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Guest column: Lessons I've learned in mentorship


Being a mentor is like standing on deck of a ship on a long voyage across the ocean. At the ship’s helm is the mentee; as the mentor, you’re standing next to them guiding their voyage.

The exciting part about this voyage is you’ve sailed it before. You know what routes to take and which ones to steer clear of. But even with this knowledge many of us struggle to be a mentor when we start out.

Here are three lessons I’ve learned about mentorship that will help you on your journey.

• Take your hands off of the wheel.

When I started mentoring, I always took the helm. This almost never worked. Even when it did, the mentee didn’t learn — I was doing everything.

The best thing I ever did was let the mentee steer the ship. It is their ship after all. I learned my role wasn’t to steer; rather, my role is to provide suggestions as to where they should go based on their strengths and weaknesses. The final decision needs to rest on their shoulders.

By doing this, you’ll find that when your pupil arrives at their destination they possess a sense of pride and confidence they wouldn’t have if you were at the helm — it’s now their accomplishment.

• Too much, too soon.

I forgot it’s a long voyage across the ocean. In essence, I advised my pupil to turn the wheel 40 degrees as soon as we left the port. This was exhausting work for both of us.

Here’s the trick: Make subtle course corrections.

By making one degree course corrections, you’re drastically altering their destination after hundreds of miles. It’s more efficient to make small adjustments that will reap large rewards later on. When you use this technique people forget you’re mentoring them.

• Don’t go searching.

I asked Cannon Air Force Base Chaplain Kip Averett if I should go out and look for people to mentor. His answer surprised me.

He told me, “When they’re ready, they’ll find you.”

This was contrary to everything I believed. I thought it was my job to identify people and help them along. But Averett advised me to focus on developing my own leadership traits. “If you build it they will come.”

He said by maximizing my individual strengths, people would be naturally drawn to me.

When I reflected on the times I had been successful mentoring I realized this was absolutely the case. This isn’t to say you can’t help a relationship along, but don’t force feed your mentorship.

Kitsana Dounglomchan, an 11-year Air Force veteran, writes about his life and times for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at: [email protected]


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