The Value of Mentoring Programs

Photo Craig Allyn Rose/
Over the years, you've probably been to many conferences, classes and training sessions where instructors either said, "Find a mentor!" or, "Be a mentor!" This is very sound advice of course. However, where the advice falls short is in how to apply the concept. Achieving these mentorship goals is easier said than done, but there are basic ways to turn this theory into reality.

The concept of mentoring is not a new idea driven by the business world. Its origins can be traced back thousands of years to a legendary Greek king, Odysseus. King Odysseus left for the Trojan War knowing that he may never return to his young son, Telemachus. In order to make sure that his son was prepared to be a king, he entrusted his development to his close friend, Mentor. Thus began the relationship between mentors and mentees.

There is much to be learned from this historical example. In order to develop leaders in the fire service, they must be mentored. Those being mentored must also take part in succession planning as well. They do this by not only being a mentee but by also mentoring the leaders that come after them.

Some organizations both in and out of the fire service have recognized the value of mentorship. They acknowledge the importance by creating formal mentoring programs within their ranks. However, most agencies are not this progressive; this requires mentoring to occur on a less formal basis. In order to facilitate this relationship, as either a mentor, mentee or both, certain behaviors will have to be modeled to attract others into the relationship.

Mike Nelms' View
Mike Nelms I would like to quote myself: "Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction." Mentoring provides the mentee validation, and inspiration to gather the courage to go for the gold. But this falls short if there isn't a clear intention supporting a vision that provides the purpose and desired direction.

A desire or inspiration is always seen as a dream or vision before it becomes reality. A mentor helps the mentee focus on the purpose and gives direction to bring the dream, the need, the goal, into reality. Mentors are my strongest motivators. There are obstructions in my beliefs and flaws in my character I would not have overcome without mentors.

Being a mentor provides me with some of my most gratifying experiences. Learning and growing is accelerated. I am self evaluating or reflecting on a more consistent basis. I believe an essential element for success is to be aware of your actions, your intentions, and your outcomes. Mentoring keeps me focused, gives me energy, challenges me, and has helped provide me with the best friends I have in my life today.

Looking at some of my desired behaviors of a mentor, for me a mentor must have intentions to:

  • Provide a trustworthy relationship
    Do not judge or allow personal views to skew good advice
  • Listen actively
    Speak your message or better yet, live it; and inspire.
  • "Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you will help them to become what they are capable of being," Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Along with clear intentions, a mentor might take a hint from centuries of success with the ancient Greek philosophy. They knew in order to have the greatest success in the art of influence you must do three things in order:

1. Ethos
First build trust. Ethos is your basic ethical nature, credibility, integrity, competency, and the confidence others have in you. Being trustworthy is demonstrated when people consistently come through with their promise and what is expected of them.

2. Pathos
Seek first to understand. Pathos means you have empathy. You have an understanding of their feelings and needs, can see from their perspective, and feel what they are communicating.

3. Logos
Seek to be understood. Your vision, purpose and intentions presented your way provide the power and persuasion of your communication.

Mentors have a very powerful position of influence on the mentee. It is imperative that the mentor keep focused on the mentee's goals and intentions, and not their own. It is easy to slide down the slippery slope of changing focus from the mentee's needs to the mentor's needs.

When the mentee is very engaged, has a high level of trust, goes beyond expectations, has common interests and could very effectively help the mentor meet some of their goals, it is easy to see why some might loose focus. I am not saying that the above should not happen, only that the relationship at that point is changing and should be recognized and agreed to by both mentor and mentee. Great friendships and partnerships can arise from mentorship. Mike Stanley (my co-author) and I have such a relationship. This relationship is the ship that caries us forward.

Mike Stanley's View
Mike Stanley I firmly believe that without the help of others, I would not have enjoyed the many successes that I have had both personally and professionally. Throughout my career, I have been blessed with great mentors. In fact, one of them is my coauthor. Mike, and many others, have assisted me in not only setting goals, but also in achieving them.

Without doubt, having a good mentor can be of tremendous benefit. They can help you pursue promotions, college degrees or business ventures. The question is not do I need a mentor, but how do I find one. When searching for a mentor, there are a number of desirable traits that I look for. The traits that I put the most emphasis on are:

  • Effective listening
    Too often being an effective listener is an underutilized skill when it comes to communication. It is important that the mentor listens to my goals, the progress I have made toward them, the obstacles I have encountered and my plan for overcoming the obstacles before they provide input. The mentor is a model but the mentee is not meant to be the exact replica. It is important to know what steps they took to become an engineer or company officer, but it does not mean that I have to do it the exact same way. Also, moving toward goals can be frustrating. Sometimes you just need someone to vent to! 
  • Proper attitude
    Unfortunately many times it is all too easy to find people in the fire service that have a negative attitude. This is hard to believe, given it is the best profession on earth. It is crucial that your mentor share the same passion for the profession that you do. The people who mentored me to become a lieutenant and then a captain loved leadership. This infatuation with leading others was not only contagious, it was also energizing. By associating with someone who had the proper attitude, it made it that much easier for me to stay positive in spite of the negative individuals I may have came across.
  • Experience
    For your mentor to understand the path you are traveling, they must have walked down it before. Whatever you may be working toward, it is best if the mentor has accomplished it before you. That doesn't mean that if they are not a paramedic or have not worked as a volunteer firefighter — and you are — that they should be completely discarded. As we grow and develop, our mentors should meet our evolving needs. There is no rule that says you can only have one mentor. I know that I have many. For instance, when it comes to personnel issues, I know that I can go to Mike because that is an area where he is very experienced. When I was developing a training program for a technical rescue team, his familiarity with this was very limited so I found a mentor that had much more experience in this area.
  • Morals and values
    This may be the most important aspect of all. As a leader in emergency services it is imperative that you possess courage, honesty, integrity, truthfulness, empathy and compassion. If your mentor does not have common values or morals, you will find yourself conflicted throughout the relationship. This really is a deal breaker. The mentor and the mentee do not have to share the same brain, but you must share the same feelings at a visceral level about how you will act as a leader.

Closing thoughts
We hope that this article enables you to take stock of your own situation. Do you have a mentor? Are you being a mentor? Ask yourself, "Am I demonstrating the qualities that would make me desirable to others as a mentor?" And, "Am I demonstrating the qualities that would make me desirable to others as a mentee? As the industry of firefighting continues to change and the workforce regenerates, make sure that you are prepared to keep up with the growth by turning the theory of mentorship into a reality. See you next month when we will talk about management versus leadership. Be careful out there.

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