A mentor is someone who shows by example and helps lead you along your personal or professional path. There have been many descriptions of Walter Cronkite lately, and a frequent one was mentor. Integrity, trust, respect, and industry knowledge all play a large part in being and becoming a mentor. In the last year there have been many letters and articles on the impact Bill O’Brien had on individuals and the industry. He was also a mentor.
According to www.mentoring.org, mentoring is a matter of trust. “Mentoring is a structured and trusting relationship” that brings younger people together with individuals who offer guidance, support, and encouragement aimed at developing their competence and character. “A mentor is an adult who, provides support, counsel, friendship, reinforcement, and constructive example. Mentors are good listeners, people who care, people who want to help young people bring out strengths that are already there.”
According to “Beyond the Myths and Magic of Mentoring” by Margo Murray, the concept of mentoring goes back to the Middle Ages and craft guilds. Professional societies were established to train the younger inexperienced worker by following the example of an older, experienced craftsman. It’s still a valid concept today, people still need to be trained, and it’s a low-cost strategy for developing a skilled work force.
Finding a good mentor
A good mentor will help improve another’s skills, personally or professionally, by increasing technical or problem-solving abilities. So where do you find one? Look around at your place of employment. Is there someone you admire, someone you look up to? Or, if you belong to a professional organization, there may be someone you see as a role model that you think would be helpful in your career advancement.
And what qualities should you look for? A good mentor should be professional, a good listener and negotiator, and knowledgeable about industry practices, regulations, and technology.
Approach the individual and ask if he or she would consider being your mentor. Depending on the individual, and your current relationship, your proposal will vary in the amount of detail and how it is delivered. At the very least, let the person know why you selected them and what you hope to accomplish. If appropriate for the specific individual, you can also discuss amounts of time to be committed and what you will contribute.
I talked to a few people in the industry to see what impact mentors have had on their careers.
According to Ken MacTiernan, his first mentor was a sergeant in the Air Force. MacTiernan has worked for American Airlines for 23 years and is on the board of directors for AMTSociety. “He was my first supervisor when I was 17 in the Air Force. He was a great guy, very professional. His way of keeping you up to speed was to ask questions, he wasn’t trying to trick you. He led by his appearance and actions.
“Another mentor was Bill O’Brien, he showed by example. He would ask if I ever finished my degree, he never pushed, but would keep asking, ‘Have you ever thought about getting inspection authorization license?’ I said I didn’t need it at American. He said, “You never know, and it looks good on the resume. MacTiernan is three units away from getting his associate’s degree and got his IA certification nine months ago and gives O’Brien the credit. “He mentored by being positive and never overbearing.”
Howard Fuller also credits Bill O’Brien as being a good mentor. Fuller is an A&P that founded Solatec Corp. in 1998; the company is based in Greenville, NH.
“I have had many mentors over the years,” Fuller says, “in pretty much all areas of civilian aviation. One that stands out head and shoulders above the rest, though, is Bill O’Brien.
“I first met Bill years ago at an IA refresher meeting in the Boston area,” Fuller states. “I had no idea at the time who he was, but all the FAA inspectors in attendance acted like he was their best friend. In hindsight, I can see the reason for that. They were looking at him as a fellow mechanic, not as a Washington big shot.
“As he started his presentation,” Fuller continues, “he immediately made all the mechanics in the audience feel as though he was just one of the guys. His speaking style was informal and he encouraged questions from the audience, with honest, no B.S. replies that were straight from the shoulder. Clearly, this was no typical D.C. politician, despite his self-effacing protestations. At the conclusion of that talk, Bill announced his phone number and email address, telling us that we should all feel free to contact him any time we felt the need.
“Subsequent to that meeting, I took full advantage of his invitation and called Bill many times, especially whenever I was on the receiving end of conflicting regulatory interpretations from a FSDO. If Bill didn’t have the definitive answer off the top of his head, he’d find it within a day or so, and call me back. He always made me feel as though mine was the most important call of the day. I never realized until he was gone that he probably made everyone feel that way.
“O’Brien gave selflessly of his time and experience, making salient points using his typical self-effacing Irish humor,” Fuller says. “In the face of newly changed regulations or FAA policy, he would take the initiative and call or email many of us in the field to give his typical heads-up. He also, if faced with an FAA screw-up or misinterpretation of policy, would call that particular spade a spade. I could always depend on Bill for an honest answer, untainted by politics. This rare quality endeared him to all who knew him and gained my total respect. I don’t know another mechanic who would disagree with that assessment.”
Peter Zeeb, director of maintenance for Harrah’s Entertainment and chairman on the AMTSociety board, says he received assistance from a mentor once he was working on aircraft. “I did have a mentor who helped me with his Falcon 20. His name is Rich Lindblad director of maintenance for McGraw-Edison. He would have me help him with inspections and I learned his troubleshooting techniques. At the time I was hired part time to clean his aircraft. I did have a full-time job working on small training aircraft for a flight school. I do think I learned more working that part-time job than I did working the full-time one. I believe it was because Rich was exciting to be around and the equipment was very interesting. That motivated me to move toward business aviation maintenance.”
“I’ve been with American for 23 years and fellow employees have been mentors,” MacTiernan says, “both good and bad. Some were light hearted but some really shined. You tend to gravitate toward those like a moth to a flame. I came from the Air Force but I was never made to feel dumb if I didn’t know something, someone would say ‘I’ll show you.’ And I do the same for new people.
“I was lucky to have good mentors early in my career,” MacTiernan says. “Mentors create the base of knowledge to help you do your job. You can think you’re a bad ass but there is always someone else that’s even badder.”
MacTiernan says, “I’m surrounded by mentors” on AMTSociety. “I learn from them and anyone who joins the Society can learn from them; they’re positive role models.
AMTSociety is a perfect organization for people to get involved in and learn. Using mentors enables us and the industry to keep the standards at the highest level.
“Charles Taylor was the first mechanic and the first mentor,” MacTiernan says. “The Wright Brothers had another mechanic after Taylor who was also named Charles, and he learned from the first Charles.” MacTiernan formed the Aircraft Maintenance Technicians Association (AMTA) to continue the legacy of Charles Taylor. “Taylor exhibited professionalism, not vanity. He’s a role model for people entering the industry today, there is a job to do and we do it.”
Being a mentor
Most successful, experienced professionals had mentors once themselves.
“I never had aircraft technicians mentor me when I first decided to start a career in aviation,” Zeeb says. “That is why these programs are important to me. He has worked with a local high school for its career day event program. “I would bring "tools of the trade" with me so the students could visually see what we did. Sometimes I would bring a borescope and a part with me so they could simulate an inspection. I would bring a multimeter and a large wiring print and demonstrate how a circuit worked and troubleshooting procedures. Usually the students came away with a better understanding of the complexities that today's aircraft exhibit.”
“As far as mentoring others,” Fuller says, “I have one A&P in particular who worked for a customer of mine. The customer hired this AMT right out of school, so when asked to mentor him, I couldn’t resist the challenge. Turns out, his skills are far above mine and all he needed was an occasional nudge. I think I learned more from the experience than he did.
“Today, my mentoring lies primarily in writing magazine articles on various aspects of aircraft maintenance,” Fuller says. “While this doesn’t have the same immediate satisfaction of one-on-one contact, I occasionally do hear from others that the articles have helped them in one way or another. That keeps me going.”
One of the best ways you can thank your mentor is to utilize their help, become very successful in the aviation maintenance field, and then pay it forward to another newbie by mentoring an up-and-comer some day.