A Beginner's Guide to Mentoring

| Chris Barrows | Values

A boy stands on the beach, where hundreds of starfish have been swept up by the waves and stranded there to die. He’s throwing the starfish back in the water, one by one, so they can survive.

A grownup watches him for a minute from up on the boardwalk, and then yells down, “You can’t possibly throw all those starfish back in the water.

You could stand there all night throwing starfish — it won’t matter.”

The boy looks around, throws another starfish into the water, and says, “It matters to this one.”

Wouldn't the world be a better place, if we were all that boy, helping who we could?

Having a mentor is an important part of your professional career.  Having that person to provide guidance, answer questions and learn from really gives you an advantage and extra confidence.  The hard part is finding a mentor and both parties able to give the appropriate time to making it work.  

We love mentoring because it’s driven by the philosophy of Servant Leadership.  Servant leadership is a commitment to helping others be their best selves and that is a huge cornerstone of our organization’s philosophy.

When coaching and developing leaders, we found that simply showing them the job wasn’t enough in terms of giving them the time and tools to be great at their job.  The in-store coaching, while fantastic, wasn’t able to provide the outside perspective and attention needed to fully develop our new leaders.  The team in the store, rightly so, was focused on the store and had a business to run.  They were giving their trainees all their finite time that could spare.  

In order to combat this and give our new leaders more support, we decided to develop our own mentoring program.  

We carefully selected a mentor based on department, background and availability.  With more experienced new leaders, we wanted a mentor from another department and field.  For newer leaders, we wanted to cultivate a relationship with a leader in their department.  We also wanted mentors who would be able to dedicate consistent time to their mentees.

The key to the effectiveness of this relationship was the mentor/mentee connection.  Over time, we found some behaviors that were consistent among the most effective mentoring experiences.

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Be Persistent

You will not “connect” after one conversation or one act.  Small individual actions alone don’t help, but constantly repeating them over time has a tremendous impact. Schedule set times to talk and connect and ensure it happens. 

Send follow-up emails after your conversations to recap and so you can build on them.  Drive setting up the next call or meeting, take the pressure off them.

Build Confidence

Ensure a successful start to their process. Their first few goals set for the new leader should be home runs.  Assist in the goal setting process (goal setting can be difficult) and protect them from overly ambitious goals.

Remove Distractions

When you’re speaking with your mentee, be present.  Take a walk, go for coffee, be in a non-work setting if possible and BE PRESENT.   


People will talk more when they know they are being heard. Actively listen and engage, don’t just talk at them.  After the conversation, act upon what you learn to give your conversations value and display that you value what you’re hearing.

Be Vulnerable

Vulnerability is a loop.  To be on the receiving end, you need to put yourself out there first.  Mirror the vulnerability you want to see.  Being new is hard and there is pressure on the new leader to be “perfect” and “okay”.  Share mistakes you’ve made and insecurities you’ve had.  The more you’re able to humanize yourself, the more comfortable they will be sharing similar feelings.

Provide Safety & Support

Support them through their first mistakes (if they aren’t making mistakes, they aren’t trying hard enough).  Mistakes are part of learning.  It’s like falling when you’re learning to walk.  Allow them to see that they are okay and can get up again.

“Tell me more…”

They should be doing most of the talking and you won’t get the whole story with superficial questions.   Ask questions that allow them to elaborate and dig into their process as to why they did what they did.


Share videos, articles or books that have helped you. This will give you great material to talk and give you insight as to how they view the world.

Value Time

Time is finite.  Help them understand the scale and scope of their time commitments.  Show them how to block their time and approach their week so they can be successful.


There is no secret sauce or "easy button" for effective mentoring.  It's not even a process that yields immediate results.  The process itself is an excercise in delayed gratification.  What we do know is that commiting to these mentor behaviors is a great start towards creating a productive mentor relationship and building a bond that lasts beyond the training process.





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