Lessons learned: find, be mentor

  • Published
  • By Maj. Dani Johnson
  • Multinational Force - Iraq
"I'm sorry to tell you that you haven't been selected for promotion."

That one sentence strikes fear in almost every career Airman. Unfortunately for me, I have heard it twice in two years. The first time, utter devastation because it was completely unexpected. I knew what my Promotion Recommendation Form said and I thought I knew what my records said. There was no way Air Force officials weren't going to promote me. The second time was expected, but no less painful.

The first time, I cried straight for 36 hours. In my mind, my hopes, dreams and everything I had worked for was dashed in that one sentence. Once I calmed down I realized that I needed to know why -- this is not easy. I had many senior officers review my records and those great records I thought I had weren't that great. As one officer told me, "Everything is there, but it just isn't presented well." That was the consensus across the board. Then came the feeling of how could this happen? I knew that I needed to take responsibility for it.

Before I go on, I have to say I am not a person who asks for help or assistance very easily. I was raised that you did things on your own and didn't "impose" on others. I was uncomfortable asking for assistance with writing my inputs or what I should be doing in my career until after my first nonselection. Honestly, it never even occurred to me to ask for help. What I did learn was from PowerPoint presentations and guides sent out for professional development, which are good as guides but don't help when it comes to questions you may have and knowing the current trends.

I found out that I didn't know anything about writing officer reports. Granted there is a lot of naivety on my part in that statement, but I believed if I did everything the Air Force asked of me to the best of my ability I would be taken care of, and I thought I had been, and to a certain extent I still believe that.

Two things have become very obvious to me. I should have sought a mentor, and if I'm going to make a difference in this very challenging time, I need to be a better mentor.

The Air Force has tried many mentoring programs, but what it comes down to is that you have to be comfortable with the person who is mentoring you or with whom you are mentoring. I have always had senior officers who I could talk to about situations going on in my office or on base. Now I wish I would have talked to them about my reports and had them review my inputs when I was a junior officer. These officers know what the boards are looking for and the current trends.

Also, know the questions to ask. How am I doing and what should I be working for are both important questions but usually get you a "great job, keep up the great work, keep doing what you're doing," type of response. A better way is to ask directly for feedback on your reports. Give the reports to your mentor/supervisor in advance so they have time to really look at them and give valuable guidance.

A supervisor is really the first mentor for a young officer. We have a great program in place that mandates supervisors and Airmen talk -- the performance feedback. Almost every feedback was positive; unfortunately they only discussed what was currently going on. Some were blank with a line running down the highest part of the bars on the former officer feedback forms or just said, "Keep up the great work." This is an opportunity for a supervisor to take those individuals with potential and put them on the right track.

If they are new to your office, review their reports and provide feedback. As I have said, some want to know but are afraid to ask or don't know how to ask. If you get inputs from a young officer and they aren't well written, pull them in and teach them. I was a major when I wrote my first officer report, so not all of us learn how to write officer reports when we are lieutenants, and the rules are different between officer and enlisted reports.