Coaching Models and Theories.
On this page, you will find a possibly exhaustive list of coaching models. And right away, at the very beginning, I would like to emphasize that the model is one thing, and the methods or tools used in a given coaching approach are other things. I am speaking on my behalf here, but I believe that I am in line with the standards set by recognized authorities in this approach. Following Socrates, I first try to ensure that we know exactly what we are talking about, that we understand it the same way, and that you, dear reader, will get clear and verifiable information.
By the coaching model, I mean something superior, something that defines the structure and principles of the approach adopted. However, within this structure and by certain rules, we can use selected methods and tools. And to be consistent, I also want to emphasize that a method is not the same as a tool.
Perhaps a short example relating to sociological research will show it well. Research can be conducted according to various models, one of the methods used in given research may be a questionnaire (another may be an interview), and a tool may be a set of specific questions (or, for example, specific software that automates the collection of answers). A given approach can be successfully used in different coaching types, e.g. in business, life, or executive coaching. For a detailed explanation of various types please refer to our dedicated subpage.
In the following, you will find a description of the most frequently used approaches, which shows their most important features, sources of origin, pros and cons, and the differences between them.
We will devote the most space to the GROW model, the most popular and effective concept used in coaching for many years.
GROW coaching model
The GROW model is a "classic of the genre", well-established, proven, and the most frequently used approach.
Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore co-developed this theory, and the world heard about it for the first time in 1992 thanks to a book by Sir John Whitmore entitled Coaching for Performance. From that moment, the world career of the GROW model began, and Sir John's book is considered the bible of business coaching.
The name of the GROW model comes from the English abbreviation of the four main elements that make up this model:
G - Goal,
R - Reality,
O - Options,
W - Eng. Will.
Goal - What do you want to achieve?
Identifying the goal is a key stage in the coaching process. It is worth taking the time to analyze it very carefully. This includes short and long-term goals, desired outcomes for the contract, and goals for the specific coaching session.
What do I want to achieve?
How specific, realistic, relevant, and time-limited is my goal?
Why do I want to achieve it? What will it do for me? How will it benefit me?
How will I know when I have achieved my goal? What will change about the current situation?
Is this MY goal? Or maybe something that I want to implement under the influence / for the sake of someone else?
Reality - Where are you NOW? What's going on?
Taking the time to analyze the current situation allows, firstly, to make it real (i.e. to separate the facts from our speculations or interpretations), secondly, to look at it from different points of view (and thus broaden our perspective) and thus prepare solid ground for determining and selecting an option in the next step.
What is happening at this point? How is it now?
What do I see? What can I hear? What do I feel? What am I doing? How does it behave?
If I assign the number 10 to the ideal (goal achievement situation), how would I rate the current situation on a scale of 1 to 10?
Is achieving the desired progress worth my effort? Maybe the current situation is not as bad as I thought in this context.
What actions have I already taken? What works? What is not working?
Options - What can you do? What are the POSSIBILITIES?
This stage is used to generate possible solutions by looking at yourself and your surroundings as broadly as possible.
How can I achieve my goal? What could I do to get closer to my goal?
What still can I do? (this question is worth repeating often) What is worth stopping to do so that I can achieve my goal? (smart question!) What else?
Who could help me achieve my goal? What resources could I use to achieve my goal? Do I know anyone who has already achieved such a goal? What can I learn from this?
What other options do I see to achieve my goal?
If I wasn't limited in time, what else could I do?
If I wasn't limited by any other obstacles, what else could I do?
Will - What WILL YOU DO? How MUCH do you WANT to do this?
This is the stage at which you decide what specific actions you will take.
Which of the options do I choose? Which one is the best for me at this stage? Why?
If I could define the maximum level of motivation with the number 10, how would I rate my willingness to implement the selected option on a scale of 1-10?
What do I want to do with this choice? What will be my first step? Where will I start? What can I start doing right now?
How will I check if the selected actions are bringing me closer to the chosen goal?
How will I celebrate my progress? How will I appreciate myself for the results achieved?
