Episode 109 – Mentoring and Coaching – Supporting Professional Growth

Original Air Date

Run Time

34 Minutes
Home Manage This Podcast Episode 109 – Mentoring and Coaching – Supporting Professional Growth

About This Episode

Susanne Madsen

Mentoring vs. coaching – are these the same? Though we often use the words “coaching” and “mentoring” interchangeably, the two methods are quite different. In this episode, our guest Susanne Madsen shares how both processes emphasize a distinct approach to helping people realize their full potential.

Susanne shares how serving as a coach will make you a better project leader. She highlights the importance of open-ended questions, and the significance of asking “how” and “what” questions, while avoiding the “why” questions. Hear about common mistakes that project managers make when coaching and advice on how to help someone enhance their problem-solving skills. Furthermore, Susanne describes how to determine if you need a coach or mentor for the current stage of your professional journey.

Susanne Madsen is a project leadership coach, trainer and consultant. She is the author of The Power of Project Leadership (2nd edition) and The Project Management Coaching Workbook. Prior to setting up her business, Susanne Madsen International Ltd, she worked in the corporate sector leading programs for organizations such as Standard Bank, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. She is a fully qualified Corporate and Executive coach, an NLP Practitioner, DISC accredited, and a regular contributor to the Association for Project Management (APM).

Favorite Quotes from Episode

"… when you study coaching, you become so much more conscious about your own beliefs, about how you come across. And you just get better at building rapport and having conversations with others, empathizing with others, and not just talking about yourself all the time."

Susanne Madsen

"Because when we coach, we’re not looking at what just happened, we’re looking at everything below it. What were the reasons for that? How did you feel? What might their motives be, conscious or unconscious, that we’re trying to uncover by these open and reflective questions."

Susanne Madsen

Susanne Madsen shares how mentoring and coaching are quite different, yet both emphasize a distinct approach to helping people realize their full potential, and how serving as a coach will make you a better project leader. Our work environment has changed significantly and abruptly; have you considered taking on a role as a coach or a mentor to encourage others to stay engaged and productive?

Table of Contents

01:01 … Meet Susanne
01:44 … Coaching vs. Mentoring Definitions
03:05 … Are Project Managers Good Coaches?
04:08 … Who Should Mentor?
04:59 … Deciding on a Coach or a Mentor
06:25 … Good Coaching Skills
07:57 … Limitations of Internal Coaching
11:27 … Mistakes Made in the Role of a Coach
12:43 … Asking Good Questions
15:36 … Making Time to Reflect and Review
18:08 … Don’t Ask Why
19:49 … Enhancing Problem-Solving Skills
22:20 … Benefits of Becoming a Coach
24:54 … Can You Self-Coach?
26:15 … Choosing the Right Mentor
27:31 … Time Spent on the Relationship
28:52 … Who Sets Expectations?
29:33 … Benefits for the Mentor
31:03 … Organizational Coaching or Mentoring?
32:50 … Contact Susanne
33:47 … Closing

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So when you study coaching, you become so much more conscious about your own beliefs, about how you come across.  And you just get better at building rapport and having conversations with others, empathizing with others, and not just talking about yourself all the time. 

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  If you like what you hear, please leave us a review on our website or wherever you listen to our podcast.  We always love hearing from you.  I am Wendy Grounds, and with me in the studio is Bill Yates.  Welcome, Bill.

BILL YATES:  Hi, Wendy.  I’m excited about our conversation today.  This is going to be on a topic that I think a lot of project managers will benefit from.  I think there’s a lot of confusion, too, about coaching versus mentoring.  So we hope to really clarify for people, what’s the difference?  Are they the same?  And what advice do we have for both those who want to be a coach or receive coaching; be a mentor or receive mentoring.

Meet Susanne  

WENDY GROUNDS:  Right, right, so I was thinking, let’s do a podcast on coaching/mentoring. And the more I looked into it, the more we realized those are two very different things, and so we hope that our guest today can elaborate and give us some clarity. So her name is Susanne Madsen, and she’s a project leadership coach, trainer, and consultant, and we’re very excited to have Susanne with us in the studio today.

