For a couple of reasons, I’ve been ruminating lately on what it takes to be a great mentor. First and foremost, I knew I’d be visiting my mom in the western foothills of North Carolina, and being there always reminds me of the most important mentor I’ve ever had in my life — my dad — who died a few years ago.
Secondly, I knew that I was nominated for a 2014 Maggie Award — knowing that the winner would be announced while I would be making my abovementioned twice-a-year trip to work on mom’s house, fixing stuff and doing random routine maintenance. Turns out, I won for “best regularly featured web column.” This is the same category for which another of my mentors — Chuck Remsberg — won last year. Taking home the Maggie in the year immediately following Chuck’s win has significant meaning for me.
There are, of course, many others who have mentored me in one way or another, but if I tried to list them all I’d surely forget to mention someone important. Besides, the purpose of today’s column is to start a discussion among PoliceOne members about the qualities and traits of a great mentor. To get the conversation started, I’ll share something from both Chucks — Wyllie and Remsberg.
My Father, My Mentor, My Hero
Chuck Wyllie made me the man I am today. He taught me about laughing hard despite dire circumstances, fighting hard for what you know to be right, working hard for what you want to achieve in this world, and demonstrating bravery in the face of adversity. Traits that made Chuck Wyllie such a good mentor are manifold, but perhaps top among them are:
1.) He had expertise not only in his chosen profession, but in a wide variety of things related to how things — and the world in general — work
2.) He had a willingness — and just as importantly, an innate ability — to teach, to coach, to instruct, and to cajole the very best from everyone around him
3.) He never rested on his laurels — he was constantly working hard to be better at whatever it was he was undertaking, studying and learning as much (if not more so) as he taught
4.) He was supremely ethical in all aspects of life, subscribing to the thinking that “what you do when nobody’s looking counts for a hell of a lot”
5.) He led by example — and led from the front! — both at his job and at home, never asking something of his men (or his family) he was unwilling to do himself
My dad — and my mom — taught me the values that I now hold most dear. Love for family. Respect for others. Kindness to strangers. Compassion for those less fortunate. And service — service not for reward or recognition, but for the sense of satisfaction that comes only from having served.
Remsberg on Mentoring
As I’ve previously written, I felt a special kinship with Chuck Remsberg before I even joined the ranks here at PoliceOne.
My predecessor at PoliceOne, Scott Buhrmaster — now the vice president of operations at Force Science Institute — advised me when I started, “Read all of Chuck’s columns. Read as many of our columnists as you can, but definitely start with Chuck.”
And I did. I learned plenty, but perhaps more importantly, I also found someone to emulate, because as I looked at our entire roster of writers, Chuck stood out as being most like me. Like me, Chuck was never a sworn police officer. He and I are simply “pro-cop” writers. Chuck has been incredibly instrumental in my professional growth and development.
For this reason, I connected with Chuck on the question of mentoring. Here’s some of his thinking on the traits of a great police mentor.
1.) Always learning: A great mentor has an abiding dedication to learning new skills and improving old ones. They believe that when the master is no longer a student, he is no longer a master
2.) Enthusiasm of a rookie: This is the counterpart to cynicism and burnout. Work to approach each shift with the enthusiasm of a brand new cop
3.) Insatiable curiosity: It may kill the cat, as the old saying goes, but it makes for a good cop
4.) A balanced life: A good mentor has the ability to build a parallel life outside of law enforcement, to free themselves mentally and emotionally from the “policing orientation” during off hours
5.) A good communicator: The ability to be good listener and verbal communicator is important not only in building rapport with those you need to influence but also for picking up on — and dealing with — warning signs that may affect your own safety
A good mentor has “the ability to personally distance yourself from the uniform, so you don't internalize the verbal abuse and public misunderstanding and/or lack of appreciation you’re exposed to,” Remsberg told me.
“Perhaps most important, resilience,” he said. “You’ll encounter many setbacks and emotional body blows, and to make it to the finish line you need to be able to bounce back. A sports writer once asked the greater boxer Jack Dempsey, ‘What makes a champion?’ His reply: ‘You show up on fight night and you get up off the mat when you can’t.’ That pretty much says it all,” Chuck concluded.
What do you think? What makes for a great police mentor? Add your thoughts in the comments area below.