PAUL KEATING, former PM of Australia, was recently interviewed on the ABC by Kerry O’Brien. In this interview, Keating provides a remarkable insight into mentoring: how it is conducted, and why it is such brilliant way to tap in to the wisdom of older people, who can help guide your life pursuits.
O’B: So you took it on yourself to knock on his [Lang’s] door one day and say, “I want to talk to you ”.
K: That’s right. That’s what I did. I used to see him twice a week for about 7 years. Strangely, he used to call me “Mr Keating”, and I was only 18. In those days he was very formal. I used to address him as “Mr Lang”, and I asked him whether I should go on and do a university degree, and he said, “Mr Keating, you have too much to learn to learn for a university degree about the getting of power and the using of it. There are no courses in this”.
O’B: What were the things that you picked up from him that you thought might be useful to you.
K: The use of language, the force of language. He had these hugely long arms, like they were on concertinas. They would come out to you, and the big jaw, he had the celluloid collar, gold chain and he’d say, “Mr Keating, I’m telling you this”, and he’d lean across the table, and he’d bore a hole in you – he was then 87 or 88 – he’d bore a hole in you. There was no one like him.
O’B: You learnt to be hard in your judgments from Lang. What did you mean by that?
K: Well he said to me – he was always so formal, “One of your problems, Mr Keating, is you take people at their word. This is a business where duplicity is the order of the day. Look for the best in people by all means, but keep a skeptical eye peeled for what they are saying to you and what they really mean”. Lang said to me one day, “Mr Keating you will never be successful until you have a reasonable stock of enemies”. And it’s just so true, and of course, having enemies worries some people – for me it’s a badge of honour – it’s never worried me that a group of people would not have a bar of me.
O’B: Lang once told you he’d met a person who admired you greatly, and that person in the end would be the only one you could trust.
K: And it was me. He was saying that the only person can rely on is yourself.
O’B And no one would think better of you than you.
K: And no one would think better of you than you. Another thing he said to me one day, “Mr Keating, you’re a young man, and people will tell you, you have plenty of time. But the truth is, you haven’t a second to lose”.
[A bit later on in the interview.]
K: So I used to see people. When I was a member of the House of Representatives, I would see people in the motor industry, in the mining industry, steel industry, some of the older people who had built these industries, and sucking the experience from them, really.
[And further on.]
O’B: Gough [Whitlam] mused at one time that you seemed to like the company of old men.
K: Older men…. I said, “Call it congealed wisdom, Gough, congealed wisdom”.
1. K seeks out and chooses the mentor he wants.
2. They meet on a regular basis over an extended period of time.
3. The conversations are robust and challenging.
4. K uses the imparted wisdom to guide his life actions.
5. K still remembers the words and ideas from the conversations.
6. K acknowledges the wisdom of elders.