Understanding the unsaid – For Effective Coaching

Ever wanted to read minds? In order to be an effective coach we need to pay attention to the subtle cues all around us – our Coachee will tell us volumes about themselves without opening their mouth. So whilst we can’t give you an actual super power to read minds (yet, anyway) this article explores how to gets us as close as possible to using the unsaid for an impactful coaching session.

In this article we are going to discuss why sensory acuity is important, what it is and how we can utilise it to build better relationships with our Coachee and help them to get better outcomes as they strive to achieve their goals. Isn’t that really what we are here to do?

That said, before we continue with this article, we need to agree on something…

Would a Leader or Coach seek to motivate?

Would a Leader or Coach seek to inspire people to act?

Would a Leader or Coach seek to understand their Coachee in order to help them achieve?

You may have heard this before but due to the below content, it may be beneficial to give ourselves a reminder. – The tool kit of a Leader or Coach is the same tool kit as a Manipulator. It can be an uneasy realisation but it is an important one to make. There is one key difference between ourselves as Leaders and a manipulator however – and that is the intention behind the tool. A manipulator uses their tools for their own gain. A Leader or Coach uses their tools to help others grow, develop and achieve. The following article discusses how to utilise non-verbal cues to understand our Coachee and thus, if we are not careful can lead to manipulation. If you are a Coach or Leader that is purely there to develop people and help them achieve, read on, enjoy and utilise these valuable tools to help people grow. If you are planning on using this for your own gain here are 2 key reminders:

  1. Integrity is doing the right things when no-one is watching.
  2. People can sniff out a manipulator – your success will not last and neither will your legacy. Helping people on the other hand, will be remembered by those you develop – long after they have outgrown your support.

With that said, lets begin exploring the valuable tool known as Sensory Acuity.


Why is sensory acuity important?

Have you ever noticed that a sales person on the street extends one foot towards you? It’s a subtle gesture that says “I’m not in your way, I’ve actually got something else to do – so I’ll be quick!” They’re half in the conversation, ready to pivot out and leave you to it…giving you the perception of control and sending signals to your brain that they clearly have something else to do, so it won’t take up much time. They can hold that stance for hours and your brain will keep thinking “they’re going to leave any second now”. You see, you already use Sensory acuity to:

  • Evaluate danger
  • Make snap judgements
  • Understand a situation
  • Get an idea of someone’s intention

What we may not be doing is processing this data on a conscious level – meaning that we are constantly leaving this up to our subconscious to do and increasing our likelihood to be reactive in a situation rather than being purposeful. Consider Coaching or Leading – how valuable would it be to effectively and consciously assess our Coachee/Team members:

  • Engagement level
  • Stress level
  • Motivation level
  • Positive reaction
  • Negative reaction
  • Anxiety level
  • Excitement Level
  • Confidence level

Pretty valuable right?

If we care about our people, their goals and ability to achieve them, these are definitely things we want to tune into. By consciously looking out for these factors, we can consciously gauge their commitment level and likelihood to succeed – giving us some amazing foundations for effective questions that get us to their core values and beliefs. Once we’re there, our ability to get our Coachee wherever they need to be skyrockets.

Take some time to think about what the benefits would be of instantly understanding your team members; motivation, engagement, commitment, anxiety or confidence levels. Write down your answers and we can compare our thoughts together.

Done? Awesome.

This is our list, did we miss anything?


The benefits of Sensory Acuity are:
  • Understand Coachees beliefs and values
  • Get honest and instant reactions (the body won’t lie!)
  • Establish what motivates them to increase performance
  • Identify uncomfortable barriers and help overcome them
  • Establish the best way forward
  • Understand preferences, likes and dislikes
  • Gauge your relationship level
  • Understand your coachees state (mind set or emotion)
  • Change and manage your coachees state
  • Utilising these will help you become an effective and engaging coach.

Now we see the value of Sensory Acuity…let’s define what it means.


What is Sensory Acuity?

That’s a great question. Based on the above benefits and why we would want to use it, what do you think it is?

Take a moment to reflect before continuing.

Sensory Acuity is really just about paying attention to what is going on. It’s being present and monitoring your Coachee for their;

  • Body language
  • Facial expressions
  • Skin tone changes
  • Eye movements
  • Vocal pitch, speed and volume
  • Breathing

All of these can give us a strong indication to our Coachee’s state changes – an invaluable insight into how they think, feel and behave, enabling us to be more effective in our ability to coach and lead them to their goals. Now we understand why it’s important and what it is, let’s discover the foundations on how to use Sensory Acuity to help and support your Coachee.