BILL YATES:  It’s going to be outstanding, and so I’m going to be the one with the boring accent.  We have two wonderful accents, and then there’s me.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yes.  Susanne was telling us she lives in the U.K., but she’s Danish.  So, yeah, pick up some of that accent.  It’s pretty cool.


WENDY GROUNDS:  Susanne, welcome to Manage This.  Thank you so much for joining us today.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Thank you for having me.  It’s a real honor.

Coaching vs. Mentoring Definitions

WENDY GROUNDS:  Coaching versus mentoring.  Could you give us a definition of both of them and just how they relate to projects?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yes, and it’s good that we start with that because so many people use those two terms interchangeably. And I think we should say that there’s a lot of overlap, that both help us to relate to another person and help that other person move forward.  But we do that in different ways, whether we are coaching or mentoring.

So coaching, as a coach, we like to say that we don’t give advice, and that’s one of the big differences between the two. When we coach somebody, we like to help somebody move forward by encouraging that person to find the answers for themselves, and there’s a number of ways we do that.

With mentoring – and so I’m looking here at the black-and-white differences between them.  With mentoring it’s perfectly acceptable to give advice because the whole point of mentoring is that you pass on knowledge from one person, who may have the experience that the other person doesn’t have, and so that is part of the parcel.  And when you then relate that to project management, you can see that, as a junior project manager, I might want to be mentored by somebody more senior. So they can pass on the knowledge, tell me all the war stories, and tell me what they think I should or should not do or how to progress within the organization.  Whereas with coaching, it’s much more impartial, in a way.

Are Project Managers Good Coaches?        

BILL YATES:  So a follow-up question on that, I remember reading some of your blogs and writing about this, and I totally agree with it.  You make the point that project managers tend to want to give more advice and sometimes don’t make the best coaches for that reason.  Is that because we’re problem solvers?  So what is it in a project manager that makes them sometimes difficult to be a good coach?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  I think it goes for project managers as many other types of professions, anything to do with engineering and problem-solving, because we like to give the impression that we know a lot. We know it all, maybe not everything, but we are knowledgeable.  We don’t want to make people feel that they could do without us, and so that’s actually something that’s related also, not just to coaching, but to leadership in general.  If I empower other people, and if I don’t tell them what to do, then what is my role? And we can’t really get our head around that, so yes, it’s true that many project managers like to give advice because it makes me feel that I’m needed.

Who Should Mentor? 

BILL YATES:  Yup.  So following up on that, thinking about it from a person who is thinking maybe I should mentor, given the definitions that we have, who do you think is better positioned to be a mentor?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So when I’m a mentor, I would say I’ve got to a position within the organization where I’m a little bit more senior.  It doesn’t mean that junior people can’t also mentor.  But it suggests that I have a certain level of experience that I want to pass on that knowledge and experience to somebody else.  So I may be very happy with my day job, very busy with my day job, and I may feel there’s a certain way of doing it that I would like to pass on to others.  And so I’m quite happy to spend, let’s say a couple of hours a month mentoring different people, or a couple of hours every six months mentoring others.  Whereas coaching, I think, is fundamentally different because as a coach you do need some training.

Deciding on a Coach or a Mentor

WENDY GROUNDS:  If we’re looking at it from the other side now, if somebody is saying, “Should I have a coach, or should I have a mentor for my career?”  How do they decide which is the right thing for them?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So I know a lot of people who do both.  So one doesn’t exclude the other, also one might be readily available within the organization, and the other one might not.  But let’s say that we take those constraints away. Personally I would say that, if somebody wants to learn from somebody more senior, if I know that I can get better at the subject matter, or if I would like to climb the career ladder, and I need to broaden my network, or there’s something else I feel that I can get from somebody, let’s say, within my own organization, or with somebody who works within the same industry as me – maybe they don’t work in my company, but in a sister company – then mentoring is for me.

