Stories That Teach Life Lessons

What to Look for in a Professional Mentor


If you ask any CEO, Olympian, pageant winner, or other successful entrepreneur or professional about their achievements, they will almost certainly credit their success to a mentor or teacher. You’ll be on the correct path if you go looking for a coach on your own.

Is it just me, or does it seem like every other person these days bills themselves as a “Speaker, Columnist, and Coach”? It seems like everyone I talk to these days is “launching” some sort of tutoring venture. (And they are astute to do so, as tutoring is a rapidly growing sector of the economy in the present “new” one.) How then do you go about selecting an appropriate mentor?

Let me preface this by explaining why I am in a position to ostensibly “talk” on this issue. Since I am also a teacher and a coachee, I know firsthand the value of having a mentor in one’s life. I’ve had conversations with people who gladly shell out $150,000 annually for coaching, and I’ve spent an enlightening afternoon with the guy who charges that much. I have also had conversations with individuals who have tried coaching but thought it was a waste of money. I’ve heard many sad stories from individuals whose coaches let them down by making false promises and not following through. I wouldn’t presume to say that I’m the best teacher for everyone (I know better), but I feel confident in sharing my thoughts on how to find the right one for you.

Pick a coach who is dedicated to her craft enough to demand a mutual match before agreeing to work with you. Be wary of coaches who claim to take on “any client” without first speaking with them to learn about their needs, challenges, and objectives. If they don’t know your name, how do they know they can assist you? A coach who cares about her reputation will be selective about the clients she accepts, and she won’t hesitate to send potential customers in search of a better fit for another, more suitable teacher.

If a coach is reluctant to provide recommendations, keep looking. Does anybody actually read those testimonials? Certainly, they do. On the other hand, don’t end at reading. Inquire if you can contact a few of the coach’s present or former clients. Verify that there really are “EXCITED CUSTOMERS”! Make sure they are legitimate customers, though, and not just looking to boost their own search engine rankings at your expense. (It might surprise you to know that many of these gushing reviews come from individuals who have not benefited from the coach at all.)

Select a mentor who won’t push their own ideas on you. To be an effective teacher, I must prioritize my needs above all else. NOT in accordance with the teaching “system” I was trained in. NOT based on what I feel competent to deal with. NOT on the basis of my fabled “need” for cash. A coach’s mission statement should be straightforward: MAKE a DIFFERENCE by SERVING others. Instead of spending money on a coach who will attempt to force you into a mold, you would be better off buying one of those “success in a box” products. A great teacher always starts off by listening and asking questions. A competent coach will then be able to give you feedback that shows she paid attention to both what you said and what you didn’t say.

Pick a trainer whose teaching method is ideally suited to your needs… Listen to what I am saying, not what I am not. I did not say it was a simple match, but rather a perfect one. Coaching can be challenging at times because a good teacher will recognize your potential and push you to reach it. Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold medalist, didn’t choose his instructor because he was “easy,” “comfortable,” or “let him slide” a little. He chose Michael’s teacher because she challenges him and brings out the best in him. His trainer forces him to break through personal barriers. You should also check that your coach and you share similar beliefs and personalities.

For instance, I was once turned down for a coaching connection by a prospective mentor. I wasn’t her customer, she told me plainly. OUCH!! Ultimately, though, I’m relieved I didn’t pay for a mentoring program with her. After getting to know her better through teleseminars, I realized that her advice for mothers with young children is to employ a full-time Nanny or Au Pair so that they can focus on their careers without interruption. I wanted to be home with my kids as much as possible, so I quit my work to do just that. Therefore, one of my major challenges—a lack of time—would not have been addressed by her suggestion. The next thing I found out is that she looks to the art of hand reading for direction. Once again, this is not something I can “invest into.” Make sure you and your potential coach get along well and have excellent chemistry so that you can succeed as a team.

Pick a teacher who not only motivates you to take action but also leaves you feeling encouraged and upbeat. Simply put, “Encouraged, Empowered, and Equipped” is the motto under which I operate as a teacher. I believe these three terms adequately describe a sizable chunk of my work as a coach and consultant. But if I fail to inspire my customers to take action, I will have failed miserably. Nothing happens until something moves, as the saying (and novel) puts it. This rings especially true in the corporate world. Positivity, encouragement, and a clear mental picture of where you want to be or what you want to produce are all powerful tools, but nothing will change unless you take action. Period. The only way to reach the next level of success in your company or in your life is to take ACTION. A good teacher will constantly push you to take decisive action.

Let me conclude by pointing out a few potential red flags when selecting a coach, or “warning signs.”

They have “BUY NOW” buttons on their homepage for coaching services… WHO are they gauging their tutoring clients from? How do they know they will be able to assist you in resolving your unique difficulty or making the most of your recent discovery? In other words, they won’t know if they can assist you if you’ve never met them before. Both you and they ought to be reluctant to part with your cash. Start by talking to one another… or two!

Coaches who will “do anything for a buck” include those who specialize in parenting, business, politics, religion, relationships, and more. You can’t please everyone by trying to do everything. An excellent coach has been there and coached, so they won’t go on an “Anything for money” blitz.

Answers like “Uh… um… well” when questioned about their own guidance. A good coach is also a student of coaching and isn’t shy about sharing the ways in which their own coach has improved not only their own life but the lives of their customers as well.

You must be in need of a coach if you found this post. This is excellent news if you plan to do something significant in your life. According to the Chicago Tribune, “What kind of person actively searches out a mentor or coach? The kind of winners who want more from life.” If that’s you, then you deserve this. You are well on your way to success.

Michelle Pippin, Women Who WOW! Founder and Professional Author, Speaker, and Coach [email protected]
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