How to use Sensory Acuity

There is a simple acronym to aid us with remembering what to look out for in Sensory Acuity; VIBES – Voice, Inclination (body language), Breathing, Eyes and Skin. To become effective at this, we will need to break each stage down and know what to look out for.



Whilst the 7%-38%-55% rule has since been debunked (by its author), we can still obtain a vast amount of information about a person’s state based on the words they use and the voice they say it in – for example:

If someone who normally talks with a steady tempo starts talking fast, what do you think this could indicate? Excitement? Fear? Nerves? What could it indicate if they slowed their voice down? Relaxed? Uncertain? Authority? – realistically, we will have to group various pieces of information together to get a complete picture, but a person’s voice and the words they use can help us identify our Coachee’s state.

When tuning in to our Coachee’s voice we need to consider: pitch, tone, tempo, timbre,  words used and volume. Each of these factors can indicate what state our Coachee is in and enables us to be more effective coaches. The same goes for the words used, for example:

“I might do that” – indicates a lack of commitment and realistically,  that they are unlikely to follow through with the plan.

“What will people think?” – indicates that this person is driven by external influences and will likely side with the majority.

“I can see it now.” – indicates a visual state.

“I did this and then this and then…” – indicates the person is in a process state.


Inclination of the spine

Simply put, this is looking at body language.

If someone is slumped in their chair, eyes at the floor, arms folded – What could their body language be telling us? – potentially disengaged? Bored? Frustrated? Closed off? Depressed? On the otherside if someone is leaving forward, almost ready to explode off of their chair, making eye contact with you – it may indicate a state of being ready, motivated and engaged.

When we look at body language, we need to take in as much information as possible. Take sometime and think about what the following could mean:

  • Arms folded and legs crossed
  • Sat upright, hands resting gently on their legs
  • Stood upright, legs more than shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their back
  • Sat down but spread out on a sofa
  • Stood up, hands in pockets
  • Knees up against their chest, hands clasped around their legs
  • Hand across their mouth
  • Feet pointed towards the door

What did you get? Here are the general meanings to these:

  • Arms folded and legs crossed – Closed off / defensive
  • Sat upright, hands resting gently on their legs – relaxed / open
  • Stood upright, legs more than shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their back – Authorative/threat (potentially concealing a weapon)
  • Sat down but spread out on a sofa – Confident / Powerful / Comfortable
  • Stood up, hands in pockets – Nervous
  • Knees up against their chest, hands clasped around their legs – Vulnerable / Closed / Low power and confidence
  • Hand across their mouth – Trying not to speak
  • Feet pointed towards the door – Wanting to leave

We need to look at a person’s gestures, movements and macro movements to understand our Coachee. Like with all aspects, we need to build a bigger picture by using all of the information available together.



Whilst breathing can difficult to assess sometimes, it can be a useful indicator for us. We need to think about what the breathing could indicate, consider the below and assess what is being said about our Coachee:

  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Slow, deep breathing
  • Top of their chest expanding on inhale
  • Diaphragm expanding on inhale
  • Lack of rhythm

Medical conditions aside, the above breathing may indicate:

  • Rapid, shallow breathing – Panic / fight or flight
  • Slow, deep breathing – relaxed / calm / focused
  • Top of their chest expanding on inhale – distress /anxiety
  • Diaphragm expanding on inhale – relaxed / calm

As we can see, our Coachee is giving us plenty of information about them already that we can utilise to get them to their goal effectively. We have covered Voice, Inclination of the spine and Breathing already, next up is Eyes.




Many NLP practitioners, coaches and investigators have historically used eye movements in order to detect congruency. Whilst there can be no definitive way to detect a lie, it used to be widely accepted that eye movements indicate accessing different areas of the brain. Ever heard that someone looking to the right as lying? This is based on a lie requiring us to create an event instead of recalling one. Whilst recent studies have debunked this theory for telling the truth, the jury is still out on NLP eye accessing cues and how they help us understand how our coachee processes their world. Here is an NLP eye accessing cues image to help us understand how our coachee is representing and processing their world:

Whilst eye accessing cues can be useful, there are other key indicators of the eyes that are widely accepted, what do these mean to you?

