Mentoring a fundamental responsibility for all Airmen

Lt. Col. J. D. Bailey, II

What is mentoring? It seems to have different meanings to different people. Some consider it a form of counseling, communicating or learning by example from someone usually senior to you. Others would simply call it leadership. But, whatever you choose to call it, it can certainly be beneficial to the men and women of any organization. However, there seems to be some mystery surrounding mentorship. Maybe that’s due to its different meanings; therefore, people are unclear about this proven approach and valuable tool for leaders.
To clear up some of the fog about mentoring, let’s define it further. Some people would say mentoring is the presence of caring individuals who provide support, advice, friendship, reinforcement and constructive examples to help others succeed. Mentoring can mean the difference between success and failure. Therefore, a mentor is a person of greater knowledge or wisdom who shares his or her experience to help develop the abilities of those junior to them, also called protégés. Mentoring helps prepare Airmen and civilians for increased responsibilities by encouraging job competency, military education, professional development, higher education and serving the needs of the Air Force and our nation. Mentoring promotes communication, and personal and professional development.
Now that we understand what mentoring is, just whose responsibility is it to mentor? Everyone! Mentors relate personal and professional experiences to protégés. Generally, mentors fill four roles: adviser, coach, facilitator and advocate. As an adviser, the mentor should encourage two-way communication and feedback, and assist their protégé with career and performance goals. As a coach, the mentor clarifies developmental needs, recommends training opportunities and teaches skills and behaviors. In facilitating, the mentor should assist the protégé in establishing a network of professional contacts and help them identify resources for problem solving and career progression. As an advocate, the mentor could represent the protégé’s concern to higher management levels concerning specific issues, arrange for the protégé to participate in high visibility projects and serve as a role model.
Mentors are not expected to have all the answers. Sometimes just listening attentively is all people need. But, mentoring can mean the difference between success and failure. It is a fundamental responsibility of all Air Force members. It helps protégés reach their full potential, thereby enhancing the overall professionalism of the Air Force. Additionally, when an interest is shown in others, the Air Force is able to retain its most valuable asset – people.
Perhaps the mentorship message is best relayed in the following poem written by one of my mentors, Col. Penny Bailey, 84th Combat Sustainment Wing , vice commander:
The Difference
By Col. Penny Bailey

There were two Airmen who didn’t know what to do
They came into the Air Force and were proud to wear the blue.
Quickly they realized they didn’t know it all
And soon they must learn or they would fall.
But who was to teach them how to go?
Where were they to go in order to grow?
Around them they looked and what did they see?
One found a mentor, the other one was left himself to be.
The one with the mentor seized the day
He learned quickly and found experience does pay
The protégé listened and the mentor taught him a lot
And through his successes he never forgot
The second who had to go it alone
Did his best but felt forlorn.
He did what he could and learned as he went
But in the end he was totally spent.
Now the protégé is a mentor, too
His successes and lessons are not few
He shares what he knows and learns from the young
And praises for his mentor are sung.
So now the Air Force has only one wearing the blue
But it should have been two
With experiences and happiness in their heart
Because someone cared about them from the start.