Mentoring our way to success

Every week or two I spend time with a young man I have come to respect. He’s smart, creative, curious, and searching for a better way to identify and achieve his goals. So we sit and chat.

Sometimes we have coffee and a snack during a brief get together. Sometimes we jabber away for hours. The range of topics we cover is as big as all outdoors. There are no limitations on what might come up or where we might take the discussion.

He is a professional, I am his mentor. I’d like to believe I’m his friend, too.

Mentoring is one of those terms that comes up in conversation from time to time, usually in the context of, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to help these kids today get a better handle on things?”

It’s not nearly as popular an activity as it might be, though, and that’s a shame because it’s not hard, it’s not expensive, and it doesn’t really take up much of your time. There are no rules either.

The goal is so basic as to make mentoring a virtual slam-dunk for anyone who wants to give it a try. Basically, you’re passing along information. Information leads to inspiration, or insight, or confidence, or any number of things that might make the mentee’s experience less rocky and more productive.

If we were to reduce the mission statement to just a few words, they might be these: Mentors help mentees find their way.

The process can be quite long, lasting for years in some cases. Yet it can be surprisingly enjoyable. If you do it well a relationship develops.

In our case, that relationship is valued by both parties. We like each other. Maybe because our time together isn’t dominated by completely serious, nose-to-the-grindstone discussions. We laugh quite a bit. Admittedly, it’s not at all unusual for us to get into deep discussions about social issues, historical events, or personalities my mentee is interested in or curious about. And that’s all good stuff.

After all, I’m a chubby white guy in my mid-50s and he’s a fit young black man a whole generation younger than me. Somehow we find things to talk about that satisfy both of us. To be honest, finding those topics of conversation is a lot easier than you might imagine.

Earlier today he said, “I’m interested in flying.” That surprised me because I’m not making any attempt to turn him into a pilot, or a mechanic, or an aviation enthusiast of any kind. In fact other than a few meetings at my airport office, and a single occurrence of walking him out to an airplane and putting him in the pilot seat to shake things up a bit, I’ve never suggested he should consider flying.

You see how mentoring works? It’s subtle. What my mentee is getting out of the process is not limited to the topics we discuss. He’s also benefiting from seeing someone he respects do things he never even considered doing. He meets a wide array of people through me that he would likely never meet otherwise. Each of them brings something to his thought processes, too. And it is those thought processes that will lead this increasingly impressive young man to do big things one day.

Who knows? Maybe he will learn to fly one day. If he does I suspect he’ll find a way to pass his newfound interest in aviation on to his friends and neighbors — people whom I would not normally come in contact with.

Now I’m not suggesting that every pilot in America should rush right out and find a young person to mentor. No, not at all. They shouldn’t limit themselves to young people. Mentor anyone who expresses an interest in it. Can you imagine what an impact a couple hundred thousand aviation-friendly mentors could have on life in America?

Admittedly you can’t just go out and grab the first person you see by the lapels and announce in a loud, commanding voice that you intend to mentor them. That sort of things tends to get you locked up in a small room under professional observation. You can be a bit more diplomatic and stylish about your search for a mentee. But do it.

Your local high school may have a listing of students who are interested in making contact with local men and women who have experience in specific fields of endeavor. I have a friend who is involved in such a program in my city, and I’m pleased to say he hands off a small number of high school students to me each year who think they may be interested in a career in aviation. We talk, ride around the airport, stick our heads in some hangars, talk to the mechanics in the shop and that sort of thing. So far, so good.

Civic groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts may be able to identify teenagers who have an interest in whatever it is you do for a living. Your local Chamber of Commerce may include a young professionals sub-set where you can offer your services as a mentor.

What a great way to start off a new year, by making the decision to help someone else. Good on you for that one.


