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NEWS | Oct. 16, 2008

Mentoring is Tough Work

By Lt. Col. Timothy G. Lee 89th Aerial Port Squadron Commander

"I don't mind being called tough, because in this racket, it's tough guys who lead the survivors."
-- General Curtis E. LeMay

"On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory."
-- General Douglas MacArthur

Great words from two of our greatest leaders. From them, it is clear that mentoring is both tough and lifelong. Mentoring is perhaps the most important thing you will do in your life. Your challenge -- create successors in your image. Nurture in others the sense of duty, character, patriotism, passion, and courage necessary to follow through with what we have so nobly committed. In the first article of our code of conduct, we dedicate ourselves to guarding our country and our way of life. Furthermore, we profess our willingness to give our lives in their defense. Men and women prepared to die for our nation's freedom, make no mistake, this is what makes us unique. 

Regardless of the venue, you are always mentoring; you are always on stage. As leaders, you need to be aware that your example, good or bad, public or private, is being observed and will be replicated. The challenge before you is not an easy one -- it is a lifelong and noble quest. Mentoring is tough work. After all, you are attempting to create an image of yourself -- a good copy is going to take time and effort. Your personal investment is crucial to growing our next generation of leaders and warfighters. 

Telling someone to accomplish XY and Z to attain the next rank is not mentoring -- that is briefing / lecturing. Tutoring your subordinate through the importance of XY and Z and guiding them to do the right things while achieving their goals is mentoring. You can see that the later is fundamentally more personal and requires your significant investment. 

Most people have heard the phrase, "character is what you are when no one is looking." It is our behavior, based on morals and ethics, which defines our character and distinguishes us from one another. We typically make assessments of others based on their words and actions -- this is how reputations are built. Your character is the bedrock to which successful mentoring is anchored. 

In your daily interactions at home, on duty, and in the community, you are routinely faced with situations that present mentoring opportunities. Your character is fully displayed when the decisions you make and actions you take, under tough circumstances, mirror your ethics or don't. In our fast-paced world, we don't always have the luxury of reflecting on what we would do or what others might think. It is in those heat-of-the-moment situations that our character becomes the link between what we intend to do and actually pulling the trigger. 

Your behavior on duty and in your private life speak clearly to your subordinates. Be mindful of your actions and see that you are in step with your spoken beliefs. Avoid excessive harshness which usually indicates someone who has character flaws of their own to conceal, keep a sharp uniform and be well groomed and well mannered -- these speak to the respect and attention you give to all things, step to the plate to meet every challenge...your personal initiative will be gauged. 

In summary, mentors must be willing to make the tough decisions without sacrificing their principles -- there is no room for compromise. With mentoring, you either get it right or you don't. It's a tough hill to climb when your character is tarnished. Admittedly, no one is perfect, but life gives us second chances to take good intentions, apply the character we've developed, bring our courage, and execute! Doing things right for the right reasons for the right people -- that's only done by men and women who possess and nurture character in their own lives and care enough to pass it on.