Leadership Lessons: Being a Mentor (Leaving an Impression)

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jason Ries
  • 319th Air Base Wing Command Post superintendent
Throughout my almost 20 years in the Air Force, I've met people from all walks of life, all ranks and positions and of all ages. They almost all contributed in some way to helping me become the SNCO I am today, but there are a few that I will never forget. The one who left the most lasting impression was a former supervisor. Not only was he my supervisor, but he was also my mentor. He wasn't my mentor just because he was my supervisor, but because he was the type of person that looked out for others and always put them ahead of himself. He was the epitome of someone who "bleeds Air Force blue." He taught me things that have stuck with me and that I have adapted as my own in hopes that I can be as good of a mentor to others, as he was to me. The most important things I took away from him that stuck with me can be summed up using one of the many sayings that he had.

"My sock drawer is always open": Almost every day he would say this to someone in the office. You could ask him how he did on his PT Test and he would not only tell you, but post his scores on his door. You could ask him about his education and he would tell you how many classes he was taking and what he planned to do next. No matter what it was he wasn't afraid to let you know. This applied to his office as well. His office was never locked and we were all welcome to use it if we needed to conduct a feedback session, have a private discussion with one of our troops or just needed a quiet place to gather our thoughts. This was his way of showing that not only were we all on the same team, but that he was confident as a SNCO; he was setting the example for others to follow. How could he preach that PT is important and then do poorly on his own assessment? He was showing us that he was meeting the same level of performance that he expected out of each of us.

"Super Troop": Again, almost every day he would call someone this in the office. If someone just coordinated a short notice aircraft arrival and ensured that all key agencies were on scene to provide support, he would say "SSgt Smith, super troop." If he asked you what you did for PT and you told him what your workout was he would say "SrA Doe, super troop." Honestly, at the time it would make most of us laugh because he said it so often, but we also knew that was his way of complimenting us. I took from that, that you have to give positive feedback to your people so they know they are doing a good job. No one forgets to tell someone when they make a mistake, but a lot of times you can forget to take a minute and thank someone for doing something well. Something as small as "thank you" or "good job" goes a long way in letting someone feel appreciated. If you let the people under you know you appreciate what they do, they will want to work harder because they know it's important and that you'll recognize their hard work. However, if they aren't being thanked, they may begin to think that no one cares. They may say to themselves "why go above and beyond when no one seems to notice until I mess up." A common saying among those in the Command Post career field is "No one knows who we are until we make a mistake." Although it's a joke on the fact most people don't really know what we do or who we are, it perfectly sums up what you don't want your people to feel about you.

"It's not about you anymore": Of all of the things he said to me, this is the one I took most closely to heart. The very same day I found out I made master sergeant, he said to me "once you become a SNCO, it's no longer about you, it's about them." In this case, the "them" being those under your supervision. He was telling me that I had worked hard, got recognized for it and earned the title of SNCO. Now, it's my job to help those under me do the same. I'll never forget when he told me that, because it was at that moment that I truly felt I knew what it was to be a SNCO. You are responsible for the people under you and have to make sure that you give them everything you have to include knowledge, guidance and most importantly your time. Even if that means it's at your own expense. I believe this is summed up best by a quote from Vince Lombardi, when he said "A leader must identify himself with the group, must back up the group, even at the risk of displeasing superiors. He must believe that the group wants from him a sense of approval. If this feeling prevails, production, discipline, morale will be high, and in return, you can demand the cooperation to promote the goals of the community."

So years later, looking back I get a sense of why I'm the SNCO I am today. Do I feel that I've become as good of a mentor that he was to me? I don't think so. At least not yet, but I continue to work on it every day, because those under me deserve nothing less. My hope is that at least one person I've supervised can look back and think the same thing about me as I did of my former mentor. If I've done that, then I can be happy that I too have left a lasting impression.