  • Pupils dilation
  • Pupil contraction
  • Blink rate
  • Eyes narrowing
  • Eyes widening

As with above, we cannot account for medical conditions and it makes sense to utilise these as part of painting a larger picture, but generally speaking, this is what they can mean:

  • Pupils dilation – typically indicates that you like what you see
  • Pupil contraction – indicates focus
  • Blink rate – fast Blink rate may indicate stress
  • Eyes narrowing – disgust or distaste
  • Eyes widening – surprise or fear

With eyes covered, we need to move onto the final consideration of VIBES.



Whilst skin colour and tone can change based on multiple factors and with some skin tones it can be difficult to track certain changes – this links back in with everything we have said previously, tie it into other factors and parts of the VIBES model to build a picture.

The first consideration is whether our coachee has any skin conditions that are impacted by stress such as dermatitis or psoriasis. Could an outbreak indicate that our coachee is stressed? With that said, what do you think the below could mean?

Lips pursed

Lips relaxed

Muscles tensed

Muscles relaxed


Glossy skin

Ready to discuss what the above could indicate?

Lips pursed – tense, disapproval, irritation or disgust

Lips relaxed – calm and relaxed

Muscles tensed – angry, hostile or threatened.

Muscles relaxed – calm and relaxed

Goosebumps – Fear or excitement

Glossy skin – if caused by perspiration may indicate stress or anxiety


How do I use this when people are different?

As useful as all of this information can be, we know that everyone will have different baselines, some people may have a faster Blink rate or maybe they are shallow breathers. Perhaps their eyes move more or they naturally fidget. All of these factors may throw us off if we live by the 1 size fits all approach. Therefore it’s important that we calibrate with our coachee. By calibrating we can understand their baseline and therefore notice differences more clearly when using VIBES.


Calibration exercise

Calibrating with our Coachee enables us to see and hear how they process different emotions and states. Helping us to more effectively monitor our Coachee and bring them into a more beneficial mindset.

The calibration can be quite easy to do in theory but bear in mind that some people don’t like being read and will try to keep the impacts of their state hidden  or even reversed if they know you are looking for it. This means we need to do one or both of the following.

  • Bring state changes on naturally through the flow of conversation
  • Explain to your coachee why you are eliciting states in them

When developing Leadership skills in others, I and many other Leadership Coaches will explain the same tactics and tools we use to our Coachee. We also let them know we will utilise these same tactics on them. You need to be mindful when sharing this information, you ideally will need a good relationship with them first. Why?

The tool kit of a Leader and a Manipulator are almost exactly the same, the reason we use these tools are what sets us apart. A Leader and Coach uses these tools to help people grow and achieve, a manipulator uses them to purely help themselves. You may benefit from demonstrating that you care deeply about your Coachee before sharing this information as without understanding your intention to help them grow, they may feel used.

Remember – purpose counts. When our Coachee truly knows every tool we utilise is for their benefit and each technique we use is carefully applied to help them get towards their outcome, they understand and accept it. Much the same as when someone I have shared a tool or technique with uses it on me, I feel a sense of pride because:


  1. I know they’ve learnt
  2. I know they are trying to help me


The calibration exercise goes as follows:

  • Get your Coachee into a neutral state – ask them to think about something that isn’t overly stimulating such as the weather.


This will help you understand their baseline.

  • Ask your Coachee to think about a time they were overjoyed. Ask them to really step back into that moment, hear, see and feel it like it was happening again.


Watch the changes in their face, body language, breathing – remember VIBES.

  • Return your Coachee to a neutral state
  • Elicit a different state, such as one of disgust and repeat step 2 and 3 until you have built up a good understanding on how your Coachee looks within each state – or at least the states that will be valuable for them.


If you are new to Coaching, consider checking out our article on building an effective coaching structure by clicking here.

If one of your Coachee’s isn’t benefitting from your coaching style – could it be the wrong time for them to be coached? We have an article here about when to utilise coaching for maximum impact.

Finally, before our summary – if you are struggling to find an effective coaching model, here are 3 great tools you can use:

  1. GURUS – Our 5 step model, available on Amazon for £4.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited users.
  2. The GROW model – A staple in organisational coaching
  3. SMARTER goals – how to make your goal tangible

Sensory Acuity is simply paying attention to what is going on. It’s being present and monitoring your Coachee for their; Body language, Facial expressions, Skin tone changes, Eye movements, Vocal pitch, speed and volume – and Breathing. Giving us a valuable insight into how they think, feel and behave. VIBES is an easy way to remember what to look out for when helping our Coachee achieve their goal. It stands for; Voice, Inclination of the spine, Breathing, Eyes and Skin.