  1. Kimberly Bush says

    (Jamie, I hope you will excuse me a moment while I hijack your thread)
    When I was in grade school, I read “Coffee, Tea, or Me?” right after my mother finished reading it. Coming from a small town (current population is around 1000) in a rural area, I KNEW what I was going to be when I grew up: a Stewardess.
    I put it on my ASVAB. I put it on my ACT. I told EVERYONE what I wanted to do: get the hell out of Podunk.
    One problem (and it turned out to be insurmountable at that time): my high school couldn’t keep a part-time Guidance Counselor paid, and no one from my rural area had any idea at all how one gets into the airline industry. They knew I was ‘too intelligent’ to join the military (in the 70’s and 80’s), so I needed to go to college. They had no idea how I was going to do THAT, either, but lots of other kids were going, and I ask questions of my classmates all the time. “Smart girl, you will figure it out”
    In 2005, I was greatly surprised to have an online ‘hit’ on a job site for a Flight Attendant job. It wasn’t local, but it was close enough that I could make the daily 212 mile round trip drive.
    I got fired less than 6 months later, because it seems that regional airlines really do NOT want ‘smart girls’ working their planes.
    Between that job and the next airline job in October of 2006, I did TONS of research online. I looked at both sides of the equation: what were FA’s saying about their job conditions (we are paid way too little for what we are responsible for doing) AND what passengers were saying about flight crews (we have no idea what the pilots look or sound like. FA did her service and then hid in the galley for the rest of the flight)
    I vowed to ‘do it better’ at the second airline.
    Well, I am still not perfect, but I got too close. And when I told my supervisor that I planned to stay with the company until my own retirement, which was 24 years away, he decided that I needed to go ‘buh-by’.
    While many in the airline industry and outside it keep muttering “It is ALL because of 9/11” this is not what pilots had to say. They said, “It all exploded with the use of regional airlines, in 1999. Our contracts got more complicated and no one really wants you to know how it works. They just want you to work to exhaustion, and not watch your paysheet too closely.”
    You know what I did? I ‘went old school’ on my job.
    When I had time, I took them into my galley to help me clean up.
    When the pilots had time, I introduced them to my flight deck. Even Captains that I could have cheerfully throttled would turn on charm and show those kids some basics. Next thing you know, PARENTS wanted to ‘see, too’.
    To a CHILD, that ‘wide array’ looks like a lot of FUN.
    To a parent, they just developed an outpouring of respect for ‘the quiet guys in the front’.
    I had one last trip with that second airline. Loaded with corporate and plenty of cancellations and delays from snow on the Eastern Seaboard.
    And a Captain who kept stepping out of the flight deck as we were unloading to ‘thank the passengers for flying with us and have a good day’.
    Who have YOU thanked today for asking you to ‘Come fly with me, and stand by?’

  2. Tom says

    Been a CFI over thirty years
    Given hundreds of intro rides
    It’s a standard sales “numbers” game
    For every ten people you expose to a new idea
    Two or three will take a few lessons

    One will get a certificate.
    So the trick is to get large numbers of intro rides
    To produce a few pilots
    AND keep it short, just once around the patch.
    Have them taxi and fly as much as possible
    Charge a lot s so the ride makes money
    Because , more potential at the top of the funnel
    Results in more pilots coming out the bottom as your regular.customers.
    I learned this from skydivers.

  3. Kimberly Bush says

    Ok, Jamie, way to open another can of worms. LOL
    I see that my advice about ‘let them touch it’ is as true in airplanes as it is in kitchen products. I would say “told ya’ so”, but it gets so repetitive, don’t you agree?
    As a Flight Attendant, I was on a ferry flight from Philly to Pittsburg. Because of the empty seats, an FA is still required by the FAA, as per certification.
    Doug Anderson was the CA and some kid named Rob was the FO. Doug let me sit in the flight deck jumpseat (which may actually be harder than a metal kitchen chair) reminded me about sterile cockpit for take-off. I only wanted to learn about timing my announcements in the cabin so I didn’t have to wait for a pilot to say his part before I said mine.
    Being told to stay quiet, I just started making notes.
    Doug then gave me the all clear to talk.
    My first question was about all those switches overhead.
    As he flipped them on, he casually mentioned that those were our lights and they should have been on before we took off.
    Then I asked an approximation of ratio of airspeed to groundspeed. I was trying to wrap my head around distances between airports in the Eastern US. Doug referred my question to Rob, who promised to look it up and get back to me.
    Then I started pointing at gauges and asking what they were for.
    Then we landed. LOL

  4. Tom says

    Been a CFI over thirty years
    Given hundreds of intro rides
    It’s a standard sales “numbers” game
    For every ten people you expose to a new idea
    Two or three will take a few lessons

    One will get a certificate.
    So the trick is to get large numbers of intro rides
    To produce a few pilots
    AND keep it short

    • Kimberly Bush says

      Been doing sales since selling seeds for my first Kodak 126 camera in 1974.
      Same principles apply.
      According to several international companies I have worked for.
      With multimillion dollar marketing budgets and profit margins.
      Sell the sizzle.

