Mentoring During a Pandemic with Tabatha Coffey
Mentoring During a Pandemic with Tabatha Coffey

When Mentor Me debuted in 2019 with the Matrix team, including Matrix Global Business Ambassador Tabatha Coffey, guiding a hand-selected group of stylists to address challenges in growing their brand and their business, the program went so well that it seemed natural to follow with a new group of mentees for 2020. But, of course, 2020 was a year unlike any other, shutting off professionals from in-person classrooms, trade show presentations, and other customary learning opportunities. Just when salon professionals needed the most help to rebuild, ordinary interaction was brought to a halt as we all figured out what life would look like after lockdown.

Fortunately, the industry began to rebound, and in May 2021 the second installment of Mentor Me was launched with new mentees Annelise "Babs" Busch, Mark Amponin, Gabriel Urbina, Chavaun DeVore, and Georgia Tournai. Aiding Coffey in helping the group with cutting, color, styling, business, and personal growth were Matrix artists including Nick Stenson, Eric Vaughn, and Michelle O'Connor.

Pivot to Opportunity

Coffey, who initially helped to develop the Mentor Me concept, says the team turned obstacles into opportunities. “Every mentee took virtual learning in stride with invaluable, hands-on training from the Matrix education team, artistic directors, and creative directors,” she reports. By December 2021, the educators and mentees were able to meet in person for three days of hands-on education in New York City; they returned a few months later for a photo shoot. As the program comes to a close, Coffey and all five mentees agree that the year held immeasurable value for all involved. Read the mentees' wrap-ups here.

“It was a pivot,” Coffey says, “but we found that even in a pandemic we could foster closeness. You can’t do clients virtually, but you can definitely do education. We could still give advice and have connection that, pre-pandemic, would have seemed impossible.”

Coffey conducted monthly, one-on-one virtual meetings with each mentee and made sure the mentees were fully prepared and had the necessary mannequins and tools before each of their virtual classroom sessions, which also took place monthly. The mentees could show the instructors their work and submit the homework they were assigned at the previous class. Then in 2022, from January through the time of the photo shoot, Coffey increased the virtual meetings to weekly. And there was even more.

“They got lots of touch points from me,” Coffey explains. “We would jump on zooms all the time, or they would text me. We talked about mindset, feeling confident, getting out of your own way. That’s why it’s such a great program—it truly covers all the pieces everyone needs.” 

Why Mentoring Works

An accredited Coach, Master NLP Practitioner, and certified Hypnotherapist, Tabatha Coffey has been mentoring salon professionals ever since she appeared as a breakout star on Bravo’s Shear Genius in 2007. She followed with her own reality show, Tabatha Takes Over, and other TV appearances. Mentoring, she says, occurs in everyday business.

“It can be an owner mentoring the staff or the staff mentoring the younger people coming into the salon,” Coffey observes. “We’re mentors to our clients as well, making sure they feel empowered and just taking care of them when they’re in our chair. Mentoring is about supporting each other and passing along knowledge, then letting your mentees put their own fingerprint on it and pass it on to others. That’s how we grow.”

Coffey begins by asking mentees to fill out the same type of questionnaire she uses with clients in the consultation. Where should we start? What do you want out of this? Then, rather than pushing for big changes, Coffey says she helps her mentees look at things in fresh ways.

“I tell them I have a vision for each of them,” Coffey explains. “I don’t carry their baggage—past failures, fear, imposter syndrome—so I see nothing but their greatness. I help them to question things. Was that experience a failure or a learning experience? If it didn’t turn out how you’d anticipated, you’ve learned something and now you’ll change direction. I can make suggestions, but it’s up to the individuals to do the work.”

Together, Coffey and the mentee identify goals, which Coffey calls the person’s “umbrella.” But her approach is less direct than mentees might expect.

“People tend to set goals that often feel unattainable and focus on the end, not the beginning,” she explains. “I flip it. I focus on the beginning, and that naturally will get you to the end of the journey. It’s less painful, and it sticks. A band-aid fix feels unsustainable, and I want people to have sustainable businesses, sustainable careers.”

To hit your goal, you don’t have to tear down what you’ve already built and rebuild it, Coffey says.

“You can take small, incremental steps that build momentum,” she explains. “You can’t get your hand around that bright goal on the top of the mountain. Just climb the mountain! I know that the mentees all can do it, but they need someone to guide them, support them when it gets scary, serve as a sounding board, and narrow down their ideas so they have a roadmap to work with.”

Post-pandemic Motivation

She says we’re at a unique point right now.

“Coming through the pandemic, we’re questioning our abilities and thinking about our long-term goals,” Coffey notes. “We want to go for it in a way that feels comfortable and authentic. It’s really looking at the mindset.”

In addition to a lack of confidence, a common issue is motivation.

“One thing I hear frequently is: ‘I’ve lost my passion,’” Coffey reports. “It’s not that they’ve lost it, really, but they feel stuck and don’t know how to reinvigorate that passion. They have a good sense of themselves but look to a mentor to stretch them—push them a little so they can flourish and grow, expand and learn. I help them navigate so they’re not hitting walls—question, learn new things, and apply them in the real world.”

Sometimes we can take too much accountability, Coffey observes.

“Beating ourselves up happens so much in our industry, but it’s also a human condition,” she says. “We blame and shame ourselves. ‘My client had to come back for a redo,’ or ‘I don’t have clients today,’ or ‘I didn’t get many likes on my Instagram post.’ That stops us from seeing our growth and potential. We should stop beating ourselves up. There is enough room for all of us. The more we grow as an industry, the better we do.”

Hairdressers don’t just keep their knowledge to themselves, Coffey notes.

“Everything they’re looking for is in this journey—this container—and now the mentees can take that container through their career and pass it forward,” she says. “Many of our first-year mentees went into education to pay it forward to other people in the industry. That’s what we’re known for as hairdressers.”

Looking Back and Ahead

The year of intense mentorship may be concluding, but Tabatha Coffey isn’t leaving her mentees’ lives. She says they remind her of herself when she was younger and, like them, so eager to grow and learn.

“I adore them,” Coffey says of the mentees. “I love seeing the successes they post on social media and touching base to hear how their businesses are going. Compared to when we saw them coming into this journey, there’s so much difference when we see them now. We always need to refine and hone our craft as trends and products change, and that education will always be vastly important. But there’s also the mindset piece, the social media piece, the branding piece. Mentor Me brings all these pieces together.”

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