Leadership and Mentoring

July 31, 2019

Another in our series of articles inspired by the courses taught at the LAFD Leadership Academy, examining the building blocks of successful leadership. This is an adaptation of A/C Roy Harvey’s course presentation.

I am approaching the last six months of my LAFD career spanning 41 years. I have been a supervisor for more than 31 years, and in that time, I have mentored at least 60 members who have promoted to Captain or above. Mentoring should occur at every level and rank throughout the organization, and anyone who accepts the responsibility of mentor is a leader. In my opinion, the most important benefit of the mentor/mentee relationship is the lasting relationship and personal accountability between the parties.

How do we know what right looks like? Leaders and mentors provide real life examples and instill the principles and core values that support the success of the organization. “Everyone deserves a leader who they can admire” is a quote that resounded with me immediately when a respected chief officer said it in 1987 as I was preparing to interview for Captain. The purpose of this article is to emphasize the value of developing relationships with mentors and also on becoming a mentor. The performance developed through these relationships leads to maintaining a high standard within our ranks.

“Accomplished employees at every level of an organization should seek opportunities
to share their knowledge with people who can benefit from their experience”

I have had the honor and privilege of working with and for some of the most highly respected and successful officers in LAFD history, which has served as the foundation for my philosophy on leadership and mentoring. Leadership is both an art and a science. There are thousands of books, classes and seminars devoted to the science of leadership principles. Applying those principles effectively is the art! Working with or for a successful leader/mentor is the most effective and efficient way to learn the art.

Although it is easy to mimic actions, the core values and accountability of the mentor/mentee relationship is developed over time. It often takes time to see the results of these actions. A mentor can help ensure that the mentee learns from mistakes by sharing past experiences and directing future behavior. For example, correcting behavior of a problem employee or changing the culture of a work environment is a process. A leader may take unpopular positions in these situations, and only through perseverance and consistency will they sustain the desired results. The mentor/mentee relationship provides an opportunity for discussion to develop an understanding of the process, and add a tool to the mentee’s toolbox.

Why are some leaders legends? Leaders/mentors that become legends, or have a record of exceptional success actually do more! Great leaders are invested in the success of everyone who they impact. The mentoring relationship is personal, which requires an individualized approach when interacting with each mentee. A leader will challenge mentees to go beyond their comfort zone. It is important to be a “talent scout” and guide members to achieve potential that they may not recognize within themselves.

Mentoring benefits the leader as much as the mentee. Anytime you teach someone, it reinforces and deepens your understanding of the subject or skill. The mentor/mentee exchange creates a bond, therefore accountability between the parties. Often a talented mentee will promote beyond the rank of a mentor. I have found that the level of respect and appreciation for the mentor/mentee relationship becomes stronger in most cases, due to the loyalty established as the foundation of the relationship.

It is important for the success of an organization to support and develop talent. How many times have you met a “brilliant” probationary firefighter and thought, “one day we will be working for him/her?” It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that it happens! Mentoring, developing, teaching is good for all parties involved, and it most often results in a mutually beneficial relationship.

A mentor/mentee relationship can also exist without a working relationship. That relationship has more of an advisory (teaching/counseling) dynamic. The main reason for this difference is the mentee does not have the benefit of observing or experiencing daily subtle actions that the leader takes while handling different situations. These relationships have value even though more effort is required to gain a full understanding of the leader/mentor’s thought process in varied situations.

Leadership and mentoring principles are not limited to supervisory positions. Accomplished employees at every level of an organization should seek opportunities to share their knowledge with people who can benefit from their experience.

I completed the LAFD Leadership Academy in 2009 after 21 years as a Captain – you can teach an old dog new tricks! I was introduced to many leadership theories, some new and others that I had been using for years. The common thread of the things that worked most effectively were practices that I learned from officers who I enjoyed working for. Effective leaders enjoy sharing their knowledge, and are normally good communicators. Studying leadership and later instructing at the LAFD Leadership Academy has further reinforced the importance of establishing relationships with mentors.

The saying “Each one teach one” are words to live by. Are you a mentor or mentee? You should be both!

Simon Sinek is an author, speaker and virtual mentor with more than a half-million YouTube subscribers. If you’d like to get a jumpstart on improving your leadership abilities, check out his videos at #learntolead

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• WHERE: The Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center
• COST: At the present time there is no cost to attend the LAFD Leadership Academy
• QUESTIONS: Jason Powell, Captain I, In-Service Training Section at (213) 893-9838 or lafdla@lacity.org

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