So you want to be a great coach, maybe even a full-on “Super Coach”. But how do you evolve and grow when you don’t know… what you don’t know? The right mentor can make all the difference. Here’s how mentorship can improve your career — and what to look for in a mentor.
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Imagine that when you were born, you didn’t get parents.
Instead, you got a big book called How to Be a Human Being.
And let’s imagine that you could overcome some immediate obstacles (such as not being able to read, or hold your head up, or lift the book to your eyes).
Let’s just imagine that somehow you could read that weighty tome cover to cover, as many times as you wanted.
All the information on human-ing would be there for you.
Mentors are to formal education what parents are to that heavy book.
You could probably make your way in the world just by reading.
But it’s a lot easier, a lot faster, and a lot more fun to master this “life” thing with support from people more experienced than you.
Granted, the right mentor will care much less about whether you wear a sweater or clean your room, but like parents, they are living, breathing, three-dimensional storehouses of experience, wisdom, and evolution.
You, smart reader, have probably read a lot of books. Maybe you have some letters after your name to prove it.
Hopefully you’ve also had some good teachers. School teachers and professors, yes. But also less formal teachers, like your wise grandmother or your tell-it-to-ya-straight-cause-I-know-it’s-good-for-ya boss.
Now compare these two things:
- Humans who care about you.
Both are good.
But what has given you more wisdom? Real wisdom. Wisdom that stuck with you. Wisdom that wriggled its way into the cracks of your mind, heart, guts, and soul.
It’s the people, not the pages, that have influenced you most profoundly.
Real growth and development doesn’t come from information, but from relationships.
In many cases, these are older, smarter, more advanced people who welcomed you into their world, took you under their figurative wing, and kicked your ass with experience and kindness.
Perhaps most importantly, these people were the ones who reassured you and pushed you to keep going when you found yourself with a skinned knee, snotty nose, and the words “I failed” on your lips.
In short, they cared.
Mentors are people who have already done the work themselves, and are willing to share their wisdom in order to help you climb SuperYou Mountain.
“Don’t trust that rock. It looks sturdy but will slide out from under you when you step on it.”
“Stop at this stream. The view is beautiful and the water is clean. You’ll need it to fuel you in the course ahead.”
“Forget about your lost compass. I’ll teach you to find true North.”
It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, or whether we’re talking career ascension or mountaineering.
Everyone benefits from a guide who’s been through it before, and is generous and willing enough to help light your path.
(Yes, this means you. YOU would benefit from a mentor.)
(It also means your clients. They’ll need mentorship from you.)
Mentors have certainly made a difference to my career, and I’ve seen the power of mentorship help students, clients and fellow coaches too.
In today’s article, I’ll outline the 7 priceless things you’ll learn from the right mentor. (These are also things your clients will be looking to you for).
Use it as a guide for finding a mentor, for benefitting from mentorship, and for providing mentorship for others.
1. The right mentor will tell you the real rules.
You know, all those unofficial, unwritten rules that aren’t recorded in any book or instruction manual.
They’ll tell you who to talk to, and when, about what. How stuff really gets done.
For instance, here’s the kind of thing you might hear from a good mentor:
Don’t do all the work for your clients. Don’t take their pain from them. Teach them, but let them struggle sometimes. The struggle will build muscle. The struggle will build resilience. In the end, your clients will be grateful.
Don’t make a client dependent on you for life. Instead, get them results, teach them skills, and let them fly on their own. A satisfied, newly confident client will spread the word of your superb coaching far and wide. One happy client is worth a thousand advertisements.
You might even learn stuff like:
You think you need to impress the big flashy guy at the top? Listen up, kid: Who you really need to impress is that quiet guy next to him taking all the notes. And by the way, quiet guy takes a coffee break at 11am and he’s a sucker for Seinfeld quotes. Just sayin’.
Sometimes you’ll hate the “real rules” you learn from mentors. Your innocence will shrivel and your naïve optimism will wither. Your romantic ideals will be incinerated and your forehead will be smacked.
But this is a good thing.
Once your illusions are out of the way, your true education begins.
This is the education of the real world, and it may not work exactly the way school taught you it would.
So aim to work with someone who will be honest and upfront with you. A mentor has the street smarts to balance your book smarts. Take a walk with them, and get ready to open your eyes.
2. The right mentor will give you humility.
“Look at my wall of diplomas!” you say.
“And my highest-grade-in-the-class test score! And my collection of textbooks! I’ve read them all, plus made nice highlights.”
Can you reference that textbook when your tight-lipped, teary-eyed client is sitting across from you, terrified of what will happen if she sits with her feelings instead of reaching for food?
Can you hide behind your framed diploma when your 80-year-old client is telling you that his body doesn’t work like it used to, and how can you possibly understand?
Will you sheepishly slide over your A+ test to prove your competency to the client who’s questioning your expertise, because she hasn’t achieved her unrealistic goals in the two weeks she’s been working with you?