Also if I feel that it’s more like there are some situations, the same situations keep coming up for me – I keep locking heads with my project sponsors, or I keep getting the same kind of feedback from my team members and I’m wondering, is it me or is it them?  Then mentoring isn’t really for me. They’re less likely to work with me on those interpersonal skills, understanding my own patterns, my own limiting beliefs, that much more behavioral aspect, so that’s much more about coaching.

Good Coaching Skills

BILL YATES:  I want to follow up on the role of a coach because there’s a part of me that’s a little bit intimidated when I think about being an effective coach because I agree with you, I think it does require some training.  When you’re thinking about that, what are some skills that you see in good coaches?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Good coaches here, I would assume that they have been trained.  Some of the obvious skills that a coach needs is more about the asking open questions and listening.  And also rapport building is unbelievably important because coaching is about creating a safe and very confidential space because as a coachee, I open up a lot about stuff that may be very vulnerable to me.  So as a coach I need to be able to hold that space and to treat that confidentiality and to build a rapport that enables the other person to really open up, and not make them feel awkward and go, “Oh, really?  Did you say that?  I mean, that’s really horrible,” you know.  So there’s a lot of interpersonal skills that a coach needs that we train in as coaches.

And I’d also like to say that a good coach is somebody who can be a mirror.  It doesn’t mean that I just match and mirror whatever you’re doing, but it means that I play back to you whatever is going on for you.  So you might talk me through some of your goals and aspirations.  And I replay that back to you; and I say, okay, so what I’m hearing you saying is so and so.  And you go, yeah, I guess that’s what I’m saying.  So being that mirror is also very important as a coach.

Limitations of Internal Coaching

BILL YATES:  You talk about the need for building rapport and confidentiality in a coaching relationship.  I totally agree.  I’ve got to be able to trust my coach that I can share those deficiencies that I have, the weaknesses that I have, my failures, and know that it’s not going to impact my career negatively; right?  So just thinking about this practically, how do you see companies manage internal coaches so that there is that sense of trust and the person receiving the coaching feels the freedom to share those things and not feel like they’re going to be limited as a result.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  You know, that’s a very good question because I have contact with internal coaches.  Typically they would sit in HR, and they have been given some coaching training, and they are now expected to be coaching employees.  Depending on the size of the company, I think it has different implications.  Now, it’s interesting because those people who are being coached perhaps know these HR managers from a different context.


SUSANNE MADSEN:  And so you will actually never get an impartial conversation.  You may, if you have a good relationship.  But I think that is the reason why some big organizations have external coaches.  I used to work for a very large corporate company, an American one, actually, and they did exactly that.  They had HR coach their employees, and I think the result was limited.  So I think it’s interesting because when we use the word “coaching,” we can use it in different contexts.  So one context is I’m an outsider; I’m an independent coach, like I am.  I can be completely impartial because I have no agenda there, and a coach shouldn’t have an agenda.

Then you have the internal coaches who in principle do the same.  But just because of the way they’re set up, you might question confidentiality, or the trust between the two parties.  And then you have also when a manager coaches, which is even closer because we do talk about managers as coaches.  But where is the confidentiality there?  And that’s interesting because the manager sometimes needs to wear the manager hat and sometimes the coaching hat.  But in that situation actually he’s still a manager, but he’s using some coaching techniques to perhaps not be so directional.  That’s really what we mean when we talk about the manager as coach.

BILL YATES:  Those are great examples to talk through.  I appreciate that.  I think if I’m receiving coaching, I think that’s one of the things that I want to discuss straightaway, right at the beginning, with my coach, is okay, where do we fit on the organization chart?  Are you an external coach, or are you internal?  Okay, you are internal.  Do we have past history together?  Are you having a part of my performance review?

So just bringing all that up right from the start so that you know, okay, what are we comfortable to share in this relationship?  And are we sure that we’re in a good place with that?  Because to your point, the more confidential information I’m able to share with my coach, the more I’m going to grow.  That’s just the bottom line.  So I want to optimize that the best that I can.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Well, it’s interesting on that point because I do a lot of work with a large construction firm.  And actually all of their managers have now received coaching training.  They’re supposed to sit with each other and coach each other across the top level of the organization.  And somebody said exactly that to me:  “Do you think that I’m going to be completely open with this other boss about how I feel about my own boss or whatever?”  So I think the idea is good.  But it’s just has a few kind of restrictions, let’s say.

