July 15, 2024
The Roles of Mentors During the Air Force’s Transformation

During the past few years, the Department of Defense and Air Force’s senior leaders have focused their efforts on the topic of Air Force transformation. According to the Air Force Pentagon (2006), transformation is the “process by which the military achieves and maintains an advantage through changes in operational concepts, organization, and/or technologies that significantly improve its war fighting capabilities or ability to meet the demands of a changing security environment.”

Many military personnel understand that we live in an evolving society. Nothing is constant in life… everything changes! If society changes, the military has to evolve as well as updating or modernizing its modus operandi. The Air Force needs the latest of the latest, updated policies and processes, modernized technology and weapons systems in order to maintain its air power and dominance. However, there are people that are reactive, skeptics, and do not like changes, believing that there is no need for change and innovation. They are use to following a constant life and career, while other groups of workers look for a better career status in their lives. However, here is when the Air Force mentor comes in; to save the mentees from the oppression of life and to help them develop the skills needed to face the Air Force transformation by enhancing the attitudes and aptitudes focused on survival.

This paper was developed to fulfill such organizational need. It is based on a literature review focused on mentoring and the roles of mentors. There are two main sections: (1) What is Mentorship? (2) The Roles of Air Force Mentors. The first section will discuss mentorship as a concept, providing particular information for a better comprehension of its meaning and mission. The second section will provide information on the roles of Air Force mentors, and how they may be able to help other military personnel in facing today’s Air Force changes, famously called Air Force transformation within the military organization.

What is Mentorship?

Mentorship refers to “a developmental relationship between a more experienced mentor and a less experienced partner… used to groom up-and-coming employees deemed to have the potential to move up into leadership roles” (Mentorship, 2006). Today’s organizations use mentoring to nurture its employees, to help them grow professionally and personally, and to promote learning within the organization (Hankin, 2004). Mentoring is “the synthesis of ongoing events, experiences, observations, studies, and thoughtful analyses” (Freeman, n.d.). It is “one of the oldest forms of human development… the sharing and ultimate transferring of information, knowledge, skills, and/or know-how from one generation to another… [Mentoring] laid the basic foundations for early civilizations” (Rigotti, 1997, p. 9).

Mentorship in Society

For years, societal groups such as churches, schools, and colleges have focused mentorship programs on careers and personal development. It has been used to deal mostly with poverty concerns. Because of this, mentoring has been an outstanding way to serve and impact others lives by providing a path to improve societal efficiency and effectiveness, while achieving greater diversity among people. Today’s corporate world mirrors the same idea by helping other organizational employees achieve their ideal dream in achieving successful careers. According to Baldwin and Garry (1997), successful careers can be attained by fomenting successful mentoring programs. These programs must include the following: screening, orientation, training, support, and supervision. Mentoring programs can be used to fulfill variety of social, personal, and organizational issues. Furthermore, employees “could also benefit from the special bond of mentoring before serious problems develop” (p. 6).Mentorship as a Transition Tool

Mentoring is like a spider web, it may go up and down or from side to side. For example, it goes up when a new employee mentors an experienced worker on technology matters; or it goes from side to side when employees relate common learning, knowledge, experiences, and skill sets with his or her fellow coworkers within the organization. Hankin (2004) believes that mentors and mentees must be matched according to their personality types and attitudes, not based on cultural or demographic similarity. By following this concept, the interpersonal relationship will strengthen the employee’s creative thinking skills, while fostering “a culture of respect and sharing” (p. 197) in the workplace. The encouragement and promotion of fundamental values provide for rewards and the employee’s integrative learning. This is taking place in the Air Force by the provision of a smooth transitioning process for all Airmen, no matter if military personnel are transitioning from complicated situations. Most military personnel understand that most lessons learned are based on resource-constrained environments. However, according to Rigotti (1997), mentoring is becoming more important in today’s Air Force shaping, because it “can be an effective tool to meet the needs of today’s United States Air Force and airmen.” Everything depends on how the Air Force mentors use the process of mentoring. Mentors must comprehend that mentoring is utilized to orient, indoctrinate, and educate Airmen about the military environment and their roles in it.