A good mentor will give you some real talk.
They’ll prepare you for inevitable “tough cases” and tell you how they got through them.
They’ll also tell you that “tough cases” look different for everyone. The client that’s easy for your colleague may be difficult for you, and vice versa. No one thing makes a client “difficult”. (Mentors will tell you, in fact, that a lot of the time, the “difficulty” is YOU.)
They’ll remind you to show up to your coaching practice with an open “beginner’s mind”, rather than a closed, know-it-all “expertise”.
Of course, mentors shouldn’t deliberately crush your dreams. But a good mentor will acquaint you with the hard and wonderful messiness of reality, physiology, and human behavior. They will remind you, sometimes painfully, to be humble.
Humility inspires us to grow. When we lack humility, we get stuck.
A good mentor can remind you that there’s always room to improve. And to simply witness and be present with client struggles. You’re probably not that client’s savior anyway.
Between arrogance and crippling insecurity is a sweet space where both humility and quiet confidence live together in a symbiotic ecosystem. In this rich and precious microclimate — not the dry, arid, lifeless space of “expertise” and “fixing things” — is where mastery grows.
3. The right mentor will give you wisdom.
There’s “knowing stuff”. And then there’s wisdom.
Wisdom is really more like advanced pattern recognition combined with a deep understanding of the human condition.
Wisdom is like knowing without knowing.
A client walks in, and you immediately sense what they need and want. You can’t even say for sure how you know it. You just do.
Wisdom is how you know when a client is BSing you or not, like when your client throws their hands up in despair, proclaiming that they’re doing everything right, and their belt buckle still hasn’t moved a notch. And maybe it’s the twitch in their mustache, but something in your belly tells you there’s a hole in their story.
Wisdom is knowing when to push a client out of their comfort zone, like when you encouraged that client that she could finish the race, and it turned out to be one of the most empowering moments of her life.
Wisdom is also knowing when not to push, like when you told your overwhelmed and overworked client simply to rest, to process, and to not change anything until she was ready. And it turned out to be just what she needed.
A good mentor will help you cultivate this experiential intuition.
They’ll do this by sharing their real-life coaching stories, by challenging you to think more deeply about your clients’ circumstances, and by encouraging you to put yourself in novel coaching situations to practice and expand your experience.
And in so doing, you’ll build an internal reference library of wisdom that is not just based on facts or book learning, but also on twinge-y gut feelings and deep-bone hunches.
This wisdom is the foundation for your coaching wilderness survival skills.
Wisdom will maximize your efficiency and effectiveness as a coach, and it will take you from being Smart Coach to a Whoa-How’d-You-Know-That-Get-Out-Of-My-Head
You’re not really meant to come up with all the wisdom on your own. Instead, you absorb it from others.
Mentors have a wisdom account from which you can borrow, interest-free. We can add their insight to our own accumulating experiences. It’s as though, instead of just drawing on our own lives, we now have millions of previous lives that we can learn from.
When seeking a mentor, peer behind the curtain and look for real wisdom. People who’ve already developed their own coaching intuition and amassed a depth of experience are more likely to help you cultivate your own wisdom.
4. The right mentor will give you the big picture.
When you’re relatively new to a field, or even if you’re an intermediate practitioner, it’s easy to get lost in the details.
Q. How many grams of protein per serving? What about the specific amino acid composition? Do you like this brand of whey?
Q. What’s the optimal ratio of aerobic exertion to recovery time when doing HIITs?
Q. I like spinach, but I hear it has too many oxalates. Should I eat it? What about broccoli? What about the goitrogens in brassicas — or do the indoles balance those out?
Q. For maximal glute activation, do you recommend weighted hip thrusts or pendulum quadruped hip extensions?
Q. For the best return on investment, should I host a webinar series or a group retreat?
Since you’re newer, you don’t have a filter for detail importance. You can’t prioritize. You lack perspective.
You don’t have 10 or 30 years of experience that tell you the answers are:
A. Whatever, just get some protein.
A. Meh. Just move your butt.
A. Eat your damn greens.
A. Shut up and lift.
A. Who cares, just try one and see what happens.
A mentor will tell you when stuff truly matters, and when it doesn’t. And trust me, you’ll save a lot of time that way.
Look for a mentor who will help you filter what you do need to know, from what you don’t.
5. The right mentor will make you comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.
Mentors help you, as a learner, tolerate the unknown.
This is important, because no matter how many boss protocols, clinical pearls, and other wisdom bits you gather over the years, the fact is: Every client is new.
While experience will help you recognize patterns, hone your intuition, and sharpen your knowledge, every client session is a choose-your-own adventure of humanity with all the surprise, intrigue, and mystery you could ask for.
A mentor will never be able to give you the answer to all potential coaching conundrums.
Life is too complicated and humans are too mysterious to predict and pin down.
Instead, mentors can teach you how to be comfortable hanging out with problems.
