Mentoring process essential to future, legacy of Air Force

Col. Robert West

The true legacy of a leader is not a recollection of their accomplishments, but the performance of their people after they are gone.
Have you ever wondered how your role model got to be where they are? Have you considered how you can help your subordinates or other young and talented individuals who could gain from your expertise and experience?
Mentorship is a lost art that needs to be revitalized within the Air Force. A mentor is a wiser and more knowledgeable person who passes experience and wisdom on to a subordinate. It is the best way we know of to share knowledge, experience and expertise throughout the Air Force. To be an effective mentor, it may help to understand the formal and informal aspects of the process.
Formal mentoring is characteristically linked to the specific objectives of the Air Force. There are established goals, measurable outcomes and pairing of mentors and mentees. This relationship involves professional training and support, and usually lasts as long as the person has the same rater. This goes hand-in-hand with leadership, ensuring that mentees are aware of their supervisor’s initial expectations, and feedback sessions are used to assess, praise or adjust the mentee’s performance.
The supervisor’s interest is functional, arising out of the need to ensure that individuals can do the tasks required to the best of their ability. This not only develops the mentee as an Airman and increases the performance of the Air Force, it actually makes your job easier because your subordinate is more capable of handling issues before they reach you. Mentors often use coaching techniques to guide subordinates; it’s essentially a required part of the job. The supervisor and subordinate relationship tends to be initiated and driven by the supervisor, the relationship is finite, and ends when an individual transfers to a new base or workcenter or gets a new rater.
Occasionally, and ideally, a formal mentorship survives past the formal period of supervision and develops into an informal mentoring relationship. This happens when supervisors take the time to identify personnel that are interested in, and would benefit from, more personalized mentoring, or when the subordinate seeks out more information and advice from their mentor.
Guiding someone is not simply giving them a feedback session when you get notice to do so. A true mentor carefully considers the individual’s situation and future possibilities and helps them choose the right path. We must take the time to coach our subordinates and ensure that they are productive and develop the proper skills to succeed, but we also have to take the time to informally mentor the bright and shiny individuals who will lead tomorrow’s Air Force.
The characteristics of a mentor are more informal and geared to an individual’s personal development and career focus. Often, members share off-duty interests, such as sports, spirituality or hobbies, and the development of these may also be included in the informal relationship. The mentor provides advice on professional and personal matters. Informal mentoring is not limited to personnel in the same organization. Mentors can cross job boundaries and the relationship can last as short as a year or an entire career. There is much to be gained institutionally through mentoring personnel in other career fields or units. In maintenance we have supply, administrative, personnel, and engineering career fields that benefit from cross career field mentors.
Mentoring is a complex process that ranges from very structured working relationships to personal friendships. Formal mentoring helps prepare officers, enlisted and civilians for increased responsibilities by encouraging job competency, professional military education, professional development, higher education and serving the needs of the Air Force. Informal mentoring requires an even greater commitment of time and energy to help develop talented individuals who will be the future leaders of our Air Force, but is also much more effective and rewarding.
Letting others know you see potential in your subordinates will often pave the way for their futures!