The Difference a Mentor Makes

January 7, 2021 / Posted in

By Darby Yeager –

As a navy helicopter pilot, I have been blessed with a lot of great professional mentors throughout my career.  From department heads to skippers, I always had someone I could lean on for advice navigating my junior officer duties, preparing for qualification boards, or leading my division.  The long hours spent in the aircraft allowed for ample opportunities to learn and seek advice from senior members of the squadron.

The one type of mentor I was conspicuously missing, however, was a professional female mentor.  Senior women in the aviation community are simply few and far between (and nonexistent in my squadron.)  As a junior officer, I felt an absence of mentorship in areas that disproportionately affect women in uniform, including navigating a dual-military career and adjusting to life as a working mother in a predominantly male workplace. 

As a result, I was excited to learn that Severn Leadership Group had paired me with a retired Navy captain, Kathleen Morrison, as my mentor.  Her mentorship arrived in a season of my life when it was desperately needed.  I had recently become a new mother and was struggling with balancing work and motherhood, career advancement, and my husband’s military career transition.  Captain Morrison implicitly understood each of the challenges I faced and provided wonderful advice; she listened carefully and helped me to navigate some tricky leadership and ethical decisions as an outside neutral party throughout that year.  Our mentorship has continued well beyond our fellowship year, and I know she will remain a person I turn to for advice for years to come.

The mentorship component of the SLG program demonstrated to me the importance of having a variety of professional mentors, including those outside your workplace, who you trust to lean on for advice.  It also showed me the importance, as a woman, of having a strong, female mentor who understands the personal and professional challenges one faces as a professional working woman, and particularly in uniform.  I was blessed the following year to find myself working for another SLG Senior Fellow and career aviator, Captain Valerie Overstreet.  I witnessed how she naturally applied many of the principles espoused by the SLG model of leadership in her role as Chief of Staff at the Naval Academy, and observed a style of leadership I felt I could emulate as I advance in my career.  

As a result of my experience with SLG, I have focused on using my remaining time at the Naval Academy to mentor more young women and to provide the space and support to have discussions on topics that are important to them.  My training through SLG has inspired me to try to be a change agent within the Navy and Naval Academy by being the mentor I wish I had sooner in my career.  I have been inspired by the “people first” leadership that is not only taught, but exemplified by the fellows in the program like Captain Morrison and Captain Overstreet.  I hope to live up to the standard set by the SLG mentors, and I expect I will lean on the principles of leadership, followership, character, courage, and selfless service to others encouraged by the SLG program throughout the rest of my career.

(The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Navy or the Department of Defense.)

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