I’ve had three informal mentors in my working life. They appeared at distinct life stages and professional transition points. In each case, they were pivotal to my development and career direction. What did they do to have a positive impact on me? How did they make me feel? What makes a brilliant mentoring relationship?

Check out this lovely poem by Portia Nelson that captures the essence of what mentoring is about. Watch this short video to see the benefits for students at a local university. They are pairing up with alumni mentors to help make the transition from degree to work.


The experiences of a mentoring relationship have been some of my best times. Brilliant mentoring depends on the quality of the relationship between the two people involved. My first real mentor was Stan, who was nearing retirement when we met. He took me under his wing in my early 20s working at a professional institution. He had a wealth of experience working with committees, running events and looking after the membership. He helped me develop an ability to write in a professional environment and gave me confidence in public speaking. We remained in contact by letter and postcards for over 30 years until his passing aged 90.

Another mentor was Gill, a more senior manager than me when I worked within the police service. I’d hit a ceiling with opportunities to progress and she could sense my frustration. Gill always had my best interests at heart. She spotted my emerging strengths in training and facilitating. She encouraged me to explore a role in consultancy in the private sector once I got a Masters degree. Despite initial reluctance, I’ll always be thankful to her for nudging me to take action. It changed the course of my career for the good.

My third mentor was Doug, a Principal Consultant at the company I moved to from the police. He helped me overcome my fears of taking over a high-value, complex leadership development programme. His wisdom still informs how I do things and how I handle myself today. He believed in me when I doubted myself.

Here are some of the things that I believe make brilliant mentors and mentees:

Brilliant Mentors…

  • Like and care for people
  • Are self-aware and manage their self well
  • Are committed and make time willingly
  • Are credible in the eyes of the mentee
  • Put their mentee first, believe in them
  • Are open and trustworthy, keep confidences
  • Listen with empathy, provide emotional support
  • Act as a critical friend and sounding board
  • Ask questions that stretch their mentee’s thinking
  • Don’t hide from the realities of situations and challenges
  • Share what is unwritten or unsaid, are organisationally savvy
  • Encourage their mentee to see new perspectives
  • Tell stories to light fires
  • Connect their mentee to people and resources
  • Support their mentee in planning and taking action

Brilliant Mentees…

  • Are motivated for change and development
  • Are respectful
  • Are open and trusting
  • Are curious and ask questions
  • Listen to understand
  • Take responsibility for their learning and actions
  • Are prepared to be vulnerable
  • Seek feedback, are open to ‘tough love’
  • Are courageous, willing to experiment and step out of their comfort zone
  • Discover through both think-do-think and do-think-do
  • Make their own decisions

What are your brilliant experiences of a mentoring relationship?