Mentorship from a Humanist Standpoint

Gordon Shea (as cited by Rigotti, 1997), provides a humanist point of view of mentoring. He defines mentoring as “a developmental, caring, sharing, and helping relationship where one person invests time, know-how, and effort in enhancing another person’s growth, knowledge, and skills, and responds to critical needs in the life of that person in ways that prepare the individual for greater productivity or achievement in the future” (p. 10). Mentoring is considered as the path for a long-time personal and professional relationship, providing and fulfilling the basic spiritual and psychological human needs in support and development of today and future loyal employees. The process of mentoring can be used to instruct organizational culture, technical expertise, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills.

Rigotti (1997) introduces Dr. David Hunt, author of Mentoring: The Right Tool for the Right Job on page 23. According to Dr. Hunt, formal mentoring programs must follow six critical elements in order to respond to the mentees’ basic needs, for example: (a) Mentoring programs must have “clear strategic goals which are established and understood by all organizational members.” (b) The program must have a “method to carefully select mentors.” (c) It should “provide for confidentiality between the mentor and mentee.” (d) Participants must be “trained with the skills needed to be successful mentors or mentees.” (e) The mentor and mentee must “understand the importance of being politically savvy.” (f) There must be “someone responsible for monitoring and assessing the status of the organization’s planned mentoring efforts.”

Guidelines for Good Mentorship Programs

Mentoring programs has prevailed in military society by helping military personnel survive during wartime and tribulations, and will continue to do so by developing Air Force professionals for the future’s force today, because “a mentoring program can help us achieve this goal” (Rigotti, 1997, p. 7). However, the concept of mentoring is often misinterpreted by many military employees. Because of this, military leaders have considered mentoring as one of the top topics in the military management and operations fields. Adams (1997) provides the guidelines developed by Adrianne Dumond and Susan Boyle in support of a good mentoring program. According the Dumond and Boyle: (1) Mentors and mentees need to meet regularly. (2) The mentor needs to know the mentee’s goals. (3) Mentors must be good listeners and not deceive the mentee’s confidences. Both must talk about strengths and developmental needs, so the mentor may provide guidance in developing these areas. (4) Mentors must help the mentee understand how to take part in the organization’s programs, and provide information on opportunities within the organization. (5) Mentees should not be susceptible to criticism, because it is provided to him/her grow. (6) Mentees should never “brag about their relationship with their mentor, because this could put the mentor on the spot” (p. 4). (7) The relationship should remain on a business level only. (8) Mentors and mentees must not get too personal about themselves. Both of them must be aware to the issues of sexual harassment or discrimination within the organization. (9) If the mentor and mentee believe that the mentoring relationship is not emerging successfully, they must discontinue the process to seek further guidance. To achieve the best during mentoring, the mentor and mentee need to be aware that “the most important element of a successful mentoring relationship is trust” (p. 4).

Mentorship for Professional Development

According to General Billy J. Boles (as cited by Adams, 1997), mentoring programs help employees achieve their potential through professional development. Mentoring proposes assurance and significance value for the mentor, mentee, and the military, especially the Air Force. There is no dilemma, if the mentee wants to start a second career in the civilian world, because “mentoring in the military and private sector works in much the same way… perceived benefits includes higher pay, promotions, opportunities to occupy leadership positions, and job satisfaction” (Adams, 1997, p. 35). Through mentoring, mentees feel free to unveil their weaknesses and communicate the best possible way to fulfill this need. Mentoring develops a close, but professional relationships that help people learn, while providing hands-on opportunities for personal and professional grow. This proactive relationship “contributes to successful retention, career satisfaction, better decision making, and greater competence” (Office of Naval Research, 1998) of today’s organizational employees. Mentoring may be “the difference between [organizational] success and failure” (Bailey, 2003).

Setting the Example through Mentorship

Military personnel believe that “mentoring begins with the leader setting the right example” (Powers, 2006). Setting the right example, means to be critically responsible in the preparation of future leaders to endure tomorrow’s challenges. This type of preparation is performed with a professional and caring understanding from the supervisor to the subordinate, from the mentor to the mentee. Leading by example is the behavior that influence and improve functions within the organization. According to Burke (as cited by Sullivan, 1993), these functions include employee’s job performance, career socialization, upward mobility, and the preparation of future leaders.

Recommendations for Developing Mentorship Programs

The Special Library Association (2006) provides four recommendations for setting up a mentorship program: (a) Mentorship programs must promote education within its members. (b) Organizational leaders must request support from volunteers. (c) All volunteered mentors and mentees must complete a profile; they can be matched according to their attitudes and goals. (d) Organizational leaders must be able to contact the mentors and mentees if any concern arise, and follow up if necessary.

