Mentoring Series: Lord Hastings (Full Interview) [ep.10]

In this episode, Chelsey Baker interviews Lord Dr Michael Hastings of Scarisbrick CBE, Professor of Leadership, Chancellor at Regent’s University, London and Vice President of UNICEF.

As former Global Head of Citizenship at KPMG International and Head of Public Affairs at the BBC, it would be an understatement to say that Lord Hastings understands a thing or two about effective leadership.

In this exclusive interview, we hear how the Co-Chair of the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) on mentoring was awarded a peerage at the House of Lords by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Held top-level positions at Vodafone and British Telecom, received many awards and accolades for contribution to local, national, and international communities worldwide.

This mentoring series of interviews is brought to you in partnership with National Mentoring Day, which takes place on the 27th of October each year to recognise the benefits of mentorship.

Richtopia is shining a light on the invaluable contribution that mentoring makes.

Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

Lord Hastings: Full Interview

Lord Hastings

  1. How has mentorship helped you in your business and life?

I have enjoyed the presence of mentors for generations, which I can now say because I’m in my 60s. I think generations are only for 40 years, so I’ve kind of passed over into the second generation.

I met mentors when I was at school; I was at a boarding school in the northwest of England, I was thrilled that both my head of English then, and also the headmaster took a huge, keen and positive interest in my personal development.

When I left school at the age of 18, I remember going to a committee meeting in London, where I was asked by the headmaster of my school that I attend on his behalf. I went along and there I met someone who was 30. And he became a solid, close and personal mentor and friend. And here we are now; I’m 62, and he’s 80. And we continue to be close personal friends, and he’s mentored me, supported me and engaged with me over literally decades.

One of the most, and I suppose the longest titled people who was a mentor to me, when I was 19, was a wonderful man called Major General Sir John Nelson. He had KCVO after his name and a whole lot of other long numbers and titles after his name and had been a British Army General in World War II, responsible for the North Africa campaign and holding the Nazis at bay and not going further into Africa.

It was such a joy for me as a 19-year-old to meet a man who had really done the tough stuff in the sands of North Africa, to bring about the freedoms that we all so appreciate, and to stand up for the justice that was so endemic to him. So mentors all my life and till now.

  1. Why is it important for people to pay attention to mentoring?

Because you see, all of us need other people to help us to find our own North Star, as they might say. In other words, we’re all looking for our directional points.

What kind of person do I really want to be? What work might I want to fulfil or undertake? What engagement in the world beyond myself should I be a participant in? What organization should I champion? What are the things that I feel are gross injustices that I really want to put my hands to? What is it I want to fix? Who is it I want to fix? How do I want to fix it?

These are very big questions for every one of us. And we need mentors, because the truth is, we need people who’ve gone before, who’ve walked a path, maybe not the same path, but have walked a path.  And we need perspective and wisdom.

It’s often said that the greatest insights are when you can look back in the mirror so you can see with hindsight. Well, hindsight can become foresight if we engage others who’ve walked before.

One of the great travails of being very young as I once was, is that young people make a lot of mistakes, which could be avoided if there was the presence of a meaningful mentor in their lives.

  1. Can you tell us how organizations can use mentoring to advance their workforce?

One of the things that people look around for in any company is, they look around for someone to be a good example, especially when you’re coming in as a graduate employee, or as an intern, or someone with work experience, you want to be able to look up.

And when you look up, to be able to say, “ah, I see people who look like me, maybe have aspirations like me, maybe have work positions that I would like to find and fulfil”.

And so as you look up, you need to be able to connect with those people. So that’s my culture in a business, if there’s a positive culture of mentoring, it will come through that you can be seen as a person of value, not just someone filling in a space occupying a desk.

I mean, for the days when everybody was in offices, which we hope will come again, there are people filling up spaces, and you’d wonder who are they? And so when there are mentors further up the line, they know to become your sponsors, as well as your mentors.