The flexibility of the GROW model
It is important to emphasize that the GROW elements listed above do not always have to be run in this order only. An effective coaching conversation usually starts with an exploration of Goal and Reality but then can run between all four elements.
Since the publication of the GROW theory, there have been some differences in the interpretation of the "W" element. Sometimes it is given the meaning of "Wrap up" and sometimes "Way forward". Sir John Whitmore made it clear, however, that "W" meant "Will" in the sense of having the will to commit. That interpretation was an important part of the whole paradigm.
On the other hand, Sir John did not want humans to slavishly follow this pattern. It is merely a structure for ensuring that you are aware of what type of question will be most productive at any given time.
What a Coach's question refers to usually matters more than the question itself. Questions about a goal energize, questions about reality provide clarity, and questions about options and actions turn ideas into achievements.
Whitmore, Sir J. (2019) Coaching for Performance. London, Brealey
Wilson, C. (2020 Ed3) Performance Coaching: a Complete Guide to Best Practice Coaching and Training. London, Kogan Page
Examples of using the GROW model outside professional coaching
GROW concept has found its application not only in the process of professional coaching, i.e. cooperation between a professional coach and a client.
The first example of such use is the Coaching Management Style applied by the business leader for the team members. We write about it in detail in a dedicated column published on our blog:
Another example of the effective use of the GROW model is self-coaching, and working on one's personal development or self-development.
We also write about this on our blog. A good example is a methodical approach to problem-solving:
GROW Model Variations
You can find different variations of the GROW model, such as TGROW, SGROW, GROOW, I-GROW, and ReGROW. However, I would like to emphasize that each of them is just an attempt to creatively add something to a very coherent original concept.
For the sake of order, however, I will briefly describe the TGROW model, which in my opinion, is the only one among other variations, that brings something important to the mother model.
TGROW coaching model
"T" stands for "Topic", in other words, it is a fairly broad area that the coachee wants to deal with.
According to the author, at the beginning of the conversation, it would make sense to understand and explain the topic and its scale. Understanding the bigger picture of why this is important to Coachee and perhaps to his long-term vision.
At this stage, you can discover issues that differ from those with which the Coachee "sat at the table", and possibly even cause a complete change of conversation subject.
By having the Topic step separate from the Goal step, we can distinguish the bigger picture from the specific goals that can emerge from it. It also helps to create a solid foundation and ensure that goals are not set prematurely before the overall picture is clarified. For example, setting goals before checking the motivation behind them can lead to the definition of secondary goals.
Examples of questions that may be asked at this (before) stage are as follows:
What would you like to talk about?
What is important to you? For what reason?
What's behind it? What would that mean to you?
The rest of the TGROW concept follows the traditional GROW structure, so in short:
T - Topic - explanation and exploration of the topic
G - Goal - setting specific goals
R - Reality - understanding where the Coachee is currently with their goals
O - Options - explore options to move forward
W - Will (Way forward) - identifying and agreeing on specific actions
At the end of this part, I would like to add that I often encounter a misunderstanding in which the GROW is confused with the GROWTH model. And in different ways.
First, you can find the GROWTH coaching "system", but I consciously use the quotation marks as in my opinion, this is marketing abuse. Its author is Cindy Chen, creator of Growth Centered Coaching, who added two more letters to the GROW:
T. for Tactics
H. for Habits (which are meant to reflect sustainable growth ).
It sounds as if the original GROW paradigm is not growth/development-oriented. And as if the result of it are not permanent changes. I cannot agree with that.
Second, there is the GROWTH model developed in 1998 by Professor Larry E. Greiner, but it deals with the phases through which each company goes through in its development. So it is about the Growth of an organization - not an individual.
Third, there is another Growth model which is the growth and a product development plan used in marketing. It records how a product acquires and retains users and the dynamics between different channels and sales platforms.