How we use these tools and techniques matter. Remember – as a Leader, we need to ensure that everything we do serves our Coachee and not ourselves. At the bottom of the page are some activities we can use to cement our understanding of Sensory Acuity.

Thank you for reading our article on Sensory Acuity. If you have found it valuable, please consider sharing it with others. Simon Tickner is the Author of G.U.R.U.S – The 5 step Goal Getting approach for Leaders, Coaches and people who want to win. You can get your copy on Amazon today: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09PSPDK3W/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_ZX67GPS31TPVSPNF82RZ



  • Calibrations

Try our calibration exercises out with someone. Try to keep the conversation flowing naturally instead of just cutting and jumping from 1 state to another. Be persistent, the more you practice the better you get. Try with different people.


What does VIBES stand for?

  • Meanings:

Recall what these might mean:

  • Fast pace when talking
  • Quite voice
  • Using words such as ‘Maybe’
  • Arms folded and legs crossed
  • Sat upright, hands resting gently on their legs
  • Stood upright, legs more than shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind their back
  • Sat down but spread out on a sofa
  • Stood up, hands in pockets
  • Knees up against their chest, hands clasped around their legs
  • Hand across their mouth
  • Feet pointed towards the door
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Slow, deep breathing
  • Top of their chest expanding on inhale
  • Diaphragm expanding on inhale
  • Lack of rhythm
  • Pupils dilation
  • Pupil contraction
  • Blink rate
  • Eyes narrowing
  • Eyes widening
  • Lips pursed
  • Lips relaxed
  • Muscles tensed
  • Muscles relaxed
  • Goosebumps
  • Glossy skin

If you are ready to take your coaching to the next level, consider booking in a free, no obligation session with us today:

Effectively Structuring a Coaching Session


“Why can small talk be the enemy of a good coaching conversation?” I hear you say…

This article looks to explore the power of an effectively structured coaching conversation. It isn’t about how to coach, when to coach or even why to coach. Today we are exploring an overlooked part of the coaching skill set – structure. If you are a coach and have never spent time looking for an effective way to structure your conversation, this article may be valuable for you.


We are going to look at why structuring a session is important, the barriers to maintaining a structure and how you can create an engaging coaching structure, cutting out the risk of small talk disrupting quality conversations.


Why a structure is important

To people who just love to get stuck in and help people, a structure may seem like a strange notion for a coaching session. They may think it will feel too rigid and unnatural but with time and practice, a structure can be a natural, flexible and effective way to conduct your coaching conversations.


Think about how you would feel if you decided to pay for a coach and they seemed unprepared. Would you feel valued? Engaged? Like you got your money’s worth?


Consider how having a structure may benefit you as a coach and once you have done this, let’s compare lists.



Have you done it? Our main benefits to having a structure are below, did they match yours or did we miss something?


  • It can create psychological safety
  • It provides a clear journey
  • It increases focus
  • It sets expectations
  • It can increase buy in
  • It can increase motivation
  • It can improve confidence
  • It can improve your credibility

Now we have hit a few key points, let’s explore each of these benefits in more detail:


  • It can create psychological safety

In 1943 Maslow published a paper called ‘A theory of human motivation’ where he discussed that people have 5 layers of needs. This is often shown as a pyramid where the lower level needs to be fulfilled before a person seeks the next level to be fulfilled. The 5 layers are; Physiological, Safety, Love and Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualisation.

What has this got to do with coaching? Well, let’s take the first level as an example – Physiological needs such as; air, water, food, shelter, warmth and clothing. Now tell me how likely you are to be focused on someone trying to hold a conversation with you when you are hungry, thirsty, too cold, being drenched in the rain and needing the toilet. My guess is, unless you have a ridiculously high discipline level, you wouldn’t be able to maintain a good level of concentration. We’ve all been sat in a meeting when we needed to go to the toilet and instead of paying attention to what was being said we were thinking “how long can they talk for? I’m desperate!” – The same goes for your coaching. No matter how engaging you are, if someone’s needs aren’t met, they won’t be taking in the valuable conversation.