A mentor gives guidance, a sponsor makes sure you get to the next level, and obviously, a really good mentor would aim to do both. So I think that’s about the internal culture. But then there’s the other side, which is; companies are full of people with immense skill, huge amounts of skill.

Therefore, the world beyond us, especially the not for profit, the charitable world can’t afford the expensive skills that technical companies will have, professional service companies will have, for example, accounting, or business development. Those are skills which can be gifted by the act of mentorship to empower others to be fruitful and effective – by gifting our skills so that other people can thrive.

  1. With your work in Government services, as well as the Center for Global Development, UNICEF and Free the Children, in which ways have you seen mentoring help to overcome societal challenges?

Well, I suppose one of the most fascinating examples that immediately leaps to mind was just over a year ago. Going with the Vodafone Group Foundation to one of the biggest refugee camps in the world, which is in the north of Kenya, the border with Somalia. There we were visiting young people in their tents.

Many young people living together at the tent having been refugees from war and conflicts, and in visiting them in their tents, watching the way in which they were using technology, but guided technology, to be able to develop learning.

Here’s the irony, there’s a young man in a tent in the north of Kenya as a refugee, undertaking a Cambridge qualification in accounting by a guided mentor present in the refugee camp and through the provision of the technology provided by Vodafone.

So when you put that together, you can see mentors help people to think way beyond where they are. That young man could have just been stuck as a refugee in a tent wondering, “when am I ever going to get anywhere?” but instead stretched mind, supported skills development, encouragement, to continue, persistence to go and do exams when it feels like just go outside and enjoy the heat, the ability to see that there is a life beyond the one you’ve got now, that’s what a mentor provides.

  1. As a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Diversity, with diversity and inclusion so important, what needs to be done, and how can mentoring help those who face challenges in the workplace and in society?

I remember the work that we did way back then on the World Economic Forum’s Diversity panel and what we were trying to do is say, “listen, traditional employment processes may seem fair, but they’re actually not because all of us have some forms of hidden biases.”

Companies are famous for wondering, why is it that black people, in particular, can’t progress or a certain style of a person can’t continue to progress through to any further level, why do they drop out after two years and never stay on? And the cost of dropping out is often more expensive than the cost of developing and retaining people.

And you know, what’s so important in that is to say,

Well, look, if what a mentor can do is to help somebody realize that value intrinsically, their skills, their value, their potential, but also to make connections inside the business, so that they can feel their worth.”

It is one thing to know what you want to be paid, or the position you want to be in, it’s quite another thing to feel that this is something you want to invest in. And the invested individual helps a company to be strong, a business to be strong, an institution to be strong, an educational place to be strong, a charity to be strong.

We need mentors to show us that perspective, to give us the long whole vision. You know, I’m reminded that we are talking in Black History Month and here is a remembrance of one of Martin Luther King‘s famous phrases that ultimately he said, thinking about racial justice, that the long arc of history bends towards justice. And he said, the long arc of history, and he said that in 1967. And here we are in 2020, and we know so many dimensions of injustice that still prevail.

If the long arc of history bends towards justice, things change. But you need mentors to help you stay on the path, not to give up, it’s very easy to go back into your bunker, give up and say, “look, this is all too much today, I’ll just make money and go home and watch television”. But no, a mentor helps you to have the vision to believe that what you’re becoming other people can become too.

  1. In terms of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, mentoring can greatly impact and support so many of them. Gender equality, youth education, communities, peace and justice, health and wellbeing, work and economic growth. Mentoring can really be a key factor in helping to reach these United Nations goals. Do you agree?

I absolutely agree. I mean, first of all, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals should be a totem [sacred object] for everyone. I wear an SDG badge on a suit everywhere I go. It’s really important that the 17 objectives are known and understood.

Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, UNDP.

And you know, number one being the end of extreme poverty and hunger. Here we are in 2020, and you know, Chelsey, what is really disturbing and shocking is because of Coronavirus. And because of the impact of Coronavirus on well off country economies, they are giving less, engaging less, people are giving less.

