The Leadership Art Of Mentorship

Effective leadership transforms human potential into
effective performance in the present and
prepares capable leaders for the future.

AFDD 1-1: Leadership and Force Development

Be proud of where you are today.

Think about your climb through the ranks…

Who gave you advice, answered your questions and cultivated you into the leader you have become?

Who took the extra time to answer your questions and bump you back on track when you began to stray?

Now, have you paid it forward in a similar manner by mentoring those below you?

A primary and often overlooked responsibility of effective leaders is to grow others. The art of leadership is found in the ability of successful leaders to build their replacements by mentoring and cultivating junior individuals into successful leaders. This includes improving their knowledge, honing their skills and challenging them at levels they previously thought unobtainable. In the United States Air Force, mentorship is a deliberately developed skill. Every successful senior officer has a mental list of who mentored them, who took the time to develop their skills and who pushed them beyond their self-imposed limits. At every level as they rise through the ranks, they mentor those subordinate to them to become their replacements.

Now, we all understand time is precious. This is true for everyone in an organization, from the newest hire to the CEO. For senior leaders, their professional time is even more critical as they prioritize competing demands and choose to focus on issues that will most contribute to meeting their organizational and personal goals then delaying, delegating or dismissing the rest. As such, the best senior leaders prioritize mentorship near the top of their to-do list.

Force Development will enable us to focus on each individual by emphasizing our common Airman culture…. Every aspect of Force Development has one common goal:
To continue developing professional Airmen who instinctively leverage their respective strengths together. We intend to develop leaders who motivate teams, mentor subordinates, and train successors.
—General John P. Jumper, CSAF, 2002


All organizations, regardless of field of operation, hang success of the backs of their team’s skills. Many times, we devote significant dollars of critical funding to develop those required physical skills in our followers. For my career field, many in the media claim it costs the taxpayer about $6 million a year to train one fighter pilot. With those high entry costs, it only makes sense to fully develop and cultivate those individuals to maximize their potential. This is no different than any other career field in the military or specialty in a civilian business. The dollar figure may adjust, but the root message remains: talent retention requires both individual growth and corporate devotion. In a recent study, “lack of promotional opportunities” was cited as one of the top reasons key talent leaves an organization. These promotional opportunities are realized and determined by the investment of senior leaders in our young workforce.

Mentoring offers a unique skills development multiplier of priceless value. Through mentoring, senior leaders can convey their unique experiences and honed expertise to the more junior protégé. Mentoring offers a means of increasing skills expertise in addition to reinforcing corporate culture and values. Mentoring can take many forms, the most prevalent of which are mass mentoring, “coffee pot” mentorship and deliberate, routine individual development.

Mass Mentoring

Sometimes, mentoring happens in mass. From guest speaking at a local gathering to authoring books and blogs, mentorship is occurring. For me, one of the most influential mass mentors that influenced my development and growth was General Lorenz. His Lorenz on Leadership articles have recently been compiled and published for even further mass consumption. Leadership Blogs are another form of common mentorship. Lead With Giants, General Leadership, and Switch and Shift are some of my favorites.

“Coffee Pot” Mentorship

Where do people meet in the office? Answer: the coffee pot. Take time when you recharge with java. A couple of minutes with others who might be refilling can reap amazing mentorship benefits. This is a chance to talk to those who may not have the chance to receive your personal time on a routine basis. Try the coffee down the hall, another floor, another building. Your followers will relish the conversation and advice gained from this “chance” encounter.

Individual Development

The most coveted of all mentorship is deliberate, individual attention. If you think you are too busy to do this, think about your ascension up the ladder. Who mentored, sponsored, assisted, advised you? Would you be where you are today if they hadn’t taken the time, believed in your potential and invested in your development?

This will most likely be limited to a handful of individuals over your career. And you must find the right individuals. This is not a conversation that permits inappropriate or special attention to an individual. It is one that seeks out those who rise above their peers and demonstrate the potential for future advancement. It is a personal commitment on both sides, mentor and mentee, to improvement and growth.

Now that we understand the importance of mentorship, it is clear that mentorship should never be free. Regardless of the medium chosen, the expectation should be clear…Payback through Performance! While broadening and mentoring are important, so is the responsibility that falls to the protégé. The mentor may place the individual in a challenging position, but it is up to the protégé to succeed—often in the hardest and most demanding jobs in our fields.

The true payback to a mentor is when, years down the road, you see one of your mentees take the reigns of leadership and thrive at levels beyond your dreams. Mentoring is truly an investment in the future…of our organization, our team and our people.

Mentorship plays an important role in shaping leaders of character, discipline and vision. It represents an investment – one where we may not know the impact until many years later.
–Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James


Join the #LeadWithGiants Tweetchat Monday, March 23rd 7pm ET for The Leadership Art of Mentorship with host @DanVForbes and guest @ChrisRStricklin

Written by

Chris R. Stricklin is a combat-proven leader, mentor and coach integrating the fields of dynamic followership, negotiations, leadership, positive change, public relations, public speaking and complex organizational change. His unique experience as a U.S.A.F. Thunderbird coupled with Pentagon-level management of critical Air Force resources valued at $840B, multiple N.A.T.O. assignments, White House and DARPA fellowships, and command-experience in the United States Air Force allow his unique synthesis of speaking, following, leading, management, negotiations, continuous improvement and positive change.

2 Responses to "The Leadership Art Of Mentorship"

  1. Dan Forbes says:

    Thanks for this great post to frame the #LeadWithGiants Tweetchat. It will be awesome to have you as my guest.

  2. Looking forward to it Dan

  3. […] Dan Forbes shared a post by Chris Stricklin entitled, “The Leadership Art of Mentorship.” […]