Professional Development: How to Be an Exceptional Mentor

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In this series, we’ll be exploring employee development, with a specific focus on mentorship in this installment. In Part 2, you’ll learn about individual development plans (or IDPs) and how you can integrate them into your employee coaching strategies.


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This Ugly Beauty Business
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Why develop a mentorship program?

Professionals in the beauty industry often feel unsupported by their employers. These feelings, in addition to contributing to overall attrition rates, cause those who choose to stay to bounce from salon to salon, frequently ending up in rental facilities. While a salon mentorship program alone won’t solve all of your employee turnover problems, it can curb employee departures significantly and transform your salon into a highly desired place of employment, giving you a significant advantage.

Mentorship pays in considerable karmic benefits, but it can also lead to profitable opportunities and even new career paths. I’m proof of how that can happen.

I started this blog in 2010 to help others. Back then, it was really nothing more than a collection of articles on a third-party platform, but it gained traction fast. People began seeking me out for individualized help, which I happily provided.

I moved off that third-party platform and the popularity of my site exploded. Soon, people were asking me to write a book and speak at trade shows in their area. Professionals I looked up to started to notice me and began referring their followers to me.

From there, my career progressed evolved dramatically. Now, I’ve published two books and hundreds of articles (both here and in national trade publications), spoken at trade shows, consulted for hundreds of salon owners and professionals within and outside of the United States, and have created business tools, online classes, and a membership system. While the money has been spectacular, it isn’t everything.

the biggest benefit to my career came in the form of the motivation my supporters have provided by just being present.

I’ve taken my own company, Unvarnished Hand & Foot Co., further than I ever would have had the guts to without them. Five years ago, if you told me I’d grow my salon into two locations, I’d have laughed you right out of the building. If you had told me I’d be planning a multi-state expansion in 2019, I probably would have thrown something at you for wishing that evil on me.

And yet, here I am, laying the foundation for something completely insane that I would never have considered without this site that started as a collection of articles on a third-party platform. Why? Because some lessons are best learned through direct experience. For me to grow as a consultant, I have to do scary things, take on risky challenges, and turn my mistakes into lessons and my discoveries into strategies.

Where will mentoring others take you and your business? Before you can find out, let’s talk about how you can gradually evolve into an authority others consider trustworthy and credible. These lessons are important for every person in a leadership position, even those who aren’t salon owners and managers.


Exceptional mentors learn and educate constantly.

Start seeing yourself as an educator and talent developer. Whether through your blog, social media, YouTube, and/or in person–you should always be teaching. However, to facilitate this constant teaching, you have to commit to constant learning, which doesn’t have to be as painful as it seems.

  • Subscribe to blogs and vlogs that interest you,
  • Join professional associations and be sure to opt in to their email lists,
  • Follow people who inspire you on social media.

Developing this habit will help you develop experience faster, while expanding your own knowledge.

Exceptional mentors aren’t shovel sellers.

During the gold rush, Mark Twain remarked that the only people making money were the shovel sellers—people who had no actual gold mining experience, but were pitching the dream of “striking it rich” to fools who were happy to buy their shovels, picks, pans, and sifters.

Exceptional mentors largely draw from their own life lessons.

While you’re out living your life, experiment and learn from your experiences—otherwise you run the risk of becoming one of many shovel sellers in the industry. If all you do is appropriate and repackage the knowledge and experiences of others as if it were your own, you will never be more than a mediocre fraud, and it won’t be long before you’re caught and exposed the way so many others have been.

Exceptional mentors have the courage to be relatable.

I’m in the process of turning a ton of my old journal entries into a short e-book, titled “Mature For Her Age.” It is a collection of my most significant professional embarrassments—a laundry list of fuckups I was personally responsible for and what I learned from each experience. I’ve always considered it important for others to understand that nobody begins their career in this industry as the poster child for salon professionalism.

I fumbled my way through this business the first five years of my career and was only slightly less of train wreck the following ten.

Even with the benefit of a spectacular mentor and a superior education, I made huge mistakes and really poor judgement calls—and so did you. Meet others on equal ground. You’re allowed to be flawed. Your broken parts make your transformation into who you are today so much more compelling and powerful.

