Mentoring Matters

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Sally Kelly-Rank
  • 9th Air Mobility Wing Medical Group
A colleague of mine called the other day to discuss an email I had sent him. I had just learned of his recent selection for promotion so I made a point of congratulating him. It was then that he asked me what my thoughts were for him for his next assignment. For a moment I was stunned; here was someone asking me for my thoughts, my advice about his future. It suddenly occurred to me he was asking for my mentorship.

I thought to myself about the day I met my first mentor. He was a seasoned colonel, then my squadron commander. I hadn't gone searching for a mentor and probably wasn't even aware that I was being mentored, but suddenly I found myself seeking his advice and counsel. So here I was now, the mentor.

What is a mentor? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a mentor as "a trusted counselor or guide." I would say that a mentor is much more than this. They are part teacher, part guide. They advise, question and answer. They can play many different roles, but ultimately, their primary job is to help nurture your career.

Mentoring can be both formal and informal, but both depend on clearly defined roles and expectations. To be effective, a mentoring relationship must be characterized by mutual respect, trust and understanding, and it must come about naturally. Your mentor should be someone you admire and respect. They can be someone from your own place of employment or outside it; sometimes they are both. At times, you may have more than one mentor.

Is mentoring really important? For some time, mentoring has been recognized as a valuable tool for enhancing individual capabilities and supporting career development. To me, mentoring is critical to developing Air Force leaders. Mentoring, however, is a two-way street. Those being mentored must also take part in the mentoring program by not only being a mentee, but also by mentoring the leaders that come after them. This is a critical component of mentoring and is often the hardest thing to do.

Mentoring is about giving help and support in a non-threatening way; it is an exclusive one-to-one relationship between the mentor and mentee. Through mentoring, the recipient will appreciate and value the help and support provided and that will empower them to move forward with confidence towards the goals they wish to achieve. And nothing will quite match the self satisfaction you will get when sharing your experience to help others.

I firmly believe my many successes, both personally and professionally, have been because of the great mentors I have had throughout my career. Being a mentor doesn't mean you will win any awards or get special recognition, but you will have the satisfaction of having done an important job. So the next time your opportunity to be a mentor arises, remember that grooming our Airmen to be successful leaders is critical to the continued success of our great Air Force.