What does it mean to be a mentor this day and age?
A few years ago, it held the meaning of having an experienced individual take you under his wing and guide or assist you when you came to new crossroads in life. Although this view has not changed much over the years, new techniques have been developed and made available to younger Airmen through online development courses, like distance learning, while “older hats” have had to rely on past experiences. Having an option like these courses, the Air Force applies flexibility to its leadership, while keeping up with the latest developments of supervision.
However, this does not negate one-on-one communication, which remains one of the key requirements in mentoring troops. One of the best things you can do is to get to know them on a personal, but professional level, learn their story and stay actively involved with them. This can help in establishing trust between you and your Airmen and may also aid in clearing up any reservations of communicating openly about past experiences or stressful situations. Encourage them to bring the best of their abilities to everything they do. Help them set goals for whatever they strive for, whether it is work, school or other interests they want to develop. Above all, make sure the goals you both set are realistic and attainable otherwise you and your Airman are setting yourselves up for disappointment.
Being a mentor requires you to be the example and standard setter. It also means accepting diversity and not interjecting your own beliefs onto your troops. Maintaining that balance is key to allowing the both of you to learn from each other since mentoring is a two-way street. Serving a nation that incorporates numerous people from many backgrounds is what makes our nation unique, and it’s not uncommon for a mentor to have problems adapting to an unfamiliar situation. This is where the open lines of communication come into play and, as mentors, taking the time to understand and become educated on new concepts can carry a lot of weight.
Remember, there is never a totally correct way to mentor someone. It’s only through your own personal experiences, past or present, that you develop your skills as a mentor and grow yourself.