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The guiding principles of mentorship

Heidi Bullock

(U.S. Air Force photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- As a senior leader, I am routinely asked to “mentor” acquisition professionals, and I am always honored to provide advice and “pay it forward.” Below are some guiding principles I use when mentoring others. These guidelines are for folks who are mentoring someone for the first time, as well as the mentees in the audience.

After agreeing to mentor someone, the first action I take is to ask for the individual’s resume. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, the resume will give me a snapshot of the individual and what she or he has accomplished thus far. Secondly, it lets me know if the individual is serious about being mentored. Believe it or not, there have been several instances when I have requested a resume and never received one.

After reviewing the resume, I meet with my mentee, making some mental observations — Were they on time for the session? Did they come prepared with questions, and pen and paper in hand (or a cellphone) to take notes? After that brief initial assessment, I ask the most important question, “What is your definition of success?” 

I ask this question because once I know that answer, I know how to advise the individual. I stress to my mentee that he or she needs to “own” that definition of success  it can’t be their parents’ definition, or society’s, or anyone else’s definition. It needs to be theirs.

Once my mentee has defined success, I encourage him or her to devote the necessary time and resources to reach that goal. I also recommend they periodically reflect on their personal and professional goals, understanding that their definition of success may change and, if it does, that is totally acceptable.

From there, I will discuss what positions, education, and training the individual will need in order to be postured for the path they have chosen. I stress building technical competence at the start of their career and building their depth and breadth as they progress in their respective career field, recognizing that soft skills play an even more critical role as an individual progresses up the chain. I also highlight the importance of advanced education, grade appropriate professional military education and various civilian developmental training opportunities they should consider. 

While discussing the various options available, I also stress that balance in my mentee’s life is critical: balance between their career and their family, as well as maintaining balance within the four pillars of an individual’s spiritual, physical, mental and financial health.

Finally, I wrap up the session by asking what questions they may have, and end by thanking the mentee for taking the time to meet with me. I leave them with a standing invitation to meet whenever she or he would like.