I’m not saying you have to climb the pyramid every time you have a coaching session with someone but if you have a clear structure laid out with your coachee, this will stop thoughts of “When are we going for a break?”, “When do we actually start the coaching” or “what’s the purpose of this session?” – laying the structure out in a clear format at the start of the session (or ideally before) will help you both focus on the actual coaching conversation at hand. If you can demonstrate that you care about your coachee and their outcomes, you are also ticking off the higher levels of the pyramid and creating psychological safety – which is key to an effective coaching conversation.


A final word on psychological safety comes from Jones et all 2016:

TIP: Send out the intended structure beforehand, have pens, paper and a drink ready in the room. Try your best to make the lighting and temperature of the room suitable for you both. Ensure the coachee knows that you respect them and want what is best for them.


  • Journeys work best with a map

Maps make journeys easier. I don’t know about you but if I don’t have my sat-nav on, I’m useless driving somewhere unknown. The same can be true of a coaching conversation. If you both know where you are going and have an outline on how you will get there, it gives you both a logical and methodical feeling to your conversation. You will be able to see when you are on and off track, keeping the conversation to the point without sounding rude. Should you plan every question? No but you can break your session down into sections such as:


  1. Problem discussion
  2. Possible solutions
  3. Best solution
  4. Action plan

This rough structure will help you both understand where you are up to and what you have left to cover. It can be an extremely useful tool for someone who gets stuck on the problem.

“We’ve discussed the problem already but we keep revisiting it. I know this is a focus for you but what would be more valuable right now: talking about the problem or moving on to find the best solution?”


Tip: Get agreement on the structure early on to create a sense of commitment from your coachee. This will make it easier to get back on track if they keep revisiting a problem when you are trying to find a solution.


  • Sets expectations and focus

When we create a structure, we are able to set expectations on what will take place in the coaching session. It also enables us to fully focus on the section we are on (remember Maslow’s Hierarchy). By setting expectations, people understand that the coaching conversation is there for a reason. It isn’t a social event where we discuss the events on the weekend, it is a focused conversation that is typically geared towards removing limiting beliefs, enabling success and enhancing performance.


Asking “how was your weekend?” could be the nail in the coffin for your coachee’s performance. How many hours have you wasted asking your coachee these clichéd questions? How much of your effective coaching time has been eaten up with small talk that doesn’t add value or get your coachee closer to their goals? It might seem polite to warm into the conversation but is it effective? Is it your purpose to help someone understand their potential?… or is it to have a casual chat with them that makes you both feel warm and fuzzy inside?


I’m not saying be anti-social or ignorant, what I’m saying is do this outside of your coaching session. If you are a Leader – first thing Monday morning, ask your team how they are, what they did on their weekend etc. Do it naturally, build your relationships but do it outside of coaching time. If you are a coach that deals with clients, fire off emails, texts, phone calls outside of your sessions if it is suitable. When you book in time for coaching, it’s there for development conversations. Look into quick ways to build rapport if you are struggling finding this balance.


TIP: A structured coaching session needs to be focused on your coachee. Use time outside of the session to build relationships and set the expectation that because you really value your coachee and their time, your focus will be solely on helping them, which leaves little room for small talk.


  • Urgency motivates

Time limits are a powerful way to structure your coaching session and can create a sense of urgency with your coachee. This again, ties into Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs by allowing people to know when the session will be over and can help people put the structure into a sensible time limit.


We know that when we set a goal with too long a time frame, people give up faster than someone with a shorter time frame. This is because without a sense of urgency, people don’t focus as hard as they would in a time critical situation.


TIP: Set a time limit for your coaching session and don’t get caught up in the ‘coaching lasts an hour’ mind-set. An effective coaching session could take less than 10 minutes. Why waste yours and your coachee’s time by booking out an hour if you believe your coachee will have discovered their way forward in 20 minutes? Use your experience and judgement to get these timings right.


  • Credibility and confidence

Coaching models are tried and true ways of guiding a coaching conversation. Whether you want to look at GROW, SMART, CLEAR, GURUS (the DTE model), the Reflective Cycle or any other model you love, they all provide a structure for you to work through. Using a model can build credibility in your coaching session as people realise you have an effective and reliable toolkit to support them with.

These methods are successfully utilised by leaders and coaches across the world, so you know that when you are using these to structure your conversation, that you have a great chance of achieving what you set out to. By using a model that already exists, it is saving you from reinventing the wheel and wasting time on trial and error.

For your own confidence as well, using a model can guide you through conversations until you are confident and comfortable to work within your own process.

TIP: Researching coaching models can be your best friend, find out which ones work for you and your coachees. A good coach is always learning.