BILL YATES:  Sure, yeah. 

Mistakes Made in the Role of a Coach  

WENDY GROUNDS:  So we’re looking at project managers who are doing their own coaching, perhaps, on a project.  What are some mistakes that project managers make in the role of a coach?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So first of all, if they don’t get any training – because I do hear people say, “Oh, yeah, I coach all the time.”  And what they mean is “I give lots of advice.”


SUSANNE MADSEN:  So the first mistake is if they don’t get any training.  And then I think also asking closed questions.  A trained coach should not ask closed questions.  It can be rhetorical to ask a closed question, but that certainly shouldn’t be the norm.  Newly trained coaches, it’s like when you learn to dance.  You’re like, oh, oh, what was the step now I was going to take?  And you kind of look at your notes so it becomes a little bit like “left, right, pause,” “left, right, pause.”  And you try to follow a coaching model.  And that can be a little bit awkward.

And actually what’s really important, with anything we’ve trained in anything, is we let go of the process, and we trust our intuition.  And little by little we’ll get better at following a conversation, asking open questions.  Being present is such an important part when we coach.  And trusting that, if we build rapport, and we ask open questions, that it will lead us to more clarity in the conversation.

Asking Good Questions    

BILL YATES:  The thing that I see the most is people, they don’t understand, my role as a coach is to ask questions.  You know, it’s not my role as a coach is to hand the fish to the person.  No, no, I need to teach them how to fish; right?  It is; it’s different.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yeah, I often use that analogy.  It’s a really good one.

BILL YATES:  One of the things that you’ve written and talked about is a coach needs to learn how to ask a good question.  You mentioned a closed question versus an open question.  Can you elaborate a bit on what makes a question a good question?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  The good question is a question that really makes the other person reflect on what is going on in the situation right now.  We could also call them “high-gain” questions.  So it’s a question that gives you a lot.  And it’s typically a question that begins with “how,” or “what,” or “what if”; a question that really makes the other person think because again, if I give you advice, I can say to you, “But have you tried to just have a conversation?”  But if I ask a high-gain question instead in terms of what would enable you to have a conversation about this with your boss; or, if you were to raise this topic to your boss, how do you need to raise it so that it’s received in the right way; it really makes the other person think how.  I’m not asking whether you’re going to do it or not.  I’m just saying, if you were to do this, what would need to happen in order for you to get, let’s say, the best results?

BILL YATES:  I agree.  I think there are times when I’m receiving coaching, and I’m asked a question that makes me pause and reflect on the situation that I’m discussing – okay, this happened in a meeting, and I’m pretty upset about it, now, help me, coach.  When the coach asks some backup questions or background questions of what led to the meeting?  Was it a standard meeting, or was it something that was kind of an emergency meeting that was called?  Who was in the room?  Who was present?  What was at stake?  And then what raised the stakes?  Was it a budget cut or a scheduling issue or something?  And then, like you say, some of those deeper questions of what do you think the sponsor or your manager was hoping to find in this?  Or what would have been the response you think they were looking for from you?

You’ve listed out a number of questions in the books and blogs that you’ve written, and I found some of those really on point because they go at the heart of the matter.  And so they force that person receiving the coaching to stop and reflect and put themselves back in that situation.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yeah, and I think the examples you’ve given there is also examples where your coach made you think – not just think, but reflect about what was really going on?  Because when we coach, we’re not looking at what just happened, we’re looking at everything below it. What were the reasons for that?  How did you feel?  So what might their motives be, conscious or unconscious, that we’re trying to uncover by these open and reflective questions.