The concept of promoting education within the organization is “the essence of mentoring… grounded in the concept of one-on-one teaching” (Reis, n.d.). Suggestions provided above eliminate barriers to mentoring such as, prejudice, poor career planning, poor working environment, lack of organizational knowledge, and greater comfort in dealing with own kind, and difficulty in balancing career and family (Adams, 1997).

There may be employees within our organization believing that mentorship is a complicated process. However, according to the above recommendations provided by Special Library Association (2006), employees need to understand that mentorship is a simple, realistic, and practical method to take care of others. According to the United States Army Reserve Command (2006), “Caring is the core of mentorship.” It is an “effective vehicle for developing leaders… [It] links employees with experienced professionals for career development” (Civilian Working Group, p. 1). Organizational leaders, especially those holding leadership positions in the military, must change this misconception before hurting somebody’s career and personal life.

Essentials for Successful Mentorship

There are five essentials for a successful mentoring, according to the Civilian Working Group (n.d.): Respect, trust, partnership building, realistic expectations, self-perception, and time. Why organizational leaders should invite employees to get involved in mentoring? The Civilian Working Group (n.d.) believes that employees need to join the program for the following three reasons: (a) Mentoring helps the mentor on his/her career enhancement, to gather more information for future reference, personal satisfaction; sharpened management, leadership, and interpersonal skills; sources of recognition, and expanded professional contacts. (b) Mentoring helps the organization by increasing commitment to the organization, while reducing turnover; improved performance, improved flow of organizational information, management development, managerial succession, and recruitment. (c) Mentoring helps the participants on building confidence, encourage the individual to grow beyond the usual expectations; the employee is provided a role model, to have a better understanding of the organization, and what is needed to succeed and advance; the employee has an opportunity to work on challenging and interesting projects, try more advance tasks, and demonstrate capabilities.

The Air Force and the Mentorship Process

What position does the Air Force assume toward mentoring others? Mentoring has been established to bring about a cultural change in the way we view professional development… [It] is an essential ingredient in developing well-rounded, professional, and competent future leaders [to] help prepare people for the increased responsibilities they will assume as they progress in their careers. Mentoring is an ongoing process and not confined to formal feedback” (AFI 36-3401, p. 1). “The goal of mentoring is to help each person reach his/her full potential, thereby enhancing the overall professionalism of the Air Force… [Through] a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professional” (AFPD 36-34, p. 1). Mentoring in the Air Force happens anywhere, anytime, every level and activity. It “covers a wide range of areas, such as career guidance, technical and professional development, leadership, Air Force history and heritage, air and power doctrine, strategic vision, and contribution to joint war fighting. It also includes knowledge of the ethics of our military and a civil service professions and understanding of the Air Force’s core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do” (AFPD 36-34, p. 2).

Who is responsible for the mentoring programs? Air Force commanders are solely responsible for endorsing mentorship program within their organization. Due to a necessity of providing better war fighting leaders, the Air Force Chief of Staff and top military leaders have created various programs and associations that can be used to facilitate mentoring within Air Force units: National Organizations for Certifications and Licensing, Company Grade Office Council (CGOC), Air Force Intern Program (AFIP), Lieutenant’s Professional Development Program (LPDP), The Order of Daedalians and the Airlift/Tanker Association, The Air Force Association (AFA), The Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, Military Chaplains Association of the USA, The National Association of Uniformed Services (NAUS), The Retired Officer Association, Air Force Cadet/Officer Mentor Action Program, Inc. (AFCOMAP), Air University Library, Civil Air Patrol (CAP), National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), Reserve Officers Association (ROA), Air Force Reserve’s Junior Officer Leadership Development Seminar, Air Force Sergeant’s Association, and NCO Association.

The Roles of Air Force Mentors

The Air Force considers every non-commissioned officer as leader. However, the responsibilities of being a leader are enormous. Leaders must consider all aspects of human life in order to be effective leaders, because they lead or guide other employees into the path of career and personal development, especially into “the psychological dimensions of the [mentoring] relationship, for example, accepting, confirming, counseling, and protecting” (Reis, n.d.). Such leaders are the mentors that “inspire their mentee to follow their dreams” (Mentorship, 2006).

