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Mentoring: Making a difference

Chaplain (Col.) Shon Neyland

(U.S. Air Force photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- When I was a student at National War College, I had the privilege to lead a group of 30 senior leaders to mentor youth weekly at an elementary school in downtown Washington, D.C. It was a great experience as we tackled math, science, and reading.  However, what was more significant was the mentoring taking place at a much deeper level than simply academics.

Those young women and men viewed us as people of hope, knowledge, and wisdom —they saw us as role models and leaders. In the end, we donated more than 800 hours of mentorship in an eight-month period. Just as those 30 individuals made a significant impact in the lives of those youth through reading, math, and science, the same can be done at your level today with co-workers and subordinates.

Mentorship essentially helps groom someone to discover his or her true potential and capacity, both personally and professionally. Further, mentorship shapes character, dedication, ethics, values, and mental aptitude. I personally believe that every person needs a mentor, no matter what the age, rank or grade -- civilian or military -- of the individual. I have certainly benefited from mentors who have helped guide and shape my career and personal life. In the end, I had to make the choices in improving myself, further developing leadership skills, and reaching my personal and professional goals.

Moreover, mentorship helps us to grow and develop as a part of our workforce and society.  It should not be mechanical or forced, but conducted on a volitional basis by both the mentor and mentee. In the past, I have seen the Air Force attempt to leverage growth and enhancement of the Air Force mission through a variety of mentorship incentives and tools; however, it often felt contrived and at times was resisted.

Yet mentorship remains a key component in developing future leaders. The Air Force continues to highly encourage mentorship and highlight the positive outcomes, but does not make it obligatory which, I believe, is the most effective methodology to employ.

Even as I write this article, I am engaged in broad mentorship programs both in the civilian sector and in the military, and I have had the opportunity to share my leadership perspectives with the hope of imparting ‘lessons learned’ and encouraging growth.            

A simple mentoring process I have developed throughout the years for individual mentoring is as follows:

1. Make sure the meeting is not forced but is scheduled regularly.

2. Confidentiality, transparency, honesty, trust, and respect between the mentor and the mentee is essential.

3. Identify and set goals and milestones driven by the mentee.

4. Follow-up and review lessons learned in the processes.

5. Adjust fire as needed and repeat the above steps.

The challenge is for each of us to get involved and to make a difference in the lives of those around us. There is no doubt that both the Air Force mission and individuals benefit from mentorship.

I would encourage each of us to be a mentor and a mentee simultaneously when possible. As we lead and help shape those we are mentoring, we are being mentored ourselves! Seek those who may be looking to learn, grow and reach new heights of success in their lives.

In the end, mentorship deals with doing and being, rather than simply learning.  Benjamin Franklin, one of our founding fathers, once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”