Year of Leadership: Mentoring is for everyone

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Timothy Dodge
  • 341st Civil Engineer Squadron commander
Mentoring is a tool that all leaders should have in their toolbox. Let's key on the word leaders. As we continue to reinforce that all Airmen are leaders, we need to recognize that all leaders have the responsibility for mentoring other Airmen. We tell all our young enlisted (and officers) they are leaders; they provide leadership in whatever their area of expertise may be . . . both in the Air Force and in their personal lives. Therefore, they can provide mentorship to others in their area of expertise. 

According to Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-3401, Air Force Mentoring, "A mentor is defined as 'a trusted counselor or guide.' Mentoring, therefore, is a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally."

AFI 36-3401 further says, "Mentoring helps prepare people for the increased responsibilities they will assume as they progress in their careers. It is a professional development program designed to help each individual reach his or her maximum potential. In particular, mentoring is part of a professional relationship because it fosters free communication by subordinates with superiors concerning their careers, performance, duties and missions. It enhances morale and discipline, and improves the operational environment while maintaining respect for authority."

While the official Air Force mentoring program is not exclusive between commanders or superiors and subordinates, it does heavily put the responsibility on supervisors. It essentially defines a commander or supervisor to subordinate relationship as central to mentoring.

From the above discussion, we usually think of mentors as senior officers or senior non-commissioned officers; senior officers mentor junior officers and senior enlisted mentor junior enlisted. Many consider chief master sergeants as ideal mentors, most are in a position to interact with individual Airmen every day and make a significant difference in their careers and personal lives. Although this is a primary source of mentoring, there is mentoring at other "unofficial" levels as well.

As said, the majority of mentoring takes place between superiors and subordinates, however, mentoring has the potential to take place at all levels, no matter the relationship (supervisor to subordinate, peer to peer or even subordinate to supervisor) and no matter the rank structure. My particular brand of mentoring is defined as follows: a newcomer (less experienced) in a particular area is paired with someone who is an "old hat" (more experienced) in order for the newcomer to gain advice and learn from the "old hat's" greater knowledge and experience.

So, mentoring can happen between those with perceived overall experience and wisdom that is generally lesser, however, they have a specific area of expertise or experience that can greatly benefit others. This is the case many times when an Airman may mentor another Airman, or even someone of a higher rank, for example, when one cross trains to a new career field. This may be a more "unofficial" type of mentoring, but it is still relevant and quite beneficial for both the Airman and the Air Force.

Do not think that since you may be a young airman or officer recently starting a career in the Air Force that you do not have much to offer others. You may have a wealth of knowledge and experience that may help out a fellow Airman of a similar rank and maintain that relationship over time to allow the other Airman to significantly benefit from it. Although my boss is a mentor that helps guide my way, I also have a small handful of other officer, civilian and enlisted who I seek out and that provide me at times much needed mentoring in varied topics of which I am less experienced or need that extra touch of wisdom.

So look around, ask around, share your experiences and knowledge. You may find that perfect mentor who can guide you or a mentee whom you can provide meaningful guidance and direction to -- someone who may rely on you or you can rely on to provide just the guidance and direction you need or desire.