Why Mentoring Matters? 'Mentoring is an inherent responsibility of leadership.'

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Mark Barber
  • 315th Airlift Wing Command Chief

Long ago are the days when managing meant simply telling people what to do. Today’s noncommissioned officers must master a host of other roles if they want to be effective leaders. One of the more important roles in the development of our Airmen is through “mentoring.” AFM 36-2643, Air Force Mentoring Program, defines a mentor as a “wise, trusted, and experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience, and advice with a less experienced person” and further directs that, “the overall goal of mentoring is to help Airmen (civilian, enlisted, and officer) reach their full potential, thereby enhancing the professionalism of the Air Force.”

Despite all of the good that comes out of mentoring though, it is perhaps one of the most underrated, undervalued, and underutilized programs in today’s Air Force Reserve. Whether it is a lack of clear guidance or simply believing our lives are too busy, there are many unintended reasons which can disrupt or even negate the initial “buy-in” of mentoring programs. Alternatively, there may be some among us who believe, “we came up through the ranks the hard way, why must we make it easier for them?” In reality, what many people fail to realize is that effective mentoring benefits the mentor, mentee, and the overall organization! Mentoring leads to lower training cost, higher morale, greater job satisfaction, increased loyalty, and reduced turnover. Further, there is also compelling research that shows mentors can be effective in mitigating suicidal tendencies, building resiliency, and reducing overall anxiety.

Looking back over our careers, I suspect that many of us have had one or two mentors in their lives. Be it a military member, teacher, or perhaps a coach. Stop for a moment and reflect upon the impact that these people have had on your life. Would you be where you are today— without them? 

Effective mentoring involves knowledge transfer to include:

  • Sharing an understanding of the organization, its mission, and helping our Airmen prepare for increased responsibilities, all while exemplifying Air Force Core Values.
  • Suggesting and mutually agreeing on appropriate training and developmental opportunities to further the Airman’s progress toward career goals.
  • Assisting our Airmen in establishing clear, reasonable, and obtainable career goals and then periodically reviewing progress, and providing constructive suggestions on career and force development opportunities.

Helping our Airmen learn to balance the demands of the military, their family, and their education.

It’s important to note that mentoring does not include doing the Airman’s work, making their decisions, or setting career objectives for them. Rather, it is helping them achieve these goals more easily without having to go through the trials and errors we had to endure. Thus, it encourages the member to become more efficient through their own self development.

While the need for a mentor has been well-established, seeking one out can be quite difficult and a bit intimidating.  Sadly, most people make the routine, but incorrect assumption, that good mentors are simply too busy to help them, perhaps out of fear of rejection. Therefore, leaders (mentors) need to be alert to the signs from our Airmen asking (or seeking) for mentoring in so many ways. Our young Airmen are craving for our attention, advice, and wisdom. By making ourselves more available, establishing a welcoming atmosphere, and most importantly, showing them we care through our actions, we’ll be making an indelible mark on their lives both personally and professionally.  

Thus, I challenge you to become more involved in the careers of those you’ve been given the honor to lead. Before doing so though, you need to be committed to the cause, display active listening skills, be patient, and care about the relationship—in other words, you better be “fully engaged.” You owe that to them. There are few things more important and more rewarding to an organization than passing on our valuable lessons, knowledge, attitudes, and recognition of opportunities to our leaders of tomorrow. In short, it’s all about taking care of our Airmen, and becoming a mentor is a great place to start.  

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