Tabby was a new kitten to the neighborhood. Escaping from her brand new owner’s side porch one afternoon, she climbed to the top of the tallest tree in the area. Neighbors advised the owner to let Tabby come down on her own. But after a night in the tree, the young kitten seemed determined to not go kitty skydiving.

The fire department said there would be a $200 fee for a visit from the fire truck with the really long ladder. Tabby’s owner was going crazy with panic…and guilt. Then, she remembered the nice lady at the animal shelter where Tabby had been rescued. She made a quick call and a miracle happened.

The animal shelter lady arrived within minutes with a child’s plastic swimming pool. Inside the plastic pool were a dozen kittens from the shelter. Placing the pool full of kittens at the base of the tall tree, she directed everyone watching to remain completely quiet. Soon, the only sounds were the meows of the kittens. Young Tabby backed down the tree to join her former cell mates in the pool at the base of the tree. Everyone cheered and went home.

Learning can be as anxiety-producing as a young kitten up a tall tree. Great mentoring seeks to create a relationship with the security of a “plastic pool full of kittens.” It requires mentors with the heart of a host–eager to create rapport (derived from the French word meaning “kinship.”) It can be gestures of welcoming, obvious authenticity, power-free language, and easy affirmation. It might be listening to learn rather than waiting to talk; or nurturing a rich two-way conversation.

What are the symbols of safety important in your protégé’s experience? How can you ensure your protégé stays as secure as a bunch of sleeping kittens?

P.S. You might enjoy Kevin Kruse’s article, What is Authentic Leadership? by Kevin Kruse, on