SIMPLE and OSKAR theories - Solution-Focused Coaching
Both models have their roots in Solutions Focused Therapy. In contrast to therapy, Paul Z. Jackson and Mark McKergow used this approach in the coaching program and for the first time described in their book The Solutions Focus: Making Coaching and Change SIMPLE
In this way, the trend emerged, which, as the authors write, focuses especially on solutions (and not problems), builds on strengths (not weaknesses), and looks for positive ways forward (and does not examine barriers). By positively channeling energy, focusing on strengths, and working on a solution, Coachee will feel motivated and energized rather than deprived of energy, which the authors say is experienced when problems and difficulties are discussed and analyzed.
SIMPLE coaching model
As in the case of the GROW (and its variations), the name "SIMPLE" is an abbreviation derived from the first letters of the following key elements:
Solutions not problems
In-between - the action is the interaction
Make use of what's there
Possibilities - past, present, and future
Language - clarify and understand (simple language)
Every case is different (each case is different)
Since, in my opinion, this model does not differ significantly from the GROW, I will only describe the letter 'L', i.e. the Language element, in more detail. Once again we come back to Socrates and focus on simplicity and full, reciprocal understanding of what we are talking about. Coach's task is to talk to Coachee in such a way that the "big" words he uses are translated into simple and understandable language. As well as help the Coachee get rid of illusions by "hiding" behind certain concepts.
OSKAR coaching model
OSKAR consists of the following elements:
Outcome (setting the expected result)
Scaling (scaling the result distance from the current state/protocol of discrepancy)
Know-How (knowledge, resources, looking for opportunities, generating ideas)
Affirm & Action (strengthening strengths, strengthening Coachee's faith and motivation)
Review (overview and summary of the whole, plan of specific actions to be taken)
According to the creators of the OSKAR, the most valuable stage is "Know-How" and he should be the one to spend the most time talking. This stage is "gold prospecting" to find out what the Coachee has at their disposal.
It is also worth adding here that the OSKAR model is used instead of / next to the SMART approach to define good goals. So look at him from this perspective now and you will surely see a great resemblance.
CLEAR coaching model
The CLEAR coaching theory was developed in the early 1980s by Peter Hawkins and apparently could not stand the comparison with the GROW model. It was described in the book entitled Coaching, Mentoring, and Organizational Consultancy: Supervision and Development and consists of the following elements:
Contracting (a contract in the sense of cooperation, but also a contract for a given session, defining the goal)
Listening (listening, observing, and exploring reality)
Exploring (looking for solutions)
Action (generating action plans, choosing the best path)
Review (review the results, give them values, tap into internal motivation)
I hope you will agree with the statement that, compared to the models already described, we find nothing innovative here.
STEPPA coaching model
STEPPA is one of the most common strategies used in executive coaching.
Angus McLeod, executive coach, counselor, and facilitator, conceptualized this approach in 2003 to repurpose emotions that arise from specific problems or situations and turn those feelings into ways that create new objectives and outcomes. This approach views one’s emotions as the reason behind particular actions and behaviors.
STEPPA stands for:
Subject - identify the subject. Why does your client need to be coached?
Target - identify the goal. That will be the target outcome your client wants to attain.
Emotions - help your client understand that embracing these feelings will guide their choices.
Perception - help your client take a step back to look at their goal from a broader perspective.
Plan - help the client develop a plan with a timeline of achievements that marks specific dates and tasks. This will help them strategize and envision their goal.
Act - the client must act on their plan and adjust if certain emotions change.
You may encounter more concepts or methods that are called "a model". E.g. CIGAR, COACH (it is such!), FISH, GOLD, STORM, SUCCESS ... But I want to assure you that you won't lose much without knowing them. A separate topic is the so-called "models of self-coaching", which were developed especially in the USA. Perhaps I will devote a separate column to them.
Conclusion on Various Coaching Approaches
To sum up: the GROW coaching model has stood the test of time best and has been the undisputed king for many years. We can talk about subsequent techniques, and sets of stronger or weaker questions (which, in turn, can be discussed endlessly), but the very structure of the coaching process conducted using the GROW method remains as certain as the existence of the four corners of the world.
However, undoubtedly in each of the theories described, the Coach asks questions, helping the client realize his or her maximum potential and make the greatest possible progress on the path to personal development. During each coaching session, the Coach follows the Client intending to achieve a well-defined goal through an established action plan.