I understand that charitable funds overall have collapsed by around about 35% during the course of this year. That is often the amount of money for which something is sustainable and delivering value or just not even able to move to tomorrow.

So we need to hold these objectives right to the core of our being, realizing that the end of extreme poverty and hunger targeted at 2030, now, according to the UN’s assessment, it won’t be in now until 2060 another 30 years.

Unless we have a mentoring culture that says, you know, let me keep reminding you when you’re about to go for that excessive, unnecessary purchase, or that spending of a country’s resources, or that careless way in which the charity might say its time for us all to have a big break.

No, remember, there are people destitute and needing that resource to be focused on. And again, that’s what mentors do for us – remind us that we have a conscience. And that our conscience needs to come into effect.

So the SDGs are about delivery, but they’re also about memory. And I need, and you need people to prod us, mentors to prod us. To think that actually, there’s so much unfixed in our world, let me just go to one, we all need to be very realistic with each other, well over 1.1 billion people on the planet have no toilets. And for many of us, we’re used to having two toilets in a home or three toilets. But many have no toilets, one in seven people in our world has not got a toilet.

And in which case, we are subjecting them to forms of disgrace and fear, it’s an unkind experience, and often dangerous, and often unhealthy. We need to remember, and a mentor will remind you – keep on the track, stay generous, don’t be wasteful, give carefully and consistently, and hold yourself to account for those SDGs, because they matter.

  1. From your role as chairman of Crime Concern for 15 years, serving in the Commission for Racial Equality, including work with ex-offenders, in which ways can you see the justice system using mentoring more effectively?

Well, you mentioned prison-related work. And I’m delighted to be a regular, consistent and in-depth prison visitor. I go on a very regular basis to a particularly high-risk prison, where the men are incarcerated for long sentences of usually between 22 and 37 years.

It’s a long journey of support that is needed. And I and one of my sons and our team, we go on a two month by two month basis, but retain a regular correspondence and a very detailed regular correspondence, encouraging these men to have hope, and to have a real sense of their own skill and potential as they go forward.

I wrote a letter to many of them this morning as responsible citizens. And that means that we got to expect great people to emerge from what most of society wants to dismiss. And being a positive mentor inside the prison, not just when men have come out. And the reason I’m saying men is because about 88,000 people in prison in the UK, 4,400 are women and 84,000 are men. I mean the disproportion is enormous.

This is a really big issue for so many who come into prison underskilled, underprepared, very often traumatized by what they’ve done, or how things have been done to them. And the need to develop a positive mindset in readiness for emerging as a responsible citizen, that needs mentors on a very consistent basis and a long term basis.

And so the more I think of the criminal justice system, the more I realized that for example, I know many people who have gone towards court, for example, and they’ve had no one to support them. There may well have been a legal aid lawyer around, but there’s no one else there on that vital day in which their life is being decided.

So we need mentors at every stage of the process. And one last thing to say on that, as well Chelsey is, during my time at the Crime Concern, we helped to birth Neighbourhood Watch, and Victim Support. And these are really important, identities that came from our existence. And here the wonderful thing about all of that is to say, “Listen, we’re all involved in making the community safe”.

This is not a police issue or a prison-issue; this is an us issue. And we’re all involved in preventing crime and making the community safe. But this is the other way; we’re also all involved in helping, especially young men, who may be heading down the wrong road of criminality, to be a positive, loving presence to pull them to the other side.

I’ve seen it done; it can be done. But it’s a sacrifice of presence and time that is required, and that is active mentoring.

  1. Certain statistics on crime say that it’s because these people don’t have a male role model figure in their life. For those who don’t have that supportive role, a mentor could really step in and help guide them. Getting a suitable father figure mentor to these people is just so needed.

Crime affects everybody, people can be very lazy and think it isn’t their problem. But actually it is and we all need to work collectively because the more crime, the more bills, the less policing resources, it’s a spiral. It’s making that commitment to mentoring that is key.

