Aviation Mentoring 101: Are You Building Your Bench?

Author By Jim Lara

There are a few accepted “truths” in Aviation Maintenance, just as there are in business overall:

  • Your organization is either growing stronger or weaker. It is never static.
  • The team’s performance is either getting better or worse.
  • If performance is left untended, it will always get worse.

As an Aviation Maintenance leader, a prime contributor to success is the ability to identify other people (in this case, Maintenance professionals) who want to grow, develop and contribute to the ongoing success of the organization.

A technique used very effectively to grow organizational “bench” strength is Mentorship. If done right, a Mentorship program is a win-win proposition.

For the Mentor, the experience will ensure his or her success as a Transformational Leader, and help build enduring bench strength within the Maintenance organization. For the Mentee, the experience may likely be the finest way to achieve their professional aspirations.

Aviation Mentoring 101 – What’s the Role of a Mentor?

According to the dictionary, a Mentor is a “wise and trusted counselor or teacher, an influential senior sponsor or supporter.'”

It’s equally instructive to discuss as well what a Mentor is not. He or she is not their Mentee’s nursemaid, parent or minder. They are not a “Chief Follow-up Officer” or disciplinarian.

Rather, a Mentor serves as a catalyst, assisting the Mentee in his or her quest for growth and excellence. It is the Mentee’s responsibility to be accountable for their performance and development.

Here are four Mentoring 101 tips to building bench strength:

1. Decide if you really want to do this.

Passion and commitment are required in two equal measures: The passion for the Mentee’s success and, maybe more importantly, the Mentee’s passion and commitment for his or her own growth and development.

If a Mentor is merely ‘projecting’ his or her desires, intentions, values and passion onto the Mentee, there will be intense disappointment 100 percent of the time.

And, if the Maintenance leader is not personally committed to building the organization’s bench strength, he or she should consider other career alternatives.

2.  Design the future organization using The Clean Sheet Approach.

What does the Maintenance organization need to look like 2-3 years from now in terms of distinctive capabilities?

Where is it now?

What gaps need filled?

What opportunities for professional growth and development would mentorship create within the organization?

These benefits need to be highlighted to potential Mentees.

3.  Recruit for attitude, burning desire and commitment.

Nearly every Mentee is “trainable,” but is the person as committed? Does he or she possess that fire in the belly to embark on a long-term, sustained commitment? Are they willing to do the heavy lifting?

If a Mentee does not have the same attitude, there may not be a “next time,” which could mean future up-and-comers miss out on the opportunity to grow from the Mentor.

And, fair warning: Everyone only has a finite amount of time and energy! The day-to-day demands of running a Maintenance organization will create many conflicting priorities along the way so be sure to choose your Mentee carefully.

4.  Get defined, get aligned and get going.

Mentorship is not HR fluff. It is not for the faint of heart. It is get-your-hands-dirty kind of work. Therefore, both of the Mentor and Mentee need to agree to the following in writing:

  • The end goal
  • Key milestones along the way
  • The Mentor’s commitments (time, resources and exposure)
  • The Mentee’s commitments (focus, additional education and ‘stretch experiences’)
  • A formal assessment plan (e.g., Track progress every 30 days)
  • An exit plan when the Mentorship is successful or unsuccessful

When both the Mentor and Mentee align on these four keys of Mentorship, it is amazing to see the power and commitment that can result. After all, success is about making choices and sticking to them.

Mentorship is tough. And, unfortunately, a lot programs fail because one or both parties are not absolutely, positively, 100 percent committed. But for those who are ready (REALLY ready), a successful Mentorship can be one of the most powerful builders of organizational bench strength available.

I’d like to close with one of my favorite sayings from one of my early West Texas mentors, Mr. Jim Ling, which reiterates the importance of alignment and equal passion:  He often said to me, “Jim, the deal ain’t a good deal, Jim, unless all the pigs can eat their fill from the same trough.”

Think about it. It’s so, so true.

Have you been successfully mentored by someone in business aviation? If you’d like to share advice for the process and/or the benefits, please leave a comment in the area below.

Related posts about mentoring:

Are you ready to be a mentor? Six steps to get you started

How to find an executive mentor and commit to your long-term success