With those 5 key reasons to structure a coaching conversation, it makes sense to explore some of the barriers to creating and maintaining an effective coaching structure. By highlighting these threats to your success, we can look at strategies to mitigate their risk.


Barriers to an effective coaching structure

There are 5 main barriers we as coaches can face when structuring our conversation, these are; time constraints, lack of preparation, lack of focus, lack of engagement and lack of outcome. 


Time constraints

One of the more frustrating things as a coach are external factors limiting your time to support someone. If someone’s ever interrupt your coaching session because calls are queueing or coaching time is reduced as targets aren’t being met (crazy right?!) – you may be nodding your head in agreement as you read this. Time constraints can make you feel like a structure is pointless but actually, it makes even more sense. If you structure your time, you end up having more of it because you cut out the wasted time. Just structure smarter.


TIP: Plan out a 60 minute coaching session, then cut it down to 30 minutes, then to 15 minutes and finally to 10 minutes. See how much you can actually get out of a short 10 minute session. When you find yourself panicking about not having enough time, it’s a good time to stop worrying and start planning how to spend your time effectively.

When I was complaining early on in my career about not having enough time to effectively coach people, my first Leadership mentor asked me “Well Simon, what CAN you do?” – This reframed the whole situation for me to focus on what was possible. It all boils down to accountability and what you can choose to take ownership of. Want to know more? We have an article on accountability here.


Lack of preparation

This is often linked to a lack of time! A lack of preparation can mean you end up ‘winging’ your coaching session. Before you put yourself in a victim mind-set of saying “I just didn’t have time to prepare!” ask yourself these questions:


  • Why don’t I value this person enough to prepare for them?
  • How does this lack of preparation impact my effectiveness?
  • If I was the coachee, what would I want to see?


A lack of preparation can impact how effective your structure is. Remember the benefits of a good structure:

  • It can create psychological safety
  • It provides a clear journey
  • It increases focus
  • It sets expectations
  • It can increase buy in
  • It can increase motivation
  • It can improve confidence
  • It can improve your credibility

TIP: Where possible, understand what you will be discussing in the coaching session. Schedule time between meetings to get the room, yourself and your session ready.


Lack of focus

You can create the best structure known to the world but if you lack the focus to follow it, it is redundant. This goes for yourself and your coachee, so ensure that you keep to your structure. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy – by taking care of your own and your coachee’s needs, you will both be able to focus on the coaching itself.


TIP: Remove distractions and cover the basics in Maslow’s Hierarchy. Where possible, coach away from any screens unless they are an important part of the session itself. It can be tempting when notifications pop up, so make it easier for yourself and your coachee – switch off distractions.


Lack of engagement

Directly linked to a lack of focus is a lack of engagement. Sometimes coachees are just not engaged in the coaching. This will quickly see your valuable coaching go to waste. Put yourself in your coachees shoes, if you don’t see the benefit in something, would you want to spend your time doing it?


Questions to ask yourself or your coachee:


  • “Why are they distracted?”
  • “What could I do to make this more engaging?”
  • “Have I demonstrated the value in this?”
  • “Is there a better way forward?”

TIP: Keep your mind-set accountable. Blaming your coachee for their lack of engagement isn’t a smart choice. As a Coach, it’s your job to demonstrate value, as a Leader, it’s your job to make the mission so compelling that people are engaged in it.


Lack of outcome

Moving in line with a lack of engagement is the lack of an outcome. If your coaching session doesn’t have an objective, how can you effectively structure a coaching conversation towards it? For coaching to take place, you and your coachee should have an outcome in mind. Coaching isn’t just for a catch up.


TIP: Engage with an outcome as soon as possible in the process. This gives you both something to work towards within your structure.


Armed with ways to overcome the barriers to an effective structure, let’s discover how we can create an engaging coaching structure.


How to create an engaging structure


We have looked at the benefits of creating an engaging structure, understood some of the barriers and how to overcome them. Now it is time to plan out our engaging structure. We do this by;             


  • Preparing your session

Preparation is a really basic and effective step but one that can often be overlooked. We can break this down into 4 main sections that form the acronym MEET; Method, Environment, Engagement and Time.

