Author and personal development consultant Dan Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent
that effective coaches and mentors have the following 5 traits:
1. They don’t act like a waiter
Here’s what you don’t want: someone who only makes you comfortable and happy, with a minimum of effort, and says things like: Don’t worry, no problem, we can take care of that later.
For Coyle, this type of person is great as a waiter in a restaurant, but not as a coach or mentor.
2. They scare you a little
Instead of simply being courteous, your mentor should fill you with emotions like admiration, respect, and even “a shiver of fear.”
Look for the following signs:
They watch you closely: they’re genuinely interested in figuring you out – what you want and what motivates you.
They’re action-oriented: they won’t want to spend a lot of time chatting – instead, they’ll want to “jump in to a few activities immediately,“ so they can get a feel for you and vice versa.
They’re "unneveringly honest”: they will tell you the truth about your performance in clear language. You’ll eventually realize this isn’t personal, and is exactly the information you need to get better.
3. They give you short, clear directions
The best coaches and mentors “guide you to a target” by giving you short and unmistakably clear directions.
They don’t give long speeches because teaching “is not an eloquence contest; it is about creating a connection and delivering useful information.”
4. They love teaching the fundamentals
Great mentors and coaches know that fundamentals are at the core of your skills, and that the more advanced you become, the more crucial they are.
Because of this, they may spend an entire practice session on one core skill – for instance, how to hold a golf club or how to play a single note on a guitar.
5. Other things being equal, pick the older person
Coyle points out that like any other skill, it takes time to get good at teaching – all great teachers are themselves dedicated learners who are committed to their own growth.
However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t good coaches and mentors who are younger than 30 – there are; or that every person in their 60s and 70s is by definition a good coach or mentor – they’re not.