Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Aviation is a big world. Even if you have a sharply focused aviation goal, it’s not always easy to discern what you need to learn, much less how best to go about it. Whether you are freshly certificated, in training, or just beginning to think about the many avenues to aviation, there is great value in having a mentor to help illuminate the many pathways and possibilities.
I could have used one. My journey along the aviation learning path was something like the voyage of Homer’s title character in the epic poem, The Odyssey: I stumbled through a long and winding voyage of aeronautical discovery. You may be doing the same thing.
One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination. — John C. Maxwell
That’s where a mentor comes in. Like the original Mentor, a character in The Odyssey, a modern-day mentor is a trusted advisor who provides one-to-one support, encouragement, and advice. In the more recent years of my aeronautical learning journey, several pilots have unknowingly mentored me through their day-to-day actions. One taught me the ropes of long cross-country planning. Another demonstrated the basic principles of crew coordination. Through flying GA aircraft around the country with still another pilot, I finally learned to evaluate weather.
Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction. — John Crosby
One of the mentor’s most important functions is to transfer experience by sharing events and outcomes that can help a less-experienced colleague learn faster and make fewer mistakes along the way. Both the medical and the teaching professions have structured programs to provide supervised real-world training for recent graduates, and a good aviation mentor can similarly help with the transition from the training environment.
Though it shares some characteristics with the aviator’s favorite sport — hangar flying — a mentor’s transfer of experience is a more structured and thoughtful effort aimed at helping the less-experienced pilot apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes gained via the instructional process to individual real-world situations. A good mentor must therefore know not only how to impart relevant “there-I-was” stories, but also how to listen to the mentored pilot’s concerns, formulate questions to address them, and tactfully offer feedback.
I’ve learned a lot from mentors who were instrumental in shaping me, and I want to share what I’ve learned. — Herbie Hancock
If you are an experienced pilot, you can contribute by being a mentor to others. Perhaps the single most important thing you can do, as a mentor, is to model good practices. My primary flight instructor, who also took me through an instrument rating and my commercial plus and flight instructor certificates, imparted knowledge, skills, and a professional attitude not just through what he said. Though his official role was “teacher” rather than “mentor,” his greatest long-term influence arose from how he consistently modeled good practices.
Another mentor role is to help less-experienced aviators establish and work toward aeronautical advancement goals. By offering a sounding board, a fresh perspective, and simple encouragement to help build confidence, the mentor can play a vital role.
The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves. — Steven Spielberg
In noting the “delicate balance” of mentoring, Spielberg echoes the eloquent advice Khalil Gibran offers in The Prophet: the teacher/mentor “gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness … If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.” (FAA Safety Briefing – SepOct 2016)