Mentorship: Are We Doing It Right?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Trinh Peterson
  • 51st Fighter Wing Judge Advocate
"Mentoring is an inherent responsibility of leadership." So says Air Force Instruction 36-3401, Air Force Mentoring.

The AFI defines mentors as trusted counselors or guides, and mentoring as a relationship where a person with greater experience and wisdom guides someone in order to develop thatĀ Airman both personally and professionally.

I think mentorship is so much more than an official program of the Air Force -- it's the method we train and retain our future leaders.

By all accounts, this doesn't preclude anyone from being a mentor nor should it stop "mentees" from seeking someone to teach them the ropes. The goal is to help each Airmen reach their full potential, thereby enhancing the overall professionalism of the Air Force.

General W.L. Creech often stated, "The first responsibility of a leader is to create more leaders."

While this statement is entirely true, General Creech proscribes a process of "selection, mentor, and grooming."

Many believe this is the proper approach for finding and training future leaders in the military. However, many leaders tend to produce leaders much like themselves in looks, background, shared experiences, and shared socio-economic circumstances.

This discriminative approach invariably rules out many potential leaders who may not look a certain way or who may not share the same kind of background or circumstances as the leader at hand. The member not "selected" may be the person who needs mentorship the most or who may be the leader the Air Force needs.

Can the Air Force afford disqualifying future leaders who might not share those types of factors; but who might still have the ideals, values and aspirations that would benefit the Air Force?

In recognizing that mentoring is an important piece in developing well-rounded, professional and competent future leaders, everyone should have the opportunity to lead.

Selection and grooming keeps the benefit of mentorship from reaching every member of the military and thereby the Air Force may lose out on a great leader simply because they were not selected and/or groomed. Worse yet, in making selection and grooming decisions, the uninformed leader might be promoting "careerism."

The Air Force envisions mentors who distinguish between individual goals, career aspirations and realistic expectations. Everyone defines a successful career differently, and there are numerous paths to meet individual career and success goals.

Mentors must focus on Air Force institutional needs: We must develop people who are skilled in the employment and support of air and space power and understand how it meets the security needs of the nation.

The Air Force requires mentors to ensure mentees realize what high, but achievable, goals are.

Look around at who you might be mentoring - do your mentees only look like you? Have you "selected" your mentees? Are you "grooming" only them? If mentorship for you is a highly selective process, then are you doing it right?