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Episode 398: Coaching, Mentoring, Training & Motivational Techniques (Free)

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Susanne Madsen
Susanne Madsen, Author

Every project that you and I have ever and will ever manage depends on people’s skills.

The sponsor relies on you as the project manager to successfully lead the team, you rely on the team to have what it takes to create all the deliverables at the required quality, and the end user -- the recipient of what you and the team deliver -- must have the skills to use the product you finally give them.

But what if the skills don’t match up to the tasks at hand? What if a team member is lacking a skill? What if the technology is so new and different that your users will have a hard time with it? The answer is of course leadership coaching, mentoring and training.

And there is no one better than Susanne Madsen ( -- who coaches and mentors project managers into project leaders to come on the program and help us understand these three similar yet different activities.

A coaching style of leadership can make a huge difference to how motivated and supported your team members feel when working on your project. And we know that better motivation tends to lead to higher engagement and therefore better outcomes. Ready to dive into this topic? It's a good one!


This interview is 42:34 minutes long. This means that you can "legally" only claim 0.50 PDUs for listening to it, because in order to claim 0.75 PDUs the interview must be 45 minutes long. However... if you first listen to the interview and then also read the following article from Susanne about coaching and project management, then you can go ahead and claim 0.75 PDUs!

Click to read the article

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner:   Hello and welcome to Episode # 398. This is the Project Management Podcast™ at and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Every project that you and I have ever and will ever manage depends on people’s skills. The sponsor relies on you as the project manager to successfully lead the team. You rely on the team to have all it takes to create all the deliverables at the required quality and the end-user, the recipient of what you and the team will deliver, well, they must have the skills to use that product that you’re finally going to give to them. If you are a project manager who wants to become PMP or PMI ACP-certified, then the easiest way to do so is with our sister podcast, the  or the  and study for the exam by watching the in-depth Exam Prep video training from, But what if the skills don’t match up to the task at hand? What if a team member is lacking a skill? What if the technology is so new and different that your end-users will have a hard time with it? The answer is of course Coaching, Mentoring and Training and there is no one better than Susanne Madsen who coaches and mentors project managers into project leaders to come on the program and help us understand these three similar yet different activities. And so, let us get going with our training on Coaching, Mentoring and Training. Enjoy the interview.  

Female Voice:   Project Management Podcast™ Feature Interview.  Today with Susanne Madsen, Project Leadership coach, author and speaker.

Cornelius Fichtner:   Hello, Susanne, good afternoon.

Susanne Madsen:   Hello, Cornelius, good morning.

Cornelius:   Yes, we have just determined we really seem to be living in an alternate universe while it’s 9 degrees Centigrade here in California, it’s like 13 degrees in London. I’m moving. It’s warmer where you are.

Susanne:   Yes. It’s really good because this doesn’t happen that often for us. [laughs]

Cornelius:   Yeah. To begin, let’s review each of the terms—a quick definition as it relates to projects. So, what is coaching?

Susanne:    Coaching—there are many different ways of describing it but I think for the listeners, it’s useful to think of it as a technique that we can use outside the project or inside the project to facilitate learning and reflection through questions. That sentence is really important –facilitate learning and reflection through questions. So, it means that we do that—we answer those questions in a way that empowers a team member to find his or her analysis. Again, that’s very, very important because coaching is not about giving advice and it doesn’t involve the coach telling people what to do or how to do it. That’s a big misconception. When we coach someone, we really assume that they have the answers to the problems themselves. We as coaches just really need to empower them and help them to find those answers so I think that really in a nutshell is what it is.

Cornelius:    And then what is mentoring?

Susanne:    Mentoring is again a technique which allows the team member to learn from a master so someone who has more experience than themselves. In mentoring, we receive guidance and support and advice from a senior expert. And notice here the difference—the word advice comes in—so in mentoring, we do give advice because it’s from someone who’s been there, had done it and who can assist team members and junior project managers and show them how to do it. So, it’s more hands-on than coaching.

Cornelius:   And of course then also how does training differ from both of these? 

Susanne:   Yes, of course there are overlaps between all of these terms and there is quite a lot of overlap between mentoring and coaching but I think training is a little bit different again because training really is more based on a standard curriculum. So, I would say that training is a technique that allows a team member to acquire knowledge, skills and theory from more of a standard curriculum where coaching and mentoring is more tailored so that means a training is more skills-based—it’s more like we transfer skills. It’s more theoretical and less tailored to the individual than coaching and mentoring is.

Cornelius:   Yeah. It’s pretty much what we’re doing with this interview here, right?

Susanne:   Which one of them?

Cornelius:   This one right now. The training.

Susanne:   Yes. So, we are giving knowledge but we’re not telling people how to implement it longer-term, that’s right.

Cornelius:   OK. And where do motivational techniques fit in to all of these?   