If you look at mentoring in prisons, everyone inside the prison has a skill and everyone has something to pass on and learn as a mentee. This could then positively affect the rest of the inmates, this then affects the prison guard, and then affects the guard’s family. So I think the sooner and quicker we get everyone to start thinking about mentoring as a culture, then that’s where real change can happen.

I just want to comment on that point you made about fathers because undeniably, undeniably, any understanding of drivers, especially for young black men, drivers towards our life is the absence of secure authority, positive, loving male peers in the home. And behaviour is destructive behavior. So mentors can be where that is a real issue, a positive male mentor presence from the earliest age and consistently. It’s not a replacement of a father. It can be in the presence that makes a difference, to stop the wrong track road.

It’s the presence, we’re not trying to replace the father. I always say to people, one word, one word, one hour can change the course of someone’s life, you never know the impact that you’re having.

  1. You’ve achieved outstanding success in all that you have achieved. What is your definition of success?

My definition of success is to make a difference in the world for someone else.

I’m wearing a nice blue flowery Nelson Mandela print shirt, which I’m sure you’ve noticed, and they are called presidential shirts, they’re only available in South Africa, and I pick them up at the airport in the days when we used to fly.

Nelson Mandela said this, which is really important;

The purpose of life is to plant trees, under in whose shade another generation will sit.”

We’ve got to prepare other people to benefit from the things we do today, which means; we may not benefit from them, or may wonder, “but I’m putting all this effort in, how come it’s going to be heading out for 14 or 15 years, and somebody else will get the benefit of it?”.

That is exactly what mentoring is all about – the seeds planted, the seeds watered, the ground filled well-over and the growth of character and life capacity, that’s what a mentor helps to do.

Can’t do it for them, but help to do it with them, and we should do it as consistently, robustly, passionately, and permanently as we can.

  1. How do you think mentoring can help with mental health issues?

Oh, goodness me! A lot of mental health distress is about varied realities, that unspoken, unexplained varied realities.

Mentors should be a close advocate and friend, not just a tick-box experience; “let me turn up for a week, sit down with you for half an hour, and those are the objectives, and off we go.” because people are whole people. And what a mentor can do is literally be the first thought of psychological understanding support just by listening.

We do have two ears and one mouth. And we do need to spend more time giving attention to the things people say, the way in which people present themselves. If they present themselves fearful, dishevelled, frightened and upset, there is no point talking with them about high objectives at that moment.

What is important is to understand what it is that has gone wrong in the mix of this person’s life, to get onto a path where they can make better and more meaningful citizens. But a mentor is there to help that process along.

Mental health, we often say, well I know this as a dog owner, “if you want to provide a sort of permanent comfort for someone who is distressed, [hand them] a dog or a cat because at least you’re permanently assured of their love, they never seem to huff-off in a strange direction and ignore you”. And we should see mentoring like that too.

There should be people for everyone who can be that positive, permanent presence and is willing. That’s why I’m proud to say the people I met when I was 18, 19, and 20; I’m still friends with them now. And you know, we’re looking 40 to 50 years back. It is really important not to see this thing as a drop-in-dropout experience but as a life commitment.

  1. How do people go about finding the right mentors?

Well, I think it’s often the unexpected person who can be the best. I mean, there I was at 18 as a young black man in a room of all white people, male and female. And it was an older white man who came over to talk to me.

Now you might make the assumption surely as a mentor; you need to have a mentor who’s from the Caribbean or Africa, and who’s the same colour – no, no, no, no, no, no, it’s not about that. Can minds and hearts mold? And can you be connected?

So I would say; when you’re looking for a mentor, don’t look for someone who looks exactly like you, or who thinks exactly like you. In fact, if you get somebody who thinks exactly like you, there’s no point in having a mentor. Mentors challenge how you think and are meant to help us to think differently.

The whole point we were talking about earlier on perspective, having foresight that comes from hindsight means that we need to be able to be challenged about the way we think and what we think, and the assumptions that we make.