They can teach you approaches, tools, and strategies that shed light on the most opaque, puzzling cases.
It’s the difference between being able to point to the Golden Gate Bridge on a map, and being able to navigate your way back to it with no support through the hilly, twisty, thickly-fogged streets of San Francisco.
Mentors help you make it OK when you’re lost.
Because just as soon as you think you have a solid path, new information, a paradigm-shifting epiphany, or just a big ol’ barricade of client resistance will come along, and your perfectly-charted route is now useless.
Mentors help get you back on the ground and explore the terrain in more detail.
They help you find detours, show you where the ground is soft so you can tunnel under, and how to build bridges. They will show you that there are endless paths to your destination.
For example, here are some examples of coaching challenges a good mentor might help you with:
Got a client who takes every suggestion for change as a personal affront? No problem. Here’s how to coach with positivity and encouragement and STILL get a client to grow and move forward.
Got a client with roaming pains and physical symptoms with no measurable medical explanation? Let’s work with this. Here’s how to teach a client body awareness and relaxation techniques.
Got a client who has so many diagnoses and medications that your head is spinning and your tongue is twisted? That’s OK. Here’s how to build a trusted referral network.
In short, mentors can help you find solutions to complicated, confusing head-scratchers. Not the solution, but options, experiments, tricks, and practices. Many solutions.
They will show you how to be adaptable, flexible, persistent, and yes, even sneaky. (You didn’t think good coaching could be sneaky, did you?)
Aim to work with a mentor who is already comfortable with discomfort.
6. The right mentor will give you a postcard from the future.
Mentors are like your horizon point:
“You Are Here… In Five Years. Or 10.”
They’re a flesh-and-blood vision of your potential. They give you evidence of what’s possible.
Maybe your mentor walks out of an intense session with a complex client not feeling ragged and depleted, but feeling energized and stimulated.
What if you could approach challenging cases not biting your nails, but rubbing your hands together in delight?
Perhaps your mentor has the type of practice where their office is on the beach one month, and in a cool coffee shop in Amsterdam the next.
What if you had that kind of flexibility, freedom, and adventure built into your career?
Or maybe your mentor inspires you because of the way less-experienced coaches seek them out for guidance and wisdom and a sure-fire approach to get clients results?
What if you were the coach who people trusted, looked up to, and learned from?
Of course, it’s not enough just to watch and admire. You’ll have to do much of the work to achieve your vision on your own.
Because as a coach, your work is experiential. You learn by doing. By experimenting. And, of course, by screwing up.
You will mess up, lose your way, or get mired in confusion and distraction. And while you will eventually find your way through the maze with enough sweat and persistence, a mentor can help you locate exactly where you are in the trajectory of your career.
Most of us learn by imitating and modeling. Having “evidence” of our dreams makes them feel more real — more attainable.
7. The right mentor will give a sh*t.
Most importantly, good mentors care. About YOU.
They probably have a big-picture vision of moving your particular field of practice forward, but more importantly, they care about how it moves forward through you.
They care what makes you unique. They care about helping you succeed. They care about you in the mysterious and inexplicable way we often care about people who remind us a little of ourselves.
They help you feel supported and understood.
A mentor can consistently assess and evaluate how you are progressing, and what you need in order to keep developing as a coach. They can keep you accountable and keep you getting back up.
As we’re fond of saying, even coaches need coaches.
The act of being coached teaches us in the deepest possible way how to be a coach.
Mentors may see us more clearly than we see ourselves.
This may mean recognizing our flaws more accurately, but also with more gentleness and more acceptance. It may mean recognizing our superpowers before we feel them ourselves, and drawing them out for the unique potential they have.
Your mentor should, above all, care about you.
Having someone you respect believing in you can be transformative.
Are you ready?
What to do next:
Some tips from Precision Nutrition
Who you are today and who you’ll be in five years is determined by the mentors you choose. (And the ones who choose you.)
Here’s how to begin to look for the right mentor for you.
1. Ask yourself: Do you have a mentor?
If you don’t, any candidates in mind? In your dream world, who would be your mentor?
What would you look for in a mentor? What kind of person would they be?
2. What areas of expertise do you seek?
- Nutritional science?
- Coaching psychology?
- Business strategy?
- Professional development?
- General life wisdom?
You can have a mentor or coach for anything. Anything. Whether that’s how to dress yourself, how to manage your time, how to cook a chicken, or how to tie your shoelaces (seriously — there is a lesser-known, better way to tie shoes).
3. What — and who — might you need in order to become the best coach that you can be?
Identify exactly what you’re looking for. Then begin your search.
Seek out the people who are a little further along the path than you are. People who embody the qualities outlined in this article.
Be quiet and listen as much as you can. Talk only to ask questions or explore ideas, not to make pronouncements, to try to impress your mentor, and/or to say “I already know this.”
Be coachable. (It’s hard, huh? Now you know what your clients have to go through.) Become open. Make yourself available to learn.
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