Perspective: Peter Wilson on the mentor/mentee relationship


AHRI has experienced exponential growth in its mentoring program – from about 50 mentoring participants in our first intake five years ago, to the 550 members participating now. How did all this come about?

To encourage better leadership on the job during the Greek Empire, mentoring was invented to expose young protégés to learning from wise elders who had been there and done that. This system has lasted through history to today, and we are seeing a major revitalization in the practice of mentoring, including at AHRI.

Most of the old, regulated rulebooks for businesses have been thrown out because they are out-dated. As a modern, developed economy, we still have, and always will rely on, our basic values, rules and a sensible set of laws. However, many laws will be thrown into occasional turmoil.

Mentoring enters this modern workplace fray of business growth and survival when workers feel like they could benefit from talking to a wise and respected elder. As the author and principal character of international bestseller and major Hollywood film Mao’s Last Dancer, Li CunXin said during an interview for my book Make Mentoring Work: “A good mentor helps you walk in your own shoes, even if you start out just wanting to walk in theirs.”

So what makes for a good mentoring relationship? Evidence I gathered while researching for the book gave me the following answers:

  • A harmonious set of values between mentor and mentee.
  • A safe haven of trust – especially for the mentee, who needs to expose their innermost fears and concerns to their mentor in order to make material progress in overcoming them.
  • A level of discipline in:
  1. Setting objectives for the year-long relationship
  2. Maintaining a regular calendar of meetings
  3. Doing homework on the part of the mentee in between times – e.g. reading and applying a relevant publication the mentor has given them, which can then be discussed next time they meet.

The strength of a mentoring relationship thereafter depends on the understanding and practice of the roles for each party. A good mentee patiently establishes trust with their mentor, persistently probes the mentor for their real life experiences and respects the mentor’s time and commitment pressures.

On the other hand, great mentors will usually work hard to present themselves as an equal to the mentee, demonstrate a genuine concern and interest in the mentee, ask probing and insightful questions and knows when to let go when the mentee has reached their own moments of truth.

Mentoring discussions are mostly about complex interpersonal relationships, but other common topics relate to strategic challenges, moral and ethical dilemmas or understanding, and using power structures. No rocket science here – these are issues we all face each day on the job.

In writing Make Mentoring Work, I interviewed nearly 100 of Australia’s top leaders, all who had mentors, and they all shared their mentoring stories. I also met with sponsors and managers of Australia’s 20 leading mentoring programs. The result was a book for the self-starter looking for a mentor as well as those organisations that want to set up a mentoring program.

The mentoring motor is now active everywhere and shows no signs of abating. It’s a key to both success and survival in this complex, global, digital business world in which we now all find ourselves.

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the September 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Wisdom of the ages’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.

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Perspective: Peter Wilson on the mentor/mentee relationship


AHRI has experienced exponential growth in its mentoring program – from about 50 mentoring participants in our first intake five years ago, to the 550 members participating now. How did all this come about?

To encourage better leadership on the job during the Greek Empire, mentoring was invented to expose young protégés to learning from wise elders who had been there and done that. This system has lasted through history to today, and we are seeing a major revitalization in the practice of mentoring, including at AHRI.

Most of the old, regulated rulebooks for businesses have been thrown out because they are out-dated. As a modern, developed economy, we still have, and always will rely on, our basic values, rules and a sensible set of laws. However, many laws will be thrown into occasional turmoil.

Mentoring enters this modern workplace fray of business growth and survival when workers feel like they could benefit from talking to a wise and respected elder. As the author and principal character of international bestseller and major Hollywood film Mao’s Last Dancer, Li CunXin said during an interview for my book Make Mentoring Work: “A good mentor helps you walk in your own shoes, even if you start out just wanting to walk in theirs.”

So what makes for a good mentoring relationship? Evidence I gathered while researching for the book gave me the following answers:

  • A harmonious set of values between mentor and mentee.
  • A safe haven of trust – especially for the mentee, who needs to expose their innermost fears and concerns to their mentor in order to make material progress in overcoming them.
  • A level of discipline in:
  1. Setting objectives for the year-long relationship
  2. Maintaining a regular calendar of meetings
  3. Doing homework on the part of the mentee in between times – e.g. reading and applying a relevant publication the mentor has given them, which can then be discussed next time they meet.

The strength of a mentoring relationship thereafter depends on the understanding and practice of the roles for each party. A good mentee patiently establishes trust with their mentor, persistently probes the mentor for their real life experiences and respects the mentor’s time and commitment pressures.

On the other hand, great mentors will usually work hard to present themselves as an equal to the mentee, demonstrate a genuine concern and interest in the mentee, ask probing and insightful questions and knows when to let go when the mentee has reached their own moments of truth.

Mentoring discussions are mostly about complex interpersonal relationships, but other common topics relate to strategic challenges, moral and ethical dilemmas or understanding, and using power structures. No rocket science here – these are issues we all face each day on the job.

In writing Make Mentoring Work, I interviewed nearly 100 of Australia’s top leaders, all who had mentors, and they all shared their mentoring stories. I also met with sponsors and managers of Australia’s 20 leading mentoring programs. The result was a book for the self-starter looking for a mentor as well as those organisations that want to set up a mentoring program.

The mentoring motor is now active everywhere and shows no signs of abating. It’s a key to both success and survival in this complex, global, digital business world in which we now all find ourselves.

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the September 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Wisdom of the ages’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.

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