Catalyzing Growth through Coaching

growth through coachingI serve in many roles: father, brother, life-partner, uncle, employee, team member, subordinate, peer, manager. Depending on the situation (and my level of awareness, which by the way always needs a bit of fine-tuning…) I move in and out of many stances: facilitator, coach, mentor, student.

Historically, I’ve relished the teacher perspective and it has been my default mode. (Mastery is one of my primary intrinsic motivators.)

Recently, I am finding “coach” to be more fulfilling and challenging at the same time. Perhaps it is due to the nature of the role, or maybe it’s the thrill of being outside of my own comfort zone. I’m still not entirely sure.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. Click To Tweet

In his chapter “Improvement Dialogs & Copilot Programs” from #Workout, Jurgen Appelo elaborates:

The purpose of a coach is to assist with someone’s personal development and performance improvement and to help that person achieve her goals.

I am realizing that through coaching I have a chance of making more of a difference in the world. And the best part for me: I need no technical mastery of the subject matter at hand. And that opens up a fascinating palette of possibilities.

Crossing the Border

One of the primary skills I am developing is to help my coachees make their way across the border from their comfort zone into the stretch zone. For many, the stretch zone is a place of risk, and it can be downright uncomfortable. But that zone is where the growth happens.

As Brené Brown said: “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” See more at TED and YouTube

Being in that place, outside of the comfort zone, where perceptions expand, where transformations take place, requires at least two things: trust and honesty.


  • in yourself to have the courage and bravery to persevere
  • that you will recover from any failure
  • in your coach that they will pull, push or prod you along and support you there
  • in yourself to recognize your panic zone and be heard if you say “too far!”


  • to admit your fears, your sense of vulnerability
  • to bring your full authentic self, without pretense
  • to shine a light on your imperfections (“You’re perfect just as you are. And there’s always room for improvement.”)

The GROW Model of Coaching

I enjoyed reading “The Tao of Coaching” by Max Landsberg. Amongst many other great things, he introduced me to the GROW model. I am finding it a powerful pattern to structure the arc of my coaching sessions.

Here’s how I’m using the model:


Agree on a specific topic and objective for the session/discussion. (5 mins)

  • As simple as asking “What is it you would like to discuss?”
  • Often a few topics surface, focus on one


Coachee does a guided self-assessment, providing specific examples to illustrate the current situation in more detail. (10 mins)

  • The things that the coachee feels they are doing well, or poorly, in the area under review
  • The effect the coachee believes these actions are having
  • How the coachee can know that this view is accurate

There’s an entire universe of possibilities for guiding. One particularly powerful one is Clean Language. There’s another post, or 10, on that topic.

Outcome and Options

Explore ideas, but don’t filter them. And focus on what is possible, not so much on what is wrong. (10 mins)

  • “What would you like to happen that is not happening now, or what would you like not to happen that is happening now?”
  • “What could you do to change the situation?”
  • “What might be some obstacles in the way?”
  • If the coachee hits a wall, the coach might ask “Would you like suggestions from me?”, but by default questions, questions and more questions… (Yeah, I’m still struggle with this one, too)

Again words from Jurgen’s book #Workout remind me:

…A powerful question stimulates curiosity and reflection in a conversation…

Jurgen also shares a range of lines of inquiry that are topic-based. He’s chosen to formulate them as statements. Below are a few examples. (For the full list of 40 per topic, grab the book #Workout )

Personal Inquisitive Statements

This group covers “I” – the psychological, the inner world.

  • What I’m expected to do is….
  • I want to learn more about…
  • One question that I should ask is….

Relational Inquisitive Statements

This topic is about “We” – a shared vision, culture.

  • One thing we can both stop doing is….
  • We are both motivated by….
  • What we don’t dare to do yet is…

Organizational Inquisitive Statements

Refers to the “It” – the team, the business unit, the department, their methods, metrics, processes

  • What I expect from the organization is….
  • The reason the team is at risk is….
  • What the department needs most is….

Environment Inquisitive Statements

This the “Its” – the external systems, value streams, handoffs, etc.

  • I’m proud of our community when…
  • What our shareholders can expect from us is….
  • The reason our value stream can be blocked is…

If a coachee has hit a wall, I often use one or more of the statements in the format of “How would you (coachee) complete the following statement?” As Jurgen points out this has the subtle (or not) effect of having the coachee respond in an affirmative way, and keep the offer moving forward towards what is desirable, what is possible. Not what is wrong.

Wrap it Up and Write ‘em Down

Coachee makes choices from the options, commits to actions, and defines timeframes. (5 mins)

  • “Would you like to choose an option to act on?”
  • These are typically small experiments – to bring new data into the coachee’s awareness, and help them move along the PDCA cycle.
  • As a coach, I take few if any notes, instead I ask that the coachee keep their own written record. I think there’s a subtle shift in ownership and commitment that way.

Creating the Conditions for Growth

Make your way across the border from your comfort zone into the stretch zone. Click To Tweet

With the addition of Trust and Honesty, I seem to have expanded the classic model to GROWTH. Growth for those I work with as well as my own. My stretch these days is to focus on creating the space and not falling back into my old patterns of giving in to the urge to fill the silence. Forever the learner…

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One comment

  1. Harald Dietrich

    Great article! Above of all I love the way you define TRUST and HONESTY upfront. For me, this is the key to everything.
    As you as a coach are able to make people more open and daring, you are creating a better world – definitely. It is a blessing you bring with you.

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