I was recently asked about my thoughts on mentoring and how this tool has had an impact on my 18 years of serving in both the active duty and Reserve components. I began to think about those, in my past, who have helped guide me. I questioned whether we, as current leaders, are doing what we need to do to properly mentor and shape our current Airmen toward a successful life and meaningful career.
Mentoring can and needs to happen at all levels of leadership, in both directions, from our newest Airman Basic through our senior leaders. We, as leaders, should also not be afraid to mentor those Airmen who are not our subordinates.
I remember making a pretty major mistake as a Technical Sergeant several years ago. I was somewhat disrespectful and insubordinate to my supervisor, who was a Senior Master Sergeant, because I, of course, was right and he was wrong. This was observed by another Senior Master Sgt., who was soon to be a Chief Master Sgt. After my supervisor stormed out to compose himself before letting me have a well-deserved counseling session, this soon-to-be chief pulled me aside and very bluntly, but professionally, mentored me on how my actions were incorrect, how I needed to better control my emotions if I ever wanted to be a successful senior leader in the Air Force, and more importantly how I needed to properly address my superiors if I have a disagreement with them.
As a first sergeant I am constantly asked, by my commander and other leaders, for my thoughts on various situations, and behind closed doors we are able to have some very heated, but respectful debates, which is something that I might not be able to do if it wasn’t for the valuable lessons previously learned.
What about reverse mentoring? Be honest senior non-commissioned officers; how many of you have those young officers you wish you could pull aside and give them a good mentoring session? Why don’t you? Everyone makes mistakes and has room to grow, and as leaders we all need to work together to foster this growth. We have several great officers within the 50th Aerial Port Squadron, and all of them are very open to hearing the opinions of their senior NCOs. Many of our officers in the Air Force Reserve are prior enlisted, and often times come to us from our sister services.
Capt. Ernest Wong, one of our operations officers for example, spent 10 years as an enlisted member in the Navy as a submariner before joining the Air Force and becoming an officer. There has been an occasion or two where the good captain and I have not seen eye to eye on certain issues, and after sitting down to discuss our views he is often able to see things from my perspective. We both agree that this type of mentoring is not only beneficial to our working relationship, but for the unit as a whole.
Although mentoring needs to be official, documented, and done according to AFMAN 36-2643, it should also happen consistently and casually with all of our Airmen. I am a true believer that most Airmen want and crave mentoring, they want to be corrected, and they want to feel comfortable enough to approach superiors if they see those superiors doing something wrong. It is the responsibility of all of us to constantly mentor all Airmen, at all levels, throughout the entirety of their careers in order to foster growth in helping all to become well-rounded and professional leaders. The impact of well-developed mentoring can last a lifetime and span a career.