Mentorship is a two-way street

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jennifer Riggins
  • 97th Medical Support Squadron
 Several years ago when I was a new Air Force captain, I had the opportunity to welcome our new medical group administrator. He was one of those people whose demeanor and leadership skills instantly gave a positive impression. It was during one of our many discussions that he impressed upon me the idea that mentorship is much more than a senior ranking individual imparting words of wisdom, direction or influence to those junior during scheduled scripted meetings. Instead, he gave me the idea that mentorship can and should be considered a two-way street, so that we all learn from each other while working to accomplish the mission. As the newest squadron commander at Altus AFB, I believe that this premise could not be more relevant.

Within our military hierarchy system, those selected for command are chosen using past performance as a measure for potential future effectiveness. As anyone in a leadership position knows, this is one of the first opportunities to be responsible for processes and functions that are completely new and different, and very often completely outside of the parameters of one's chosen career field. The reality of mentoring, the teaching or giving of advice, as a two-way street becomes most apparent.

We frequently think of mentoring as a scheduled meeting in which to present content as defined by an external source. While the intent is to ensure that communication occurs in an environment conducive for learning, frequently the end result fails to accomplish this goal. Instead, our junior personnel receive a large amount of career-related information without dedicating enough time to questions, discussions and developing a plan for the future. Additionally, we see that some people are denied the opportunity to consider more appealing career options based on lack of information about all available options.

We are in a new age of leadership. The Air Force attracts and retains personnel who are exceptional professionals with an immense amount of knowledge within and beyond their career fields. These talented Airmen embrace the opportunity to share with others their value to the mission. I encourage leaders to seize the opportunity and allow the mentoring process to evolve beyond the traditional boundaries. Specifically, I suggest that while planning mentoring sessions, both parties invest time in determining what information each needs from the other. This requires planners to create a mentoring environment that allows an exchange of information that will benefit both individuals. Some senior members may find it a challenge to make this change and accept valuable information and experience from junior personnel; however, investing the time to learn what all of our Airmen contribute to the mission will enhance our growth as leaders. Ideally, the effort will result in not only a more productive mentoring session, but a solid foundation for team development and cohesion.