VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — When I worked at U.S. Africa Command, the organization took steps to connect its member countries and cultures, including referencing local proverbs during meetings.
The most frequently mentioned saying was, “If you want to travel fast, travel alone; if you want to travel far, travel together.”
This was an effective rallying cry that reminded the various organizations within the command that success wasn’t measured by individual achievements, but by the success of the entire team.
For any team to achieve sustained, ever-increasing success, it needs to do more than just work well together. It needs a process to refresh and grow leaders from within.
That process is mentorship. As defined by Air Force Manual 36-2643, “Air Force Mentoring Program,” mentorship is “a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally. This relationship will help achieve mission success and motivate Airmen to achieve their career objectives.”
Although mentorship has been around for a number of years, it hasn’t been widely implemented. This could be due to high operations tempo, limited understanding of how to establish a mentoring program, or frequent personnel changes.
Whatever the reason, it is time to break the cycle in which new personnel struggle with the same issues faced by those that came before. Leaders need to establish meaningful connections with subordinates to foster and develop the diverse strengths, perspectives and capabilities of all Airmen.
These connections are arguably more critical in a time of fiscal austerity and shrinking force structure. Each remaining Airman becomes more important, increasing the need for leaders to develop structured programs to pass wisdom, information and advice.
Where to begin? AFMAN 36-2643 provides the basic information needed to establish a mentoring program. It outlines the roles of mentor and mentee, how communication is passed between the two parties, suggests goals for the program, and provides links to additional resources.
From there, the path is up to you. As an example, the 71st Student Squadron established a mentoring program centered between flight commander and student pilot. They meet five times during training — essentially having a conversation each time the student transitions to or from each training phase.
Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with participants reporting they are consistently learning new things about themselves and the Air Force; preparing the mentees to successfully assume future leadership roles.
Mentoring is best defined as a process of engagement. No one can mentor without connection. Leaders must actively seek out opportunities to establish these connections to ensure that all members of the Air Force team are prepared to “travel far and travel together.”