Once upon a time, you were an idiot, just like the rest of us, and that’s inspiring AF.

Exceptional mentors acknowledge skill, education, and experience deficits when necessary.

Successful mentors know their limits. Remember not to be a shovel seller. Don’t provide advice you can’t back up with experience or personal knowledge. Cite your sources when sharing information you gained from someone else (that way they can be responsible if that information turns out not to be accurate or helpful).

You don’t have to know it all.

Exceptional mentors are aware of (and admit) their biases.

I don’t know about you, but there are some things about this business I don’t like or agree with. For instance, I’m one of very few people in my position who present microsalon business ownership fairly and realistically, instead of promoting only the positives. I could probably make a lot more money if I lied through my teeth the way so many others do, painting self-employment as a glorious, fulfilling, and tremendously profitable career path. I could sell the illusion of “guaranteed success” and make millions from those desperate to buy that dream.

Instead, I promote truth. Solo entrepreneurship is hard, risky, and requires a lot more than most people realize (and much more than a good deal of people are willing to sacrifice). It isn’t for everyone and it’s terrible for the industry at large.

Am I biased against microsalon ownership? To a degree, absolutely, and I’m not shy about it. Aspiring microsalon owners looking for someone to tell them what they want to hear and to “motivate” them to make an impulsive, uninformed, expensive mistake should not be contacting me, because they won’t get what they’re looking for. I only endorse a microsalon venture when the professional in question has demonstrated competence, presented a solid plan, and clearly understands what solo entrepreneurship entails.

It’s okay to have strong opinions, so long as those opinions are informed.

Be forthcoming about your own biases as well. Not only does this help to reinforce your credibility, it shows integrity, and will help to keep incompatible mentees from wasting your time.

Exceptional mentors are active listening experts.

Make a conscious effort to hear and comprehend what others are saying. When you respond, paraphrase some of the information you just received. Not only will paraphrasing help you retain the information, but it will show the other person that you actually heard them.

Learn how to ask the right open-ended questions and how to manage the discussion to maximize the value of the interaction. This requires you to know how to keep a mentee on-topic. If you’re allowing the conversation to meander to trivial topics and irrelevant subjects, your time will be wasted and your mentee will question your competence (or at least feel they didn’t get anything useful from the discussion).

Exceptional mentors individualize their programs.

For your efforts to be successful, you have to get to know your mentee(s) on a personal level. The time you spend setting goals and developing strategies for attaining those goals will be wasted if the program doesn’t suit the mentees lifestyle or personality, or cater to how they learn best.

Develop your emotional intelligence.

Emotionally intelligent people understand the needs and feelings of others and know how to respond appropriately. Social awareness will be critical when communicating with pretty much anyone in any environment, but it will be especially important when working with someone on their professional development. They’re going to experience failures, setbacks, and challenges that might test their resolve. To keep your mentee motivated and provide them with sound advice, you’ll need to know them pretty well personally. Having an understanding of their mindset and any frustrations they face in their personal lives will help you determine which approach will be most effective in any given situation.

Exceptional mentors communicate their availability, repeatedly.

If you’re willing to donate your time to others, reach out. Some people have a hard time asking for help, so give them a direct invitation or three. While you shouldn’t force your help on anyone, you might need to be a little more insistent so they understand that they would not be imposing and that you genuinely do want them to take advantage of the offer.

(Have I mentioned The Community—a discussion forum where you guys can seek help and get it for free whenever you need it?)

Exceptional mentors take responsibility for their advice.

Although nobody can guarantee outcomes, you don’t get to advise others and walk away when your recommendations have negative consequences. While you aren’t responsible for the mistakes others make when implementing your advice or the behaviors and choices of third parties who may be negatively affected by your advice, you are responsible for supporting the person you’re mentoring. Help them untangle whatever messes have been made and be available to them when they need someone to talk to.


Now you know what it takes to be an exceptional mentor. Next month, you’ll learn how to implement that advice and build a comprehensive professional development system.

Until then, what systems do you have in place now? How are they working out? Do your employees and/or mentees value the assistance they’re receiving? Do you lack a system entirely, and if so, do you feel that introducing one might lead to more engaged employees and lower turnover rates?

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Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of the book The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and the blog This Ugly Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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