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ATD Blog

Why You Can’t Trust Your Thesaurus

Friday, November 3, 2023

We often treat managing, coaching, and mentoring as synonyms—but they’re not as interchangeable as you may think. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Managing emphasizes the execution of the project at hand. Managing is the priority on a high-stakes deal with a tight deadline or a major client.
  • Coaching emphasizes a known practice that needs reinforcing. Coaching is key when someone has been transferred to a new department or is on a rotation dedicated to building expertise.
  • Mentoring emphasizes underlying rationales for the practice. Mentoring is particularly meaningful for new hires or interns seeking to professionalize in the field.

Specific scenarios dictate the mode that you should use as a leader. Let’s consider these concepts in action.

Three Times Is the Charm

A longtime client comes to you with their latest invention, for which they’ve obtained a utility patent—a handheld device that fights off sharks. They need guidance on the pitch to potential investors, including an appearance on a television show one month from now. On a shared reply thread, your co-worker says, “Fantastic! Let us know when you’re free for a meeting.” This ignores your company’s best practices for scheduling meetings. What do you do?

  • Managing: Jump in—after having checked the relevant in-house company calendars—and suggest three specific dates and times. There’s not much time before the client’s company falls under the hungry gaze of investors.
  • Coaching: Wait a day, and when your co-worker receives no response to their email, suggest that they follow up with three specific dates and times that work for everyone on your team who may need to attend.
  • Mentoring: Tell your co-worker to use a rule of three when querying for meetings to avoid choice overload, and send a link to an article about the rationales for timebound windows.


Keep It Simple(r)

After several unsuccessful cold calls to a big firm, your company finds a potential champion in a contact who needs a software solution and has purchasing power. Your co-worker sends an email extolling the features of your product without mentioning that this firm’s purchase of your software could save them $90K this year and an average of $60–$70K each year thereafter by avoiding redundancy in process and wasted market research. What do you do?

  • Managing: Call the contact as a follow-up to the email, and mention the data on potential savings this year and subsequent years.
  • Coaching: Remind your colleague that initial analysis yielded a compelling number regarding savings, and suggest they share that in the next exchange.
  • Mentoring: Reiterate the concept of BLUF (bottom line up front), and make sure your co-worker understands the importance of foregrounding value to prospects.


Couldn’t Get a Word In Edgewise

Your team is doing audits for a company weighing the possibility of a merger. Participants with significant pain points are taking long pauses before answering questions. During the first two interviews, your co-worker asks questions and, before the participant has even started speaking, fills the silence with follow-up statements or more questions. What do you do?

  • Managing: Assert that you’ll take the lead on the next interview. This interview will be with the CFO, and you can’t risk not getting complete answers.
  • Coaching: Mention the consistent reluctance of participants to answer, and reinforce the importance of getting as much information from them as possible.
  • Mentoring: Explain that most people struggle with waiting after questions, and share your favorite trick—counting out five seconds before speaking any further.

Slow down before you engage, and choose which approach fits the moment. When your organization’s leaders are thoughtful about their chosen communication style, the whole team benefits—and that means higher sales at a faster rate.

About the Author

Sandra Beasley is the award-winning author of five books. Her specialty is helping fine-tune written collateral—elevating metaphors, eliminating redundancy—to bring language to life and motivate sales. She’s a quick study and is comfortable across the vocabularies of science, medicine, technology, retail, and other industries. A natural teacher as well as editor, she delights in explaining strategies so that people can become better writers. As a poet, Sandra has traveled to literary festivals, bookstores, and campuses across the United States, to Cyprus, and to Ireland. Her prose has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Psychology Today. Honors for her work include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and six DC Committee on the Arts and Humanities individual artist grants. Sandra serves on the faculty of the University of Nebraska Omaha’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. She holds an MFA from American University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Virginia, where she lived on the Lawn, and she is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

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