Supporting the Organization’s Future

Being a mentor in the Air Force has its advantages. Mentoring others help others develop a legacy for future military generations by developing today’s leaders “to fight and win future conflicts” (Powers, 2006). Winning and being able to survive during battle depends on how our leaders are being able to mentor their followers. The goal is to develop and enhance survival skills in our subordinates, so they can reach their goals even during the Air Force transformation.

The Air Force mentors allow the military to “hold on to and pass along the wisdom of its valued older workers” (Hankin, 2004, p. 196), in this case senior non-commissioned officers. Their job is to increase employees’ loyalty for their profession, company, and country by sharing priceless experiences through teaching and coaching skills. Increasing the “feelings of respect and individual attention” (Hankin, 2004, p. 196) is how today’s followers or mentees become tomorrow’s greatest leaders!

Applying theory into practice is one of the most important tasks that an Air Force mentor has. For example, when an aircraft maintenance unit receives new employees, it is the mentor’s job to inspire and keep the new employees motivated while they are learning and applying their skills in new technical tasks. Keeping the new employees constantly motivated will help them to persevere throughout the learning process. Being a mentor in the military is treasured by senior supervisors and subordinates alike. Senior supervisors believe that “a mentor is highly valued, and it is appreciated that this professional role carries a high level of commitment and responsibility… [they] assume responsibility for the [mentee’s] learning in the practice setting, the quality of that learning, and the assessment of competencies to demonstrate the extent to which learning outcomes have been met” (University of Sheffield, p. 2).

Providing Light during Uncertainty

There is insecurity in a person’s life when he or she wants to join the military. There are questions such as: Do I have any other choices? How am I going to feel soon after I sign up the contract to join the military? Do I have all my questions answered by the recruiter? Am I going to have somebody to help me during the military transition? Will the adaptation process be easy? Where can I go to find more answers? However, whether in the military or civilian life, a mentor will always be available in favor of attaining a successful career. “There are many information sources available nowadays, but the first hand interactive relationship that a mentor can provide is very valuable” (Armour, 2006).

It is in the mentor’s hand to “ensure that [mentees] stand out from the crowd… [and to] look for mentors in areas that will be relevant to [their] career and who will provide a reality check” (Appelbaum, 2006). It is the mentor’s responsibility to develop the mentees’ self-awareness and assist integrates their professional and military life, concerns, and values. This is very important for new employees in making career decisions. According to Armour (2006), “The ideal is to seek mentors in fields about which you know little… [If] they are not able to answer a particular question, [they] will try to suggest someone who can.”

Enhancing Cognitive Development

The mentor must provide general and specific information, and ask questions that make mentees use their critical thinking skills. This way, the mentees will be able to work through their own answers and make choices, according to personal beliefs in support of career development and goal attainment. If the mentees ask questions about technical, professional, or personal concerns, it is the mentor’s job to provide their knowledge and wisdom, which comes from experience. According to Armour (2006), the mentors become rewarded when they provide highly valued information to mentees, for example: (1) The mentor will be able to watch the mentee discover what he or she really enjoys doing. (2) The mentor will be able to develop a friendly relationship with the mentee. (3) The mentor will be able to see the mentee many years later and learn of the influence he or she has been in the mentee’s life.

Achieving Higher Potential through Communication

Mentors need to maintain an active communication with the mentee, because “the closer the communication, the more likely the [mentorship] program will be successful” (Freeman, n.d.). Maintaining a close communication enhances intentional learning, resulting in an improvement of the mentor’s aptitude for instruction, coaching, modeling, and advising skills. Mentors will not be afraid of sharing experiences of failure, because it provides constructive opportunities for “analyzing individual and organizational realities” (Freeman, n.d.). The goal is to make mentees learning leaders in support of future generations. This is accomplished by providing realistic scenarios and case examples, because it imparts valuable and memorable insights.

Ruth Smeltzer (as cited by Smith, 2002), comments, “You have not lived a perfect day… unless you have done something for someone who will never repay you” (p. 174). This is a true statement, especially for minority groups within the military, since they will feel confident and supported during their adjustment and adaptation period. Mentors must remember that mentoring is like the spider web, it goes up and down, and side to side. Today is the time to identify employees from the lowest levels and provide them with admiration and encouraging comments through effective communication methods by providing practical observations, because it helps mentees to deal with tasks that are beyond their limits and aptitudes; and to monitor the mentee’s career, potential, and promotion within the organization.

