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Mentorship: Release your inner Miyagi

  • Published
  • By Maj. David Lann
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, chief of Wing Plans and Programs
An abundance of information has been published regarding leadership lessons: the secrets of effective leaders, how to motivate people, and a whole host of other leadership-focused topics. All of them are designed to make the reader a better leader, increase the effectiveness of people working for them, and the organization as a whole.

I am not going to talk about any secret lessons or list a bunch of these items because the authors of these works probably do it better than I ever could, and you probably aren't that interested in reading about that any way. What I do want to focus on is a facet of leadership that I think is often overlooked or not purposefully regarded in how we conduct ourselves professionally: mentorship.

Whether you realize it or not, you are involved in the mentorship process. Mentorship can be defined in a number of different ways, but instead, I want you to think about Yoda for a second. Yes, Yoda from Star Wars. Where would Luke Skywalker be without Yoda? He would be stuck in some swamp instead of partying with Ewoks.

Now, think about Mr. Miyagi. Where would the Karate Kid be without Mr. Miyagi telling him to "wax on" and "wax off?" He would still be getting beat up by a bunch of guys with really awesome hair.

See a pattern yet? No, it's not that I like 80's movies too much, or that I have an appreciation for well-coiffed hair. Yoda and Mr. Miyagi were mentors. They taught, befriended, molded and shaped their respective students, empowering them to achieve greatness. So what does this have to do with you? Good question.

You are Yoda! You are Mr. Miyagi! Regardless of your level of current expertise or experience in your career field or in the military, you are or will be a mentor.

Think about your previous commander or supervisor for a moment. If you were in their position, what would you do or have done differently? What characteristics of their leadership were desirable and which were not? Chances are these are easy questions to answer, and the fact you remember proves that there was some sort of impression left by them.

To take it further, if you have ever said to yourself or others, "I would never have done that if I were in charge," or "I really liked how they handled that," then some sort of mentorship has occurred, forming how you will lead one day.

So as leaders and followers already engaged in the mentorship process, make a concerted effort toward developing and formalizing it. We can purposefully mentor one another.

Coming out from behind your workstation and becoming actively engaged in mentorship is a worthy goal that is easy to achieve. If you are a supervisor or senior organizational member, go out and discuss career progression or the importance of professional military education with your people so they understand its importance. Educate those who work for and with you, and in the process get to know each other better.

If you are a follower, seek out someone senior to you and ask for their opinion, help or for advice when you need it. Rank and position are the direct results of experience, and that experience needs to be shared. We will all end our uniformed service sometime, and must be aware that we are constantly in the process of training our replacements, our Luke Skywalkers and Daniel-sans. This is where the importance and impact of mentorship becomes the most apparent.

Mentorship is a way of leaving a legacy and spreading the knowledge you have gained so that others may benefit and continue to grow and progress after you leave. As time goes on, your legacy and impact expands as the person you mentored does the same for someone else, continuing the process exponentially.

At its core, a unit is only as good as its people, and mentorship can make people better. If we purposefully seek to educate and empower those we work with then we can almost guarantee that the unit and service we leave behind will be better than we found it.

Release your inner Miyagi!