Making Time to Reflect and Review  

BILL YATES:  I’ve got a follow-up to that.  One of the things that I struggle with is, in a session like that, what practically should the coach and the person receiving the coaching do so that, you know, a month from now, six months from now, they can reflect on it and maybe come back and see, hey, how is that going?  Or I’m in a similar situation, I’ll be in another meeting like this in two months.  I need to have something where I can reflect and go, okay, this is what I learned from before. So what practical advice do you have for that?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So in a normal coaching relationship, there should always be almost a built-in way of looking at how are you going to maintain this?  So what action are you going to take?  Because coaching is not a nice conversation.  It might be pleasant, but it always has to finish with what did you take from this?  What are you going to implement?  And it is for the coach to follow up in subsequent coaching conversations about how did that go, how are you getting on with this, and then comparing that to the long-term goals we have for the coaching.

So I think there’s a whole bunch of things we can say when we start the coaching about having some kind of overarching goals that we can check back against.  And so when we finish the coaching relationship, whether we’ve been coaching for six months or a year or however long, we need to continue to check back against are your goals being met and fulfilled, and what can you continue to do to meet these goals if you have ongoing conflict with people you work with, for instance.  We need to make sure and check back how that is going, so I think the answer to your question may not be so clear as to tips rather than it’s an ongoing process to check back.

And when we finish the coach relationship, it’s about what are you going to do because as a coach I’m not going to tell you.  I’m not going to give you advice on how to follow up because it’s different for everybody.  But I will ask the coachee, as we go along, what do they need to do to stay committed to this?  What are they finding difficult?  What might get in their way of doing what they say they’re going to do?

And so what it often ends up with, as well, what suits some clients or coachees very well, is to schedule regular review meetings with themselves.  Not everybody is disciplined to do it, but to take time out and reflect how am I doing in my work, how am I getting on with my relationships, kind of checking in, taking that balcony view.  And when we take time to reflect, we will often know what we need to do.  So I think the ongoing reflection is a discipline that benefits many coachees who, let’s say, are no longer being coached actively.

Don’t Ask Why 

BILL YATES:  So one quick follow-up question that I have about good questions for the coach to ask.  Many times you say they start with “how” and “what,” but not “why”?  Why is that?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yeah, I think it depends how “why” is asked, but if I sit in a coaching conversation, and you tell me, “Yeah, I got really upset when my boss told me that I had to do this,” and you go, “Why? Why did you get upset?”  It’s almost like you have to justify, it’s an open question, but it’s a question that makes the coachee feel they have to justify it, or that they did something wrong.  So there’s other ways of asking the same thing, which is just like, oh, what made you say that, or what led to that?  So “why” is a great question to ask when people have to justify a business case and stuff like that.  You know, the five whys or whatever it is?

BILL YATES:  Sure, yeah, yeah, yeah, but you’re right, yeah.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  But you have to use it with care in a coaching conversation.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  That was a real eye-opener to me when I was reading some of your work. I was thinking, okay, so if not put in the right context, a question that starts with “why” tends to make people defensive.  They feel like they have to justify, they have to defend their actions.  That’s not what I want as a coach.  I don’t want somebody to go into a defensive mode, so I have to be very careful with that.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yeah, I want to build trust and – I spend a lot of time when I coach to make my coachees feel and know that whatever they’re saying, it’s okay.  I’m not there to judge, and this has to be said when we talk about coaching.  I am as impartial as I can be, we all see the world through our own filters, but it is not my job to judge.  That is very far from coaching.  They’ve done what they’ve done.  Now we’re looking at how they can move forward.

Enhancing Problem-Solving Skills 

WENDY GROUNDS:  So how do you really coach someone to enhance their problem-solving skills?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  I always ask somebody to come with an example, you cannot coach generically, so whatever comes up in a coaching conversation, I will tell them, give me an example.  And of course they have an example from yesterday because that’s why they’re bringing it up.  So there’s always an example.  And then we go through it.  Talk me through what happened.  What were you thinking?  So we try to unpick what happened, let’s say my coachee wants to become a better presenter or to do better steering committee meetings.  And they have a feeling that that meeting last week didn’t go well, and now they have a new steering committee meeting come up, and they’re a little bit apprehensive.  How do I then empower them, right, is the question.

