Think about the fundamental principles of mentorship

  • Published
  • By Col. James Miner
  • Air Force Force Development Office
Think back to when you were young and struggling to get accustomed to your new high school, and along comes the dreaded "finals week." Facing four or five major tests in a row, you broke out into a cold sweat.

But then you talked to an older sibling or friend who helped guide you through your study preparation and gave you some test-taking words of wisdom. Next thing you knew, you'd successfully gotten over that hurdle, and the next year, you were the one providing the sage advice. Simply put, you succeeded, and in turn, helped others succeed, thanks to mentorship.

This interactive process happens all the time -- advice about how to buy a new car, how to write a good paper or how to cope with personal challenges -- we all rely on mentorship to help us through life's ups and downs. We rely on mentorship to help us succeed.

For this reason, mentoring is a fundamental responsibility of Air Force leaders. Mentors ensure all individuals under their leadership are personally and professionally developed so they can achieve their personal and organizational goals and ultimately strengthen the overall mission of the Air Force. By sharing knowledge, experience, and wisdom, both formally and informally, mentors become a force multiplier and an integral part of developing our Airmen.

To help you get started, Air Force officials established a web-based mentor network in My Development Plan on the Air Force Portal. This easy to navigate network allows you, as a "mentee," to manage your career development and invite mentors to share in your individual mentorship experience. Your supervisor should be your primary mentor, but you can select additional mentors, as well.

Initiating the mentoring process is easy. A great tool is the Mentoring Plan found on the Air Force Portal in the Mentoring section of MyDP, located under the Education/Training/Force Development heading on the left-hand side of the page (MyDP > Mentoring > Related Documents > Mentoring Plan).

Schedule a meeting with your mentor, come with your mentoring plan filled in and use it to stimulate discussion. By covering mentoring expectations, career goals and indicators, competency proficiencies and measurable benchmarks, you'll find that much of the uncertainty about the road ahead, just like finals week, will not seem so looming.

But this is only the first step. Mentorship is not a one-time deal. Both sides of the mentoring relationship need to stay engaged with each other, sharing experiences and changes that will inevitably influence goals and milestones. In this manner, an enduring and trusting relationship can be built. A guiding principal here is open and honest dialogue, especially when discussing expectations and developing roadmaps to success. Mentors must challenge you, and not just tell you what to do.

Likewise, you must challenge your mentor to provide you with informed and factual information, as well as sage advice. Ultimately, successful mentoring makes both of you better Airmen and provides you with tools that will transcend specific issues and allow you to extend the learning to new situations.

Being able to adapt and cope with new stresses and situations is one of the foundations of being a resilient Airman. Since we've all achieved various levels of success and overcome many obstacles, what better way to help your wingman than to be a mentor.