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Strong mentorship promotes success, motivates Airmen to strive for excellence

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Kerry Mitchell
  • 188th Wing human resourse advisor
Almost every successful leader, civilian or military, will attest to having that unique person or persons, who motivated, inspired or helped them in a way that led to the success in their careers. Of course, there are many people from every walk of life that fulfill this role every hour of every day.  It could be a parent, a teacher, a coach, a pastor or a friend or even a trusted co-worker.

In the relationships of our profession in the Air National Guard we call this process mentoring, and those who come alongside to guide us are mentors. Mentoring is the art of transmitting knowledge and experience through our interpersonal relationships.

The term mentor comes from Greek mythology. In The Odyssey, Mentor was the wise and trusted counselor whom Odysseus chose for his son Telemachus.  Therefore, to be called a mentor means to be a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. The great philosopher, Socrates, took on this role for young men who demonstrated great leadership potential.

Mentoring has always been an indispensable and vital part of the Profession of Arms. It has molded and motivated our greatest leaders naturally and seamlessly throughout the history of our military.

In recent years, the necessity of a functioning mentorship program in the Air Force has become front and center, in part because of a changing landscape in which failure to effectively develop our people is not an option. Although mentoring relationships will naturally occur in any context, the question of what is the best way to go about it has been the subject of many discussions.

Because of the importance of mentoring to the development of our organizations, a number of formal mentoring programs have been implemented throughout the ANG with mixed results. At the 188th Wing we face several challenges such as time investment, budget cuts, complex mission conversion and training requirements. Those challenges combined with program tracking certainly make the efforts of sustaining a formal program an arduous one. But it's also a necessary undertaking.

As priorities and leadership changes, we will have to be proactive and flexible in adapting to needs of our Airmen. The 188th Wing has many new and fascinating opportunities in front of it and Col. Mark Anderson, our wing commander, has taken the lead in encouraging and promoting an organizational culture where mentoring is valued and where each member is able to achieve their maximum potential.

I asked the four new squadron commanders within the newly activated 188th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group about their perspective on the importance of mentoring in their squadrons. They believe that mentoring is about motivating and that the daily process of interaction with their Airmen and getting to know them is essential to empowering and setting their personnel up for success.

They also noted that the common denominator for squadrons to be successful is determined by an astute awareness of how well is their lowest ranking Airmen are doing.  They expressed the need for senior leadership to exhibit an in-depth interest in seeing that mentorship is an innate part of the culture of our Airmen wing-wide. And finally, it was clear that they believed noncommissioned officers and officers should ensure that mentoring is occurring within each squadron.

Their insight on the nature of mentorship proves they understand the critical aspect of formally and informally preparing future leaders to ensure our wing continues its heritage of excellence as we embark on a new and exciting journey in this new mission.

I remember the formative years of my career as a young Airman; my supervisor was the person who served as the mentor who helped me in developing to my fullest potential. Looking back, I realize that he wasn't the only mentor in my life, but was one chapter in a book of remarkable people that provided the instruction, support and guidance that gave me a vision of what my future could be.  We as leaders have to ensure that our Airmen have the opportunity and motivation to reach their goals.

Mentoring can take place in a wide variety of settings and most times it's the informal personal interaction that is most effective.  Just like effective leadership, it is those intangibles that can't be measured that often make the most difference.  Astute leaders know when it exists and they know when it doesn't.

As chiefs, supervisors, noncommissioned officers and Airmen we must realize the importance of mentorship in developing and preparing all of our diverse Airmen for success at every level in their career. We can all coordinate our effort to help develop a highly effective team that truly promotes success.