Energizing the Organization through Care and Protection

According to Rigotti (1997), the mentors’ primary role is “to act as an advocate and a protector” (p. 11). This way, the mentees will realize that “the organization cares about their growth and development” (p. 17). There are different names provided for mentors, such as, teachers, guides, advisers, allies, advocates, catalysts, and gurus. These names provide energy to the military organization and to the mission; and clarify the way the military does business in order to survive during today’s world demands. To fulfill these demands, Air Force mentors must be accessible for guidance and feedback, to teach about organizational culture and expectations, and to enlighten the mentee on what is and what not is acceptable in the organization, for example, the Air Force core values. “Mentors provide a stabilizing and emotionally supportive influence on their mentees. They provide opportunities for their mentees to acquire valuable experience and encourage their mentees to broaden their skill set by tackling and mastering new challenges. Mentors provide positive reinforcement to the mentee at critical points in their careers to help build self-confidence and develop a sense of personal accomplishment” (Rigotti, 1997, p. 17).

Functions and Behaviors of Mentors

Adams (1997) cited Kathy E. Kram, a psychologist at Boston University. Dr. Kram believes that there are two basic functions for mentors: career functions and psychological functions. Career functions focus on career advancement through sponsorship, exposure-and-visibility, coaching, protection, and challenging work assignments. Psychological functions focus on professional competence, identity, and effectiveness. This function consists of role modeling, acceptance-and-confirmation, counseling, and friendship. Lea and Leibowitz (as cited by Adams, 1997), believe that there are behaviors that translates into the mentoring relationship, they are:

(1) Teaching- this is when the mentor instructs the mentee on specific skills and provides necessary data for successful job performance, and assists during the mentee’s career development.

(2) Guiding- this is when the mentor orients the mentee in learning the organization’s unwritten rules.

(3) Advising- this is accomplished when the mentee requests it.

(4) Counseling- this is when the mentor provides emotional support during stressful times, listens to concerns, helps clarify career goals, and assists the mentee in developing a plan of action to achieve those goals.

(5) Sponsorship- this is when the mentor provides opportunities for career enhancement.

(6) Role Modeling- this is when the mentee tries to copy the mentor’s behavior because of their relationship.

(7) Validating- this is when the mentor evaluates, modifies, and endorses the mentee’s goals and aspirations.

(8) Motivating- this is when the mentor encourages mentee to work hard for achieving specific goals.

(9) Protecting- this is when the mentor minimizes risk-taking opportunities by providing a safe environment where the mentee can make mistakes without losing self-confidence.

(10) Communicating- this is when the mentor establishes communication to address the mentee’s concerns.

In Summary

According to SLA (2006), “The most important characteristic of a potential mentor is the motivation to serve as a mentor. Mentors should have the skills to assist others in a positive, constructive way. This includes excellent communication skills, especially the ability to be an active listener and to provide feedback in an effective manner.” The Air Force mentor is a teacher, an advocate, and a friend. The mentors are teachers, because they are able to discuss ways of applying theory into practice; providing feedback on someone else’s achievements; helping plan how learning outcomes might be achieved; and coaching and demonstrating practical skills. The mentors are advocates, because they preserve and increase the mentees’ confidence and self-esteem. The mentors are friends, because they increase the mentees’ morale when it is low. They know when the learner is wrong, and take advantage of this time to improve decision-making skills. “An important part of the role mentor is to build up an effective working relationship and to establish a partnership based on mutual trust, honesty, and respect” (Homerton College, 2001, p. 5).

Today’s Air Force senior leaders, according to the Air Force Policy Directive 36-34 (2000), believe that “mentoring is a fundamental responsibility of all Air Force supervisors. They must know their people, accept personal responsibility for them, and be accountable for their professional development. The supervisor must continually challenge subordinates. It is essential to provide clear performance feedback and guidance in setting realistic professional and personal development goals. Supervisors and commanders must make themselves available to subordinates who seek career guidance and counsel… [And] also, be positive role models. While there is nothing wrong with lofty goals, mentors must ensure their people realize what high, but achievable, goals are. It is the inherent responsibility of Air Force leaders to mentor future leaders” (p. 1-3). Supervisors are the “backbone” of the Air Force transformation!


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