's no mistaking it.  At this moment, when I was in that chief's office, I felt like someone genuinely cared about me and wanted me to excel.  This was deliberate development at its best, before developmental special duty was even thought of.   He recommended a job to me, which he thought I would do well at, and would also present incredible challenges where I would have the opportunity to really grow as a leader. 

The position was being a Military Training Leader, right here at Sheppard, where I served from 2007-2011.  Without that chief's astute awareness in seeing I wasn't being challenged, and without his willingness to sit down with me and offer me some wise counsel, and lastly, without his "give a darn" to point me in the right direction, it makes me wonder where I would be today. 

Thank you Ret. Chief Master Sgt. Sam Foster. 

From the time I was a young Airman to today, I've always sought out mentorship, to keep from becoming "ripe." In fact, with all of the recent changes we are experiencing in the Air Force, and the differing opinions and perspectives which are held by many people, I still reach out to trusted advisors and people with whom I value their opinion to obtain their wise counsel.  I believe one way for me to make fact-based and data-driven decisions, is to take-in all of the information which is available, then seek out mentorship, and lastly, share what I've learned.

Whether you are serving as a mentor, helping others to grow or you are someone who wants to be developed; mentors can assist in several different capacities.  Mentors are advisors and guides who share knowledge, experiences, and advice in helping mentees in whatever way is the most meaningful to benefit them. 

Mentors generally perform the following four roles:
(1) Advisor
(2) Coach
(3) Facilitator
(4) Advocate. 

Have you served in one of these roles lately?  Have you asked someone whom you highly regard to guide you? 

In your quest to better yourself personally and professionally, by seeking out mentorship from a well-trusted and experienced leader, you'll do more than survive the day-to-day challenges thrown at you.  You'll not just continue to grow, you'll thrive.  During your journey, don't forget to return the favor.  Make sure you have that one hand available to help others achieve their full potential.  Each of us has a lot to give.  Be willing to give it.  We also have a lot to learn, so seek out the knowledge from those who may have walked down the path before you.  Mentoring is essential to growth.  So again, I ask - are you green and growing or are you ripe and rotting?