So to find a good mentor, I think what’s critical is ask first, being open-hearted, open-minded – I mean not the open-minded in the sense of sewage where everything washes through – but open-minded enough to think, “I really want to discover, I want to learn”, being a permanent learner, and then being a seeker. So “I’m willing to ask questions”.

And I would say this, Chelsey, you know one thing I observe about our wonderful younger generation is they’re very good because of social media at telling you what they think, but they’re not good at asking what they might think. It’s really important to develop that capacity for curiosity.

So those are some little key guidance; know how to ask questions and seek to ask questions, look for somebody who potentially is not going to necessarily tick your heart box, but is going to tick the mind box of challenge, and thirdly, make sure that you are ready for change.

  1. You lead the World Economic Forum’s Agenda Council on the Future of Civil Society as Vice Chairman, what do you think is required to advance humanity?

Ah, well, you see one of the outcomes of the report that we did, I’m proud that KPMG supported that particular report from the Future of Civil Society is that it’s easy to think that civil society is just UN agencies, charities, and goodwill bodies, and that’s the good side of society.

Well, actually, the truth is; companies are also a vital part of the good side of society. I mean, many countries have gone through lockdown periods in 2020 because of Coronavirus, and they relied on the supermarket having to be open.

Well, those are not charities, those are commercial businesses. We relied on electricity, as it were, coming through our walls; those are not charities, those are commercial businesses. We relied on water coming to our taps; those are not charities, those are commercial businesses.

So we need to have business actively involved when we’re facing issues, dramas, dilemmas in society. So the need to have a holistic vision that civil society is made up of all the actors committed to the good society that we rely on, in order to live free and fair.

In countries that are struggling with freedom and fairness, we need to show them the model actually, that it’s not just about the obvious agencies that are civil, it’s about everyone’s duty to be a responsible citizen. And I give you a quote from none other than the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, when he launched his great Obama Institute in Chicago a few years ago. He said this, which I have never forgotten, he said;

The most important job for all of us is not to be president or prime minister, king or queen, chief executive or chairman, the most important job for all of us is to be a citizen.”

Be an actively engaged participant in our neighbourhood, our community, our city, our country, to be involved in solution making and solution giving, and that way everything about the mentoring journey comes to mean something of value because I’m called onwards, to be more by giving more and I made more by giving away more. That’s the irony of it all, the more you give, the more you become.

  1. Why are you supporting our mentoring mission, to make mentoring accessible to everyone?

I really believe that mentoring is a positive plus in everyone’s life at whatever age. And that that positive plus is something we need to encourage in a society where people are too isolated and too disconnected.

So having active mentors who are visible friends that we see, and in the good days also experienced that presence with us, and to learn from others is to continuously enrich our mind, is to enrich our own potential. So we need it.

I’m very keen on National Mentoring Day. I’m very keen on mentoring as a wholesome experience. I’m very keen that hundreds of thousands of people come forward to be mentors with wide-open ears, but hundreds of thousands of others come forward to mentor and say, “I’ve really got some good knowledge to pass on here, and I’m just sitting back doing The Telegraph crossword or whatever it happens to be. I’m gonna get out there and give time and life to others”.

So congratulations for doing wonderful work Chelsey and all the team involved in National Mentoring Day, and I look forward to being with you.

  1. What is the one thing you want everyone to know about Lord Hastings?

I’m very happy wearing flowery shirts for special situations. I think one of the other things that’s lovely about when you get older, but also when you have positions and titles and all those other wonderful things, which I’m most grateful, I have to say, none of them and I just say this for transparency, none of them sought, none of them paid for, none of them longed over, or given, I’m very grateful. But you know, one of the things that happens when you get to my age is that you don’t worry about looking perfect. You just be.


National Mentoring Day recognises the invaluable contribution of mentorship in business, education, sport and society. Throughout the year the initiative continues with the mission to make mentoring accessible to everyone, regardless of age, background, or ethnicity.

Have your say on #NationalMentoringDay

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