Lt. Col. Vincent, 39 OS/CC: Shaping the future through mentorship

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John C. Vincent
  • 39th Operations Group commander
We have all heard mentorship is key to Airmen development. We are told as supervisors we are required to mentor. We even have an Air Force Instruction dedicated to mentorship! But, how many of us have actually been taught what mentorship truly is and how to accomplish it?

Let me begin with a definition: In accordance with AFI 36-3401, Air Force Mentoring, "A mentor is a trusted counselor or guide. Mentoring, therefore, is a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop them both personally and professionally."

Referencing the above definition allows us to focus on the following key words and phrases: experience and wisdom, relationship, and personal and professional development. The easiest part of mentoring is knowing your job and how you became successful. Your experience and knowledge are the basic information used to develop subordinates and contain the personal and professional hurdles you jumped to become successful. The mentor to "mentee" relationship, on the other hand, can be the most difficult part of mentoring. There are two things we must understand when talking about mentoring and relationships. The first is that a relationship takes two actively participating people. The second is that each relationship will be different.

According to The Mentoring Spectrum, an article by Mark A. Melanson , there are six levels of mentoring relationships. The basic premise is based on trust and then, subsequently, the mentor's ability to influence their subordinate. We start at the bottom of the spectrum, with little trust and minimal influence, as the role model. All supervisors have to be a good role model. The inability to be a good role model undermines all the other relationships, making further mentoring impossible. Our subordinates always watch how we operate and react. This level of mentorship is the easiest because it does not require any trust on the part of the subordinate.

Next is the preceptor. The preceptor mentoring focus is that of an instructor/student relationship. We have all experienced this relationship. This is where the seeds of a more meaningful relationship are formed. As we continue up the spectrum we get to a coach. At a minimum, this is where we as supervisors, need to start. The coach is concerned with mission accomplishment and how our subordinates contribute and support that mission. Coaches apply standards, evaluate quality of work and provide feedback to ensure subordinates are meeting expectations. According to the article, this step is where true mentorship begins. The mentee's trust in their mentor is established and the mentor now has a greater influence over their subordinate's career.

Advisors are coaches who understand their mentoree's goals and provide insight on how to achieve them. They provide career advice, inform them on what jobs they should seek, what personal and professional development programs are available and which ones would benefit career progression. As a supervisor this is where you should strive to be with all of the people you lead.

The final two mentoring relationships are confidant and counselor. The confidant relationship is where the subordinate is comfortable enough to talk about not only their career concerns, but good and bad relationships they have with their current supervision. Finally, the counselor is the ultimate mentor and all personal and professional matters are on the table.

Mentorship is a relationship, and relationships are never easy. They take time to build and require face-to-face interaction to cultivate. It takes both the subordinate and the supervisor to engage, or it's wasted time.

As mentees, if you want to succeed in the military or as a civilian, mentorship will be a part of that success. Understand the relationships you have with your supervisors and push them to provide that level of mentoring.

Supervisors, you have to understand the relationship you have with your mentorees to cultivate effective mentorship. Time is a limited resource, therefore temper your expectations of mentorship and realize you cannot be a counselor to everyone.

Mentoring will continue to be an essential component of Airmen development. Understanding what mentorship is and how we fit into the mentorship relationship will make us better leaders and followers. As leaders, the future of our Air Force, and ultimately our legacy, will be what we teach the next generation of Airmen. This is the purpose of mentorship.