Essence of mentoring includes taking care of own people

Vance Air Force Base, Okla. -- What does it mean to be a "mentor"? One may view mentoring as the responsibility of those who have achieved a high rank or important position, such as commander or first sergeant.
We all actually play an important role in mentoring those we work with each day, not just those we supervise.
The most effective mentoring I ever received didn't involve designated "mentoring sessions" with fellow officers who were older, or more senior to me. The best mentoring I've received throughout my career is what I would call informal mentoring.
The most lasting lessons I learned from these two mentors was by simply observing the example they set as they went about their daily business. Both of these great officers were tremendous leaders. What made them great leaders was their ability to motivate you to do things you probably wouldn't achieve without their prodding.
I met my first mentor when I arrived at my first operational flying assignment, Maj Dwight Klenke, my first aircraft commander. "Klink" was a well-liked member of the squadron, a very jovial person who liked to work hard and play hard. He made that a winning combination and genuinely made you look forward to showing up to the squadron each day.
Shortly after being assigned to Klink's crew he looked at me one day and asked me "Do you know what my number one job is?"
His answer to his own question has followed me to this day. According to Klink his number one job was to train me to be an aircraft commander. This seemed a little odd to me, since I had barely been a co-pilot for three months and was nowhere near being an expert in my own position and this guy wants to start teaching me his? As Klink and I spent the next year and a half crewed together, his wisdom began to become clear to me -- he was training his replacement.
One former Vance Air Force Base wing commander was fond of saying, "As an Air Force we must grow our own, we cannot go out and hire our mid and senior level leaders." Klink understood that concept well, and made sure I was well prepared when the Air Force needed to replace him with another aircraft commander.
For that first year and a half, our squadron commander was Lt Col Larry Hinton. Colonel Hinton was a great commander to work for for one simple reason -- he took care of his people.
Colonel Hinton was the first to step to the plate and take responsibility for the men under his command. He was an extremely likable person and you learned fairly quickly that he not only cared about you, but also your family.
As I've journeyed through my career, I've learned the leader has an interesting paradox he or she must deal with. The leader is responsible for mission accomplishment, but they are also responsible for taking care of their people. There are times in a military environment that a leader simply cannot do both. Quite simply, Colonel Hinton's philosophy seemed to be "take good care of the people, and they'll take good care of the mission."
Don't misunderstand, Colonel Hinton was no pushover. He held everyone under his command personally responsible for their actions, and in some cases lack of action. There was no worse feeling than being called to the boss's office because of something you'd done. It certainly wasn't because Colonel Hinton was going to raise the roof yelling at you or give you something else you probably deserved. We just felt bad about letting him down after he'd constantly gone to the mat for us across the street with the wing king.
He could live with our mistakes ... once! You didn't want to go into his office a second time for making the same mistake.
His leadership style was very successful. Everyone in that unit wanted to perform at his or her very best level out of loyalty for Colonel Hinton and for all the hard work he put in for us.
Both of these great leaders affected my career, they were mentors. They were mentors before there was an Air Force Policy and program that said leaders must mentor their subordinates. They mentored me by simply setting an example I wanted to follow. I was able to watch first-hand how they dealt with people.
They showed me the leader I wanted to be when I grew up. That's the essence of mentoring, and they were the best.