  5. says

    Great article, thanks for reminding us of the important role we ALL can play. CFIs have a special opportunity to go beyond the formal student-teacher relationship and truly impact people’s lives. Keep up the good writing!

  6. says

    Great article, just before Christmas I received the best bonus ever, a wonderful letter from a mentee expressing how much he enjoyed his experience. I did a post on my Facebook recently about the power of one hour a month. I did some number crunching and if just the adults in Canada and the US were to volunteer just one of their 740.5 hours a month, it would equate to 26,000 years of volunteered effort every single month. Ya, years. I wonder what kind of difference that kind of effort could make?

  7. says

    I’m sorry you have that view of airline captains that imparted such a negative impression. As a captain myself, I try to do just the opposite, usually ending any discussion of aviation with questions I have rather than knowledge I may have picked up in 35 years and 23000 hours. I have a keen awareness that I most definitely don’t know much, let alone know it all.
    I also have been an AOPA member for thirty-nine years, never felt the attitude you have for that group, either. This just goes to show the differing opinion that two people can have from the same experiences. That in itself can be the foundation for a richly rewarding mentoring experience.

  8. unclelar says

    This kind of relationship is always very satisfying and much more so for the mentor. We should all be looking for someone to help in aviation where we can. In some aviation environments there is way too much snobbery and a sense of superiority over those with less hours, lesser airplanes, taildragger vs nosedragger, etc. We used to see the know-it-all airline captains around who know everything about everything. Not so much now since their jobs are way less prestigious and more precarious than at any time in recent memory. AOPA used to epitomize the country club, big-me, little-you attitude. Hopefully this is changing under the new president of AOPA.

    I guess just about everyone in this endeavor is trying to find a way to reach out to prospective pilots without a whole lot to show for it. Of course as well know, it all boils down to cost and competing interests for your dollar. Maybe the new certification rules and more available aviation grade auto gas will bring the costs down some. We can only hope. I have been to OSH for 20 straight years. We’re all getting older and older out there.

    • John Wesley says

      Sorry to burst your balloon, before it really gets inflated, but, AOPA, even with the change of face, is going to keep heading in the same direction until they totally go down in flames,

    • John Wesley says

      OK, so it is me again, had to put in another 2 cents worth, it is not cost, it doesn’t cost anymore to get all ratings now than it did when i got all of mine 50 years ago, in fact % wise it costs less.

      The problem is, 50 years ago, i had to go no farther than 15 miles to get all of my ratings, i did it at 5 airports, today 2 of those airports do not exist anymore, one is near closing with no FBO or training available, one has only a really lousy flying club, the last although still there looks like a ghost town and has only a 172 for rent, part of the time, i have to drive 35 miles to rent a DA20 or DA40, 50 miles to rent a 172, or 105 to get a complex, no twins available within 200 miles,

      Not everyone who wants to learn to fly can afford the time or money to go to a large school, they need to do it on at least a semi-local basis. That is why we are not getting and keeping students, it is just simply almost impossible for the average individual in other than a large metropolitan area to take up and complete flight training without a tremendous amount of inconvenience.

      • Kimberly Bush says

        And that very inconvenience is what will keep people flying.
        Nowadays, parents drive for dance class, karate class, sports events, and beauty pageants, with all the money they have invested in their child’s performance, they want to see the finished product.
        In our case, the finished product is a new driver for the family and a new taxi for them all to transported in.

      • says

        I’ll agree about scarcity of training services. However, while getting my Private certificate I walked an hour and took a 45-65 minute train each way to the airport. If there’s a will there most certainly is a way.

  9. John Wesley says

    Jamie, this time you really hit it out of the ballpark, a former employer got me started with mentoring, i have found it to be the most rewarding experience i have ever had.

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