Mentorship comes from all levels

  • Published
  • By Maj. Paul Nosek
  • 36th Mission Support Squadron
During a Senior NCO Enhancement Seminar, in which master sergeant selects attend before pinning on, a select asked me what the relationship between master sergeants and new lieutenants should be.

The answer is: being a good leader also means being a good follower.

As a squadron commander, I am both a leader and follower. I, too, have bosses. When people discuss mentors or people from whom they learned leadership skills, it seems they mostly talk about others senior to them, such as senior NCOs, chiefs, commanders, or senior officers. But don't forget to look beside and beneath you.

Looking back at almost 14 years in the Air Force, I have had plenty of teachers ranging from Airmen to general officers. Young officers, junior NCOs and Airmen, too, have an impact on current and future leaders.

As a brand new second lieutenant, my squadron commander had a huge impact on me, but there were other people too -- people whom I outranked, such as the first sergeant and a buck sergeant in the orderly room. Times have changed, and there are no longer buck sergeants, and orderly rooms are now commander support staffs. But all those years ago, that master sergeant taught me many things I still use today as a commander, and that buck sergeant taught me how to run an orderly room. This, in turn, helped me as a military personnel flight and mission support squadron commander. It was also my first experience as a supervisor. They both helped me with the challenges of supervising one senior NCO, three NCOs, and six Airmen. That master sergeant is now a command chief and the buck sergeant is a master sergeant.

Later, as a brand new captain and squadron section commander, it was a staff sergeant and first sergeant who taught me even more about leadership. The first sergeant helped hone the skills I use today to be an effective commander. The staff sergeant helped me deal with difficult and less effective performers. Now, the staff sergeant is a master sergeant running an Airmen Leadership School, and that first sergeant is still a shirt, but a chief master sergeant.

What these NCOs did is the definition of what makes a good mentor. They didn't tell me what to do, but they helped and guided me on how to handle certain situations. They corrected me behind closed doors when I made a mistake. It is from these mistakes and the guidance on what I did wrong that helped me grow as a leader. These NCOs were mentoring me.

All along the way, officers were guiding me, too. All of these people and more gave me the leadership tools I use today.

I've seen many lieutenants, captains, and majors fail because they did not learn or take advantage of the talent and experience of the enlisted men and women around them. Staff sergeants and technical sergeants are the front line supervisors teaching and mentoring the Airmen under them. Master sergeants through chief master sergeants should already know the influence they have.

By being a good follower, you are also being a good leader and mentor. And you may not realize it, but you may also be teaching or influencing officers. So, do your job and do it well. You never know when you are shaping future leaders at all levels.