Susanne:   Yeah, I was thinking about that because it’s a little bit of a parallel track really but it is related, I would say, as a parallel track because you can use mentoring, coaching and training, as a way to motivate someone. In that sense, all of these coaching, mentoring and training could be used as a motivational technique. For instance, if we allow a team member to train in PMP –that could be very, very motivating if that’s what they really want to do or it could be demotivating for instance if you ask people on your team to go to a sales training course. They’ll go “Well, why do I want that?” So, in that sense, it definitely has the power to motivate but there are also another angle because there are lots of motivation techniques that sit outside of training, mentoring and coaching. For instance, we might say, “What is a motivational technique in the first place?” I’d say that is when we use a technique that helps a person to unlock their passion and enthusiasm for that job. So, when we do something that allows people to increase their enthusiasm—that’s really motivating. Other techniques than coaching, mentoring and training could be praising someone. When you praise someone for a job well done, it means that they feel good about their job and they feel that they’re needed for the job or if I give someone an exciting new task to do that really develops them and stretches them and place their strengths, again those actions will help the person to deepen the passion and enthusiasm for the work. In summary, motivation techniques can be training, coaching and mentoring in itself or it can be additional techniques as long as they help us to increase a person’s passion and enthusiasm for their job.

Cornelius:   Excellent, Thank you. So, what we want to do now is we want to look at coaching, mentoring and training in more detail especially how it relates to Project Management and to do that, I have prepared a series of questions for you for each of these—it’s actually the same set of questions, we’re going to run through them for coaching, mentoring and training. Here we go with coaching. So, what are the three things that a project manager must know about coaching?

Susanne:   Firstly, I would say that coaching is not about giving advice and I think that’s a big misconception. Mentoring is more about that but not coaching. It is really about asking questions and helping a person to find their own answers. Because that’s much more empowering. Secondly, coaching can be formal, or it can be informal. I’m a qualified coach and that means that I oftentimes coach people in a very formal way. We set an hour aside, where I help someone with a particular aspect of their job and on a project, we can do the same thing. We can coach formally, set an hour aside, go into a meeting room with someone on your team and help them –for a situation for instance where they would like to get better interfacing with a client. That’s very formal. Or we can coach informally which means that we coach on the fly. As we’re having conversations with team members, instead of giving advice, we ask insight for questions and get them to think for themselves. For instance, if someone comes up to you and asked you, “How do you want me to do this? How do you think I should do that?” It is so easy for us just to tell them what to do but instead we turn it around and we say “Well, you know, what would you like to achieve?” or “What might happen if you do so and so?” You know, we ask questions instead of just giving advice. And number 3—I’ll really say that to call ourselves a coach and to say that we’re coaching, I would really say that we need some kind of a qualification. We can’t qualify—I don’t know of any qualifications in mentoring but there are qualifications in training because there is a method. There is a coaching method and I’d actually encourage the listeners here to why not go and get a coaching qualification. It doesn’t have to be six months, you have actually also short courses on it. If we engage in such learning about being a coach, we are likely to develop our listening skills and our poor building skills which either way are great assets when we are project managers.

Cornelius:   When is it appropriate to use coaching on our projects?  

Susanne:   Well, it is very appropriate to use when we are in front of a person on a team who is very capable of finding the answers for him or herself but we just need to help them uncover it. So, for instance, in situations where the team member is quite skilled, they have the knowledge but maybe the need to strengthen the level of motivation. Maybe they’re not so driven at the moment or they need to find clarity in a certain situation so it’s not about the skill, it’s not about the knowledge. It’s about clarity. Or if you want to help someone to step up and strengthen their leadership skills—interpersonal skills, because these are situations where it’s not just about knowledge. It’s more about how we look at it and as a coach you can help someone to gain insight into those situations so they’re that great situations for coaching.  

Cornelius:   Do you have an example for us regarding when and how to best use coaching in a project setting?

Susanne:   Let’s take an example—let’s say a technically competent team member who knows their stuff really well, they know the technicalities and they come up to you and they are preparing for a meeting with a client and this person’s asking you, “How should I do this presentation? How should I do this client presentation?” And it’ll be so easy for us to just go and say, “You know what, I would do XYZ, why don’t you do that?” But instead in this example, in a coaching mode, we would go, OK. What would you like to achieve with the presentation? Who’s the audience? What would you like them to do as a result of having listened to your presentation? How much interaction do you think is important to have with your audience? And so, we guide them through asking a number of questions here, we guide them to find the answers because this is not about actually having the technical understanding. It’s really about making them think about what they’re trying to achieve with the presentation.

Cornelius:   And when should we not use coaching on a project?  

Susanne:   So, we should be cautious about using coaching when we are in front of a more junior person, someone who’s new in a role who doesn’t really have the knowledge. So, you’ve got someone who is new, and just imagine it would be very frustrating for them if you go up and ask them, “What are you trying to achieve? How do you think the client would react to this?” They don’t know because they’re new so it would be inappropriate to ask them too many questions.

