Over the weekend I had the chance to ride in the backseat of one of our club's two-seat gliders for several flights. As a new member of our club's "flight committee" I may occasionally fly with new [to us] pilots after a certified instructor has pronounced them competent to fly the aircraft. My role is that of an observer and someone who can welcome them to our club, maybe providing some local knowledge along the way.
Inevitably though, I found myself watching how the other pilot flies and making minor suggestions for improvement if they seemed open to it. Maybe they simply need to relax and stop over-controlling the plane. Or perhaps a bit more focus on maintaining a particular airspeed in the landing pattern will help. A couple times I would offer to take the controls to demonstrate a technique for accomplishing something. I found it easier to describe what to do while I was doing it myself.
Now I've flown in the backseat numerous times, but that's usually when I'm co-flying with a friend or maybe giving someone a quick tour of a new airport and the surrounding landmarks. My goal was rarely to evaluate or judge.
What I noticed is how easy it is to pick out things that the guy in the front seat should try to improve. That's partly because, as one of my instructors once told me, I've got nothing else to do back there. But I suspect that it's largely because I used to make the same (or very similar) mistakes a couple years ago when I transitioned into the club gliders. Being just a few years "ahead" of them means that I have enough experience to identify these things but not so much that it's difficult to remember how I dealt with them.
This got me thinking about one of the truisms that comes up in flight training now and then: the best mentor is someone that's only a few steps ahead of you in the learning curve.
Looking back, I think that's just as true in the workplace too. There are times when I've had a good mentor to follow--someone I could strive to be more like in various ways: knowledge, skill, communication, etc. Those are the times when I made the greatest improvements in my job performance and felt like I had the most focus. Other times I've not been so lucky, lacking any real guide to model myself after and not sure what "better" looks like.
This has led me to conclude that good mentors are hard to find. Not only do they have to be open and receptive to the idea of you pestering them for help on various things, they also need to be a good match--someone you can look at and say "I really want to be more like that."
I think this is further complicated by jobs where the skills, unlike flying, are less concretely defined and difficult to demonstrate in a short period of time. "Tell me how well I mange this project" is very different from "was that a good landing?"
Posted by jzawodn at May 31, 2006 07:38 AM