Well, so we talk through what they would like to get from this steering committee meeting, whatever the meeting is.  What would they like to get from it?  How are they thinking about doing the meeting?  What are they in doubt about?  What feedback did they get in the last meeting?  When they have done really great meetings, what did they do really well, when it just gelled and went really well?  And then I always find some gold in there, something that they did really well or something that worked well, and I expand that because oftentimes coaching is actually about confidence.  So many people are not confident, or they beat themselves up, or we have this negativity bias in our brains.

So a big part of what I do to empower them to move forward is to find areas where they can use some of the confidence they have, some positive experiences they have, and build on that because I’m trying to hone their intuition and empower them to run with it. And so let’s take the example of the person who’s fishing for a fish.  Instead of me just fishing the fish for them, I’m teaching them how to fish, and if they do something right, I’m like, well, the other day you caught a fish.  What did you do well three days ago when you caught that big piece of salmon? Oh, yeah, so well, what I did, this and this and that.  Well, great.  Let’s build on that.

So always try to find in the examples they give me something that worked really well for them.  Then we look at their doubts, what’s holding them back.  So we try and really unpick it and build it back together again, and I can never leave, never leave a coachee at the point where we’ve unpicked things.  I always have to put it back together before we finish a conversation.  Otherwise I leave them in a very bad place.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’d be a mess, wouldn’t it, yeah.  It’s like take apart the end game.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  That is not good, yeah.  Sorry, we ran out of time.

WENDY GROUNDS:  We’re done.

BILL YATES:  See you next month.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Because I need to bring them back up.  And if they come with too big an issue, we just chunk it down and say what’s the most important step you can take right now?

Benefits of Becoming a Coach

BILL YATES:  I want you to make a case for those who are looking at this idea of coaching and thinking, okay, so I think I want to invest in training and become a coach.  But I’m not sure.  So sell me on the benefits of becoming a coach.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So it probably depends whether you are already an employee and you have a job.  If you are a project manager, and you’re quite happy with your job, that’s how I started out, and then you might think, well, it can help me to enhance my relationships. That’s what they sold coaching on to me, so they said somehow magically you’re going to get better relationships out of it.  I didn’t understand how, but now I know why that is.  Because you just learn to become more conscious.

So when you study coaching, you become so much more conscious about your own beliefs, about how you come across.  And so you just get better at building rapport and having conversations with others, empathizing with others, and not just talking about yourself all the time.  I now know that I used to do that.  Now I notice it when other people keep going without asking any questions, it’s sad, really.

BILL YATES:  It is. So Susanne, as I was reflecting on our conversation, I have a friend of mine who’s actually in sales in a different industry.  And he is the amazing question asker.  So every time I’m with this friend, he’s asking me, hey, how are things going?  How’s your family?  How’s work?  And asking deeper questions, you know, what is it about that that made that so rewarding? Or, you know, what was it about that vacation that you guys loved?  I come away from it, and I feel like, man, I hardly got around to asking him questions, but he’s just naturally such a good question asker, and it builds rapport.  There’s a sense of trust and just a sense of genuine interest.  There is that empathy that’s connected there.  So this is a life skill, this is truly a life skill, as you learn to coach.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  He’s a good salesperson, then.


SUSANNE MADSEN:  Because that’s what good salespeople do.

BILL YATES:  Exactly.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So I would say that’s one reason to become a coach.  You generally increase your own interpersonal skills.  And then, of course, you can use that for anything because it’s people who deliver projects.  So if you’re in project management, you know, you connect better with people.  But generally it will help you in life.  And when you coach others, and you help others to get an aha moment, because that happens, and you help people move forward.  I feel so fulfilled and so happy when I see somebody else moving forward, it’s unbelievable.  And so my coachees often thank me, and I’m like, thank you for opening up, being honest, and for taking action.  You have no idea how much it gives me as your coach.

Can You Self-Coach? 

WENDY GROUNDS:  It does sound really rewarding, and it also sounds like a lot of self-awareness, if you’re becoming a coach. Is it possible to self-coach?  If you’re saying, well, I can’t find anyone or, you know, I work on my own, so how can you really teach yourself these things?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So there is a mechanical part to it which you can do.  And the mechanical part is asking the good questions, so taking time away with yourself and asking questions like, “What do you want?  What’s holding you back?  What would you do if money was no restriction?  Or what would you do if?”  So you can do that part, and you can try to be honest and write things down.

