With all this talk about mentoring, we need to clear the air on just what it means to be a mentor.
Unfortunately there isn’t a manual or rule book that tells you how to be a mentor, at least not in the aviation world. The good news is that most of the core competencies are common sense.
Let’s start with the clinical definition:
Mentor: Someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person.
It is simple to define, but we should explore the nuances that aren’t covered in the dictionary.
- It doesn’t take decades of experience, or any special skills to be a mentor. The key trait is a willingness to help others. If you are a freshly minted private pilot, you are light years ahead of someone who is just starting out. If you can leverage your experience and passion to contribute to someone’s success, you can mentor.
- Mentoring can be formal or informal. Some prefer a framework around it and others might be more comfortable with a less structured approach. In either case, it should unfold naturally in a way that suits both parties. It’s important to note that in most situations a personal relationship formed before any mentoring began. This allows for trust, respect and mutual admiration to anchor the mentorship.
- Leadership is a major factor in being a mentor. My friend Rob Burgon at TallyOne.com and I have discussed this many times. He’s an F-22 driver and leadership has been drilled into him from day one in the military. As civilian aviators, we unfortunately don’t receive any formal leadership training. Therefore, one of the biggest contributions we can provide as a mentor is to teach leadership, much of which happens by example. If you feel like you aren’t fully qualified in this area, there are plenty of good online sources on the topic. The fact that you are taking the initiative to be a mentor probably means you have many of the qualities already.
- Being supportive is key. Mentors need to be good listeners and they need to encourage and coach where needed. It is not enough to just offer sage advice and then walk off. You have to be able to help them achieve their goals. Of course struggles will occur and as mentors we need to be there to provide encouragement and motivation. Having someone that believes in you is powerful stuff. In many cases it can be the difference between success and failure.
Being a mentor should not be taken lightly, but it doesn’t have to be daunting or nebulous either. The hardest part is knowing how much or how little is required, something that is completely situational. Like anything, you get better with practice so get going.
Don’t worry we’ll cover the role of the mentoree in a future article.