Mentorship is part of taking care of our people

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Rick Allen
  • 702nd Munitions Support Squadron
Mentor. Who do you think of when you say the word? A teacher who helped you through a subject you needed to pass to graduate? Or maybe a grandparent who showed you how to hold your mouth the correct way while fishing (I was always told to keep mine shut)? Webster's dictionary defines mentor as "a wise and trusted counselor." The Air Force definition is contained in AFPD 36-34 and AFI 36-3401. I'm not going to quote these instructions here but they provide goals, benefits and expectations for our mentoring programs.

As leaders, we are asked to organize our priorities around mission, people and families. Mentorship has a part in each of these priorities. Mentorship is not training to get the mission right. It is direction or encouragement to develop an Airman personally and professionally as he or she accomplishes the mission. Mentoring needs to be realistic, positive and presented in a motivating manner that pushes others to succeed. At times, mentoring should involve guidance on personal relationships, like having to remind people sometimes that they have a family and maybe guidance on how to have a good time. Although mandated by regulation, mentorship doesn't need to only come from a supervisor. As individuals we should also choose and seek mentorship from trusted sources who will provide us a realistic and solid foundation to become better Airmen.

The Air Force gives leaders many official ways of professionally mentoring Airmen. Performance feedback worksheets, performance reports, decorations and official Chief of Staff of the Air Force reading lists are some of the tools provided to start mentorship programs. Outside of the officially mandated mentoring tools, I have found sitting down with small groups of 10 or less works well. I use handouts or reference material sparingly. I try to conduct these discussions in an informal setting such as breakfast in our dining facility. I aim to keep the topics real and provide information relevant to current events. I've used sessions to address the how's and why's behind our mission, professional development, leadership priorities, and career goals.

For those non-believers out there -and I was one in my earlier years-, I'm here to tell you that mentoring works. Two-way mentoring sessions with individuals and small groups are truly the best way to get any message out or pass on knowledge you want your Airmen to retain. Mentoring - the foundation for forging future leaders.