But the problem is the honesty part because we all see the world through our own filters.  And so if I lack confidence, and I’m trying to coach myself, I’ll keep running against that wall of, “Yes, but I’m not good enough.”  Or “Yes, but I can’t do this.”  Or whatever it is I’m telling myself, and our own limiting beliefs are difficult to see because we’re so entrenched in them.  So that’s why I’m saying on the paper you can coach yourself and ask the questions.  But who’s holding you to account and saying, “I’m detecting here that blah blah,” and who can ask a high-gain question?  So you can, but maybe not with full effectiveness.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that perspective of an outsider is very valuable.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yeah, absolutely.

Choosing the Right Mentor   

WENDY GROUNDS: So I’d like us to talk about mentoring for a little bit.  How would you advise someone if they wanted to find and develop just the trusted career advice, somebody who could give them that advice?  How would you help direct them?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  I think it’s important that they choose and look for a mentor who they generally have some admiration for.  That person should have some positive traits so that you’ll feel enticed to learning from them.  And then some people look at the CEO, and they’re like, I would like to be mentored by the CEO.  But there’s no relationship there already, and it’s probably not the best pairing in the world. So I would say look for somebody you already know.  When I say “know,” I mean know professionally.  So it might be an existing colleague who you have some good rapport with, but you would perhaps like to formalize your relationship a little bit.

Now, mentoring can also be informal. We don’t have to formalize a mentoring relationship, but if you want to take it to the next level, then probably it’s worthwhile to formalize it.  So look for somebody who has something you would like to learn, skills or some attributes you would like to learn from, and build on an existing relationship.  I think that that’s a good idea, because you want them to say yes.  So if they already like you, and you have a good relationship, it’s more likely that it’s not going to be a chore for them because they’re going to have to set time aside.

Time Spent on the Relationship

BILL YATES:  So regarding the time that the mentor puts into it, walk us through what looks like a healthy relationship, mentor and mentee.  How much time is the mentor putting into this on like a monthly basis?  And then how much time is the mentee putting into it?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  In terms of meeting up, they’re putting the same amount of hours in, and of course it would be nice to say we’re meeting every month.  But I also know that realistically a month passes quickly, and if I’m a busy executive, maybe an hour a month is quite a big deal for me.  So it could be that we meet once a quarter, that’s already good.  It may be that we have a long lunch every six months, and I tell you everything that I’ve done.  As a mentor I tell you everything.  You can pick my brains.  That may be enough for the mentee to feel that they get inspired.

So not all mentoring relationships have to be really tight knit, and remember it’s a voluntary relationship. You’re not paying the mentor, so it’s a little bit of a goodwill thing.  I don’t know of anyone who pays their mentor, whereas the coaching relationship you’re paying the coach, unless it’s an internal coach.  But there’s still some kind of cost center involved somewhere.  So you can then almost ask for it to be much more frequent.  So when I coach, it’s often every two or three weeks.  Mentoring is, I would say, a lot more infrequent, and there’s a good reason for that.

Who Sets Expectations? 

BILL YATES:  What do you find to be helpful?  For instance, do you think it’s best for the mentee to set expectations before a meeting? The mentor or mentee decide, yeah, so let’s get together for coffee.  Let’s set aside an hour two weeks from now, and then it’s on the mentee to set the topic or the agenda?  Or is that the mentor’s role?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yeah, I would normally say it’s for the mentee because the mentee is the one initiating it. So it can be the other way around, especially if there’s a senior manager in an organization who sees something in a particular person, who wants to take them under their wing.  But normally I would say it’s the mentee who owns the relationship, who asks for the meetings.  But it can be the other way around, as well.