Cornelius:   And what’s the No.1 mistake that we project managers make when it comes to coaching?

Susanne:   I think that the No.1 mistake is to be trying to solve a problem. We all love to be problem solvers because it makes us feel good, it makes us feel wanted and needed but solving the problem and giving someone the answer just isn’t always the right thing to do because it doesn’t make people think for themselves, it is less empowering and if I may, I would add a second mistake –and the second mistake is that we just don’t listen enough. We think that we’re coaching someone, we think we’re there trying to help someone else out but what’s happening is we’re listening to our own internal dialogue. Listening is super important for coaching.

Cornelius:   How have you personally used coaching in a project setting?

Susanne:   Because Cornelius I’m a qualified coach, I’ve actually used coaching quite formally—also informally but I think it’s worthwhile mentioning here how we can use formal coaching. So, I have set on my projects, I’ve set time aside for coaching sessions with different types of people on my projects and in these situations, there had been people who knew that they were getting coached by me and they wanted it. So, for instance I’ve been coaching some very high potential people who really wanted to progress and who are ready to learn and we met and we set aside between one and one and a half hours every 3-4 weeks. We’d book a meeting room and I would coach her through where she wanted to go on the project and in her role, etc. but I’ve also coached formally underperformers –actually people who have been put on an improvement plan by Human Resources. This was a question of someone who had a track record of underperformance and the same way we were scheduling regular meetings and I was helping this person, guiding this person through, what their strengths were, how we could really grow them in the project context.

Cornelius:   What motivational techniques go alongside with coaching?

Susanne:   We’ve mentioned a couple here. The first one I would mention is goal-setting. When we coach someone it’s very important that we look at the goals. What is it that we’re trying to achieve or what’s the problem we’re trying to solve—we need to understand what we’re moving towards. That’s actually very motivating. It’s a motivation technique to understand where we’re going and it’s positive for someone that’s motivated to work something new. We all have that intrinsic need to grow and to develop. So that is definitely appropriate and in many corporate environments, we also have personal development plans, if not the more frequently we do them once a year, what are we going to do next year to develop this person. Goal setting is also a part of that. We do a gap analysis. Where are you today? Where do you want to go? An action plan for moving a person forward—that is very closely linked with coaching. What I would also highlight is that allowing someone to work autonomously is also a motivational technique that kind of goes alongside coaching because it’s very empowering and motivating for a person. If they are able to work without too much supervision, that of course, again assumes that they are relatively capable and skilled at what they’re doing which is what we assume when we’re coaching someone in the first place. Helping someone to work autonomously, helping break down their work so that they can get on with it without too much supervision and work autonomously is definitely an important motivation technique.

Cornelius:   Excellent! That’s it for coaching, we’re now going to do exactly the same thing for mentoring. So, my first question for you—what are the three things that a project manager must know about mentoring?

Susanne:   When we move on to mentoring and I’ve just been going on about how important it is not to get too much advice in coaching but in mentoring, I’d say the first item is: as a mentor, we do give advice and we do give advice based on our own experiences and that also means that we need to choose our mentors very well because they’re basically looking in their own experience—everything they’ve learned over their career and that talking to you on that basis. Secondly, I’d say that we need to know and understand that a mentor is often someone more senior from within the same organization. It could be from another team or could be from within the same team—that doesn’t really matter but it is someone who has been there done that and who has more experience and who’s happy to share that. Thirdly, this is something that maybe we haven’t thought about but being a mentor can be very, very motivating because it’s a great way to help a person to actually step up and take on more responsibility because when we mentor someone else, we almost go in and help to take responsibility for someone else’s development.  We’re not fully responsible if the person we’re mentoring is responsible but we’re still having that kind of a –we’re guiding someone else and that means that we step up and we think about—how am I coming across as a role model so it can be very, very motivating for the person who is a mentor.

Cornelius:   When is it appropriate to use mentoring on a project?

Susanne:   I would say that if we have a team member who would like to learn about some insider secrets from someone in a similar job role, then it can be great to pair that person up with a mentor from the same team or from another team who can get them those insider secrets. Or, if someone on the team would like to get inspired by someone more senior—maybe they’re getting a bit stuck in their role but they like it but they need some new inspiration—it could be great to pair them up with a mentor from a different part of the business so that they can see a different point of view, learn from someone more experienced. Yeah, that can be very, very motivating and I’m also thinking oftentimes on projects, we do Lessons Learned at the end of a project but those Lessons Learned sometimes end up in a report and they’re not really disseminated and no one really looks at them. If we have a lot of mentors across the organization, it can be a great way to actually share our knowledge and break down silos in a different way so there are all situations that are great in which we can use mentoring with great advantage. 

Cornelius:   Do you have an example for us regarding when and how to best use mentoring on a project?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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