How to Be a Rock Solid Leader: The Mentor Power

by Wayne Sharer

International speaker, author, and entrepreneur. Retired navy officer, former commanding officer. Over 35 years of leading, coaching, mentoring, and speaking.

July 9, 2014

If you’d like to become part of today’s success and leadership, there’s no better way to start than to understand what power is behind it all. Being a business owner online or off is about you accepting leadership.I used to think that after my successful career in the U.S. Navy, I could do it all on my own. What is “it all?” Quite literally everything and anything. I began a journey to build my own business using the internet as my principle media for marketing.I made a big mistake. I ignored one of the key elements of being a successful leader. Something that was vital to my success throughout my Navy career.This key ingredient was mentorship: the mentor power.

What is Mentor Power?

Let’s talk about why you need mentor power. It took me several years to realize this power, but I now know for a fact it is true.When I started in the Navy, I had nothing different than anyone else. Certainly many of the officers came from backgrounds with more family money and backing. There is no doubt about this.But in the end, we all started our careers the same. We graduated college, and we received a commission in the Navy.I was sent to Washington, D.C. to await my date for starting flight school. This type of temporary assignment was called being “stashed.” Most newly commissioned officers were stashed for 6 months to a year.Some chose to quite literally goof off the entire stash time. I was lucky. I had a couple of mentors at my assignment that were willing to guide me simply because I showed so eagerness to “discover” everything I could about the Navy Bureau where I was stashed.This initial support – mentoring – was key to my sustaining the drive to succeed in flight school. You remember what happened to me in flight school, right?

The Next Step

The next step in my mentoring came in my first active duty squadron assignment. I was sent to VAW-123 in Norfolk, Virginia. My first job was the squadron 1st Lieutenant. In navy aviation squadrons, this was considered one of the worst jobs to have because (for all practical purposes) it was like being the head janitor for the squadron.My personal attitude was, regardless of the job title, I was going to be the best damn 1st Lieutenant ever. My department head, executive officer, and commanding officer all seemed to notice this in me (as I realized later – keep reading and you will see why this is so important to you).Lots of exciting things happened under my first commanding officer, CDR Ray Bunton. I looked up to him because he always supported me. He rarely told me directly that I had done anything good or bad. But his determination and straight talk were key in what I admired.His executive officer was CDR Bill Liebe. Liebe was another key in my mentoring. As executive officer, he gave me much more room to operate independently than most of the other officers, including more senior lieutenants.My department head way the new Lieutenant Commander Tom Lang. He drove me like a Mac truck. But for good reason. He saw I could handle it. Both in the airplane and doing my job on the ship. He let me build my own plans, and gave me direction whenever needed.

How the Mentoring Played Out

USS America CV 66

USS America if Vest Fjord

Ultimately, the power mentor moment happened while we were on our way home from my first deployment with Carrier Air Wing 1 on board the USS America (CV-66).We spent most of the deployment underway (at sea). On our return trip to Norfolk, Va, we got a port visit in Catania, Italy. This is where the Naval Air Station Signonella is located.We had spent so much time at sea, that even the fly infested port town was a welcome stop.Now here is the mentor power moment…NAS SignoellaThe squadron officers went to the officer’s bar in the bachelor officers’ quarters called “The Fly Trap.” We quickly understood why the name “Fly Trap” was more than appropriate. I was still a drinker in those early days, and while there, the commanding officer Ray Bunton joined us.We played our drinking games, told our stories, and lubricated our brains to predictable hangover levels. While leaving the Fly Trap, CDR Bunton came to me. To my surprise, he handed me his leather flight jacket.

The Defining Moment

Then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Wayne, take this. (meaning the jacket – not to keep but to wear that night).” I couldn’t really just take it, but Bunton insisted.He said to me, “Take this because you will be a commanding officer one day.”The power of a mentors words were not realized instantly. But as I looked back in the rest of my career, I realized how many times I focused on becoming that commanding officer and that every time I remember my first commanding officer and mentor telling me that is what I would be.I did command a squadron. I did because I believed I would do so.I believed I would do so because my mentor told me I could. If he believed, how could I not believe?