Benefits for the Mentor 

WENDY GROUNDS:  How does the mentor benefit from this relationship?  So we talked about the coaching, how the coach would benefit from the relationship.  Is it really the same thing?  You’re going to have the same benefits as if you were coaching?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yes, I think so, and maybe I should actually mention my ex-boss here. Because my ex-boss – and this is completely outside of work – he mentors, and he’s done for like 20 years, all the youngsters in his area.  He opens up his living room.  And so I think they stay with him for, like, 10 years.  I’m not sure how it came about, and I’m not sure exactly what he does with them on a Saturday morning, but I know that he has a bunch of young boys, and he formally mentors them.

I know it’s a little bit different because it’s away from work, et cetera.  But it’s something that he does because he gets so much from seeing that these young boys don’t fall into the wrong hands and don’t start messing about and doing – hanging out in the streets or whatever.  So I think, yes, the mentor gets the same benefits in a sense as a coach because they see somebody else move forward, and it’s very, very rewarding.  And so if I’m a mentor, I get that joy of passing on some knowledge and some experience.

BILL YATES:  I agree with that.  I think the mentors that I’ve seen be most successful are those that are passionate about it, and they say, you know, I’ve got some lessons learned here, either personally or others that are in that area.  And I just have a passion for sharing that with others who are earlier in their career so I can help them along.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yeah, it’s important that we see the benefits.

Organizational Coaching or Mentoring?  

WENDY GROUNDS: So if an organization or a project team is thinking about a coaching program or a mentoring program, could they do both?  Would that fit in?  Or should they choose one or the other?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Yes.  So mentoring programs are quite common because it develops both the mentor and the mentee, and they’re free. Well, the employees have to set time aside, and so that’s quite common.  Coaching often has a bigger budget.  So if money’s not an issue, organizations should do both because you get different things from mentoring and from coaching.  Just make sure that you get some trained coaches, preferably some that are from outside, as well, so that we get some confidentiality.  But I’m definitely in favor of using all of them.

So what does it mean?  Mentoring each other across organizations.  Coaching with external coaches.  Also training employees to be coaches and project managers to be coaches.  So that’s like the manager coach.  There’s nothing wrong with doing all of it, because when I learn to coach as a project manager, I will still improve my leadership skills.

One other aspect we haven’t talked about is team coaching, which is relevant for project managers, because when I kick off a project, very rarely do we talk about the team dynamics and how we’re going to talk to each other and what our expectations are of each other.  And a team coach/facilitator can be money very well spent in this case.  So I’m really hoping we’ll see organizations invest in that.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, I certainly see that in the Agile space. The role of Agile coach is very popular, and so very clear, too, that you’re not there to give advice or to tell people what to do.  You’re there to help them explore and find the solutions and ask the right questions, so, yeah, it’s certainly a part of the  project environment that we see today.

Contact Susanne

WENDY GROUNDS:  Susanne, you’ve given our audience a lot of really great advice. So if they wanted to reach out to you or find out some more about your work, how can they get hold of you?

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So my website, SusanneMadsen.com, that’s S-U-S-A-N-N-E M-A-D-S-E-N dot com.  It’s also my Twitter handle, and YouTube.com/Susanne Madsen, as well.  And I have quite a few YouTube videos, and all the webinars I’ve done are up there, it’s obviously all free.  And, oh, we didn’t mention my book, did we.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yes, I was going to ask you about that.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  So it’s a second edition, and in the second edition of “The Power of Project Leadership” I actually added a whole extra section on coaching as a project manager.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Well, thank you so much, we have loved talking with you, and I just think your advice has been great.  And so we really appreciate you taking the time to join us today on our podcast.

SUSANNE MADSEN:  Wonderful.  I really enjoyed the conversation, so thank you for having me.


WENDY GROUNDS:  To our listeners, you’ve just earned some professional development units by listening to this podcast.  To claim your free PDUs, go to Velociteach.com.  Choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.

So that’s it for us here on Manage This, we hope you’ll tune back in on August 4th for our next podcast.  In the meantime, we’d love to have you visit us at Velociteach.com.  You can subscribe to this podcast, see a transcript of the show, or contact us if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.  Thank you for listening, until next time, keep calm and Manage This.


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