The importance of a mentor

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Leslie Best
  • 17th Mission Support Group superintendent
Webster's dictionary defines supervision as a "critical watching and directing of activities or a course of action." A mentor in the process of mentorship is defined as "a trusted counselor or guide." With these two definitions in mind, I wish to broach the idea that these two simple words dealing with people and oversight are not separate, but more closely alike when associated within the Air Force environment.

I've been around awhile and have heard many folks from commanders on down the chain talk on mentorship and each seems to have their own idea on how it is accomplished and what it involves. I've even heard Airmen being told they should go out and find a mentor outside of their supervision, and supervisors being told that you can only mentor someone who wants to be mentored. I disagree with both of these sentiments and here is why.

I believe mentorship in the Air Force to be the process by which supervisors literally take ownership of their subordinate's careers. While on the surface this has solely a professional connotation, one will find when properly practiced it will cover the entire spectrum of ones personal and professional life.

Mentorship is the process by which the supervisor ensures their Airmen are taken care of through dynamic and (if possible) "daily" interaction with their subordinate. A professional intimacy is developed and the subordinate honestly feels that their best interests are being addressed and they have a real voice for change when needed. This helps ensure they do not feel they are "just a number."

Supervisors accomplish this by being available to address and provide direction to subordinates professional needs, such as career direction, job satisfaction thorough training and rewards or recognition.

They must continually guide them on how to become a better Airman. Through the experience of problem solving and counseling, the supervisor not only grows the maturity of their Airmen, but they in turn grow in maturity as a supervisor and this experience will make them become better leaders.

Also, just as important in the process of dynamic interaction, the supervisor through the development of professional intimacy learns their subordinates life habits and concerns. Airmen must be ready for mission accomplishment and to do so they must be able to focus/concentrate when they are on duty.

The supervisor can greatly aid this process by learning about the family issues and concerns of all their subordinates and ensure they have a conduit of relief for life issues and stressors. The supervisor not only provides sound advice and sympathy/empathy, but must be ready to recognize the need for professional agency requirements when their expertise has reached its limit.

Through daily interaction and support of their subordinates' career, and with sound and realistic strategy planning, supervisors become real advocates of achievement whether it is personal or professional in nature. In my opinion, this is critical due to the fact that I believe self actualization will only be realized when goal achievement is accomplished.

Ultimately, the goal is to grow better "leaders" for a stronger force tomorrow.