Mentor Power

If you are in a leadership position, you do have moments like these you can define in path to success and achievement.To the opposite end, if you have not achieved the success you are seeking, you most likely cannot find a real mentor power moment. This was the case in my first efforts to succeed building a business online using the internet.When I grasped how important it was to have mentors much like I did throughout my Navy career, I then realized it was time to do the same for my non-navy career. When I did, life changed again.The first step in success is having a mentor or mentors.

Here’s a solution for you…

I offer personal coaching for those looking for real life guidance. You can see my details here.I’ve also written a wonderful book called Protégé Profits that guides on how you can use your personal mentoring skills to make your business grow, and guarantee your legacy. You can get a free copy here.  If you would like a copy for your kindle, you can get it here on Amazon…Protege Profits: How to Create a Legacy of Success Through Mentoring

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4 Comments

  1. Bob Junke

    Wayne,

    I read this article with interest. Although it is Naval Officer centric, the points you outline apply to ANYONE in a leadership role, in and out of the Navy. I went to college during and after my time in the Navy. I was not an officer as you were but, by far, my time in the Navy taught me a lot about leadership, who I learn(ed) from and who I taught. In the Navy, I was a workcenter supervisor and this experience transitioned to my career in civilian life. I am now retired and thankful for my Navy experience as it carried me to retirement.

    You speak very highly of CDR Ray Bunton and CDR Bill Liebe. My memory of these leaders of VAW-123 is still fresh in my mind. You and I served in the squadron at the same time.

    This past week I had the pleasure of attending the squadron’s 50th Anniversary reunion at NS Norfolk. Ray and Bill were both in attendance and it was such a joy to hook up with them and talk at length about past times. Today, they are both so congenial and I was very happy they were able to be there along with other familiar faces. We had the pleasure of celebrating along side the current squadron personnel. It bacem obvious to me after several conversations with the officers and senior enlisted leadership, the same atmosphere I experienced in the squadron some 33 years ago still exists today. VAW-123 was, by far, my best experience I had while in the Navy.

    I took a lot of photos at the reunion that include Ray and Bill. Go to http://tiny-url.us/liJ. Hopefully you see them and other familiar faces.

    Reply
    • Wayne Sharer

      Thanks Bob for your words. Believe it or not, I do remember your name, though I admit I cannot put a face to the name. My last “job” at the Screwtops was the Assistant Maintenance Officer, which is almost never given to a first tour LT. So I loved the Maintenance Department folks. I was also the Avionics Division Officer prior to the “elevation” to AMO.
      Sorry I did not even know about such a gathering. I am sure I am not unusual in that respect. It was great to see the pictures and certainly I do recognize Ray Bunton and Bill Liebe in the pics. Ray was a heavy smoker, so I am glad to see he is still healthy. He truly did launch me in the right direction.
      I’m sure the atmosphere was great. But I spent a lot of time in the SP hangars, and the Hawkeye Country Hangers at Miramar. Every squadron had their ups an downs, including the Screwtops. My flying in the Screwtops during the Cold War was some of the most demanding and dangerous I ever participated in. None counted as “combat” time – even the flights attacking Libya did not (can you imagine). Nonetheless, that flying in those days was as nerve racking or more so then many of my 250 combat flights in later years.
      So the Screwtop time always rings clear in my memory. I just wish I could remember everyone precisely.
      Stay great.
      Wayne Sharer

      Reply
  2. herb bates

    Wayne or better yet DIVO, I too remember those years in the Screwtops. Myself an AT2 In-Flight Technician. We indeed had a lot of mentorship and a lot of individuals that went on to very successful careers. Besides your self, I remember a lobster fisherman named John Covell (E-2C Skipper & Commodore) also Marty Erdosy (E-2C Skipper and Aircraft Carrier Skipper). I consider my tour with the Screwtops my best tour with the best people which in still the drive to always perform my best. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. Herb Bates

    Reply
    • Wayne Sharer

      I remember you well. Yes, the Screwtop days were amazing in what we accomplished under the demands of the cold war. I’ll have a new book, probably released early next year, called Overcome Oceans: 7 Leadership Principles that Crush Your Most Powerful Mental Barriers. It runs through many stories that came from the Screwtop days. The Avionics Division was a big part of my codifying these principles. Glad you are doing well.

      Reply

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