Thursday, December 18, 2008

COMMENTARY>>Mentoring: “I can” versus “I think”

By Master Sgt. Roderick Langley
48th Airlift Squadron operation superintendent

One of the definitions of mentoring is giving wise advice or sage counsel. Mentoring can be visual, one example being an aircraft instructor showing a student how to do the task at hand, let him do the task, and then critiquing him on his action.

Mentoring can also be, and usually is, verbal. The best mentoring I have ever received was from a recently retired master sergeant who let me in on the secret of dealing with any spouse in the world. He told me that whenever your spouse has had a bad day and you come home and are bearing the brunt of it, simply ask them if they want you to “fix it” or just “listen” to them.

You would be amazed at the amount of time saved and serenity gained by this simple action. I immediately enacted this at my house and the success rate of this tidbit of guidance is almost 100 percent.

With the concept of mentoring in mind, I decided to write down what I say to start every feedback session or debrief that I’ve ever performed and pass it on to you, the reader. Just like the master sergeant who told me to ask, “do you want me to fix it or just listen” it’s quite simplistic in nature and easily enacted. I start every feedback by telling my guys that the FCC has their “7 dirty words” that should never be spoken on television but I have only one dirty word that should not be used, the word “think”. Follow me on this... the success of everyone in the Air Force is based on being given a mission or task, being appropriated the necessary tools and training to perform the mission and finally accomplishing the task. Now throw into the mix the airman or subordinate out there who might be lacking confidence in his abilities or has reservations towards his part in the big picture. That type of airman will always use the word “think” in their replies when you ask if they can do something or improve their performance. “I think I can.” I cringe and raise my eyebrows when I hear that answer. Take that one word out of your vocabulary and look at the impact it creates. “I think I can” becomes “I can”, “I think that’s a good idea” becomes “that’s a good idea”, “I think we should” becomes “we should”. You can even apply this to the past tense of “think”, take the word “thought” out of your vocabulary and look at the effect there. Having your subordinate or ratee take that word out of their dictionary and it immediately makes them sound more credible, more appreciative towards how they fit into the big picture and most importantly, builds their self-confidence.

Mentoring can come from anyone and happen anywhere. It’s a directive that has been ordered from our leadership that I believe has made complete sense since its implementation. I’ve been very fortunate to receive good advice and sage counsel in my career. Special thanks to the aforementioned retired Master Sergeant, and hope you give some thought to the “mentoring” that I have presented to you. Take the dirty five letter word “think” out of your vocabulary and watch the results you receive.


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