Isaman Word: Mentoring

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Mark Isaman
  • 22nd Mission Support Group superintendent
"I need you to mentor your Airmen," seems to be the "buzz-phrase" of the day.

Even though I truly believe in mentoring, I think we cheapen it by trying to make mentoring into an action that we can just pick up and do whenever we feel like it. Mentoring is actually a relationship and as such cannot be forced but really has to be developed, even nurtured, for the true effects to be realized.

I used to think that in order for someone to be a mentor they had to be someone who a person wanted to emulate or "be like," but really this is just part of the equation.

I admire and study the wisdom of retired Gen. Colin Powell, maybe I even try to emulate him (as much as a stretch that would be) but Powell is not really my mentor because I don't have a relationship with him.

In order for me to truly be someone's mentor not only do I have to be someone that a person wants to emulate, I really need to establish some sort of meaningful relationship with that person.

So how would you go about establishing this relationship? I believe that in order to be considered a mentor you have to be credible: you have to set the example. Albert Schweitzer once said that "example is not the main thing in influencing people, it's the only thing".

Someone who lives the "do as I say, not as I do" philosophy is probably not going to ever be considered anyone's mentor. Not only is your effectiveness as a supervisor limited by this philosophy, your chances of becoming a mentor will be non-existent.

So, if you aren't already doing this, you need to be setting the example across the myriad of things you are trying to influence your Airmen to do. If my message is education then I better be setting the example through working on my education or maybe prominently displaying my diploma(s) as proof that I practice what I preach.

Another important factor required to be considered a mentor is to make yourself available. I interpret this as being willing to communicate with your Airmen, talking with them as well as listening to them.

I'm not necessarily talking about the normal day to day stuff that you need to communicate, the "job stuff," but things that fall outside the work center (family, hometown, hobbies, goals, etc...) Knowing these types of things about your Airman will help you connect their personal side with the mission.

Taking a genuine interest in your Airmen will also develop a sense of trust. A short five minute conversation a few times throughout the week is really all it takes to get this piece in motion. You might be surprised to find out that if you are already setting the right example and genuinely communicating with your Airmen, as I mentioned above they might already consider you their mentor.

I think that the best examples of mentoring exist when a person doesn't even realize that someone considers them a mentor.

Mentoring is not an action but rather it is an attitude. As leaders of Airmen we should always be setting the right examples and striving to effectively communicate. I believe that these two concepts open the door for a true mentoring relationship to develop.