1. Method

As above, have a good idea on the method you want to use for your coaching. This could be something simple such as:


  • Objectives
  • Problem
  • Solutions
  • Commitment

You could use a method or model that is already available, such as:



  • Goal (what do they want to achieve?)
  • Reality (where are they now?)
  • Options (how can they get there?)
  • Way forward (the action plan)

For more details check out our article HERE


Or maybe you could use Ferdinand Fournies’ Coaching Discussion Plan:


  • Gain agreement that there is a problem
  • Discuss alternative options
  • Agree action
  • Follow up to measure success
  • Reinforce success

Whether you use one of these approaches, another one or your own, a structure like this can help guide your conversation and keep you both on track.


2. Environment:

Prepare the room or environment you will be coaching in.

Consider how the chairs are positioned, facing each other can create a confrontational atmosphere so consider a 90 degree angle or side by side. Think about lighting, temperature, drinks and stationary. Remove distractions.

3. Engagement:

Refresh yourself on previous notes. What did you discuss last time? Have you asked ahead of the session what they want to cover this time? Did anything happen in your last session that has made you think about a different approach this time? How does your coachee like to communicate?


4. Time:

How long have you got to coach? What questions, tools or activities could you plan in to use this time effectively? Is there any ‘pre-work’ your coachee could do to prepare for the session?


  • Engaging with the coachee

The first step in engagement is to take yourself out of the equation, even if you have a plan on what to coach them on, they may have their own objectives. Even if you have an agenda, open the floor up with something like: “We’ve booked today in as I want to see what support I can offer for you to achieve our objectives as we seem off track. Before we get started, what is your goal for this session?”


This let’s your coachee know that whilst you need to cover certain topics, you do genuinely care about them and what they want to achieve. It builds psychological safety as they realise you are there to support them, not manage them out of the business. If you are coaching a client, the likelihood is they will be bringing the objectives to the session full stop, so this is an essential part of your opening conversation.


Another way to engage with your coachee is to ask them for progress updates. “Last time we spoke you said you would do X, how did that go?” This shows engagement and a good understanding of past coaching conversations. It demonstrates that you are invested in your coachee and will likely give you some great indicators on what you can coach on.


A well known tool for building Rapport quickly is to use the Matching and Mirroring technique. You can match and mirror body language as well as words used, doing either of these can create an emotional connection on a subconscious level with your coachee as their brain is telling them that you are both alike.


When we match in body language, we copy what the other person is doing. Do they have their arms folded? Do the same. Are they tilting their head to the right hand side? Do the same. You can also be more subtle by using a cross matching technique, so if they have their arms folded, you can cross your legs. If you notice their breathing pattern, you can subtly move your finger up and down in the same rhythm. Mirroring is the same as matching but your body position is opposite, as if they were looking in a mirror. So if they tilt their head to the right, you tilt yours to the left.


In language, we can mirror by repeating key words in the sentence such as:

Coachee: “I’m having a hard time meeting my goals.”

Coach: “You’re having a hard time?”

This simple technique enables your coachee to give you more information about their thoughts and feelings.


Matching language can be a useful tool for developing Rapport quickly. It is more subtle than mirroring and requires focus to pick out the right words. For example, if someone says “I see the value in that.” – they are in a visual state as they “see” something. Your language can now use visual cues such as “bigger picture”, “look at the details”, “watch this” and so on. “I hear that!” indicates an auditory state, so “music to my ears”, “that sounds great” and so on will help you build rapport.  If someone is driven by an internal compass, use phrases like “you might consider” – which will be seen as an invitation and not a suggestion to be ignored. On the other side, if they are driven by others and care about what other people think, you could say “most people would…” or “it’s common that.. “ – these are tools to build relationships quickly. Be mindful how you use them as the difference between a leader and manipulator is the intent in which you use these tools. Using these tools to build a relationship to help someone? That’s leadership. Using words to get your own way? That’s manipulation. Coaching is about supporting your coachee to overcome barriers and perform effectively, to have an honest and open conversation, you need rapport first.


P’s & Q’s (presence and questions)

Be present with your coachee.

Being an effective coaching means that you are in the moment with your coachee, paying attention to their body language, facial expressions, words used and tonality. You need to be aware of what isn’t being said as much as what is being said. If you are thinking about what you are going to cook later, another client or needing to go to the toilet, you won’t be present, could miss vital information and break rapport with your coachee. Try to remove distractions such as phones, computers and other people.


The other part of this section is using effective questions.

I have been in numerous businesses where ‘coaching’ consists of telling someone what they did well and what they need to improve on (often more of that latter)! This isn’t really coaching, telling someone what they did or didn’t do well is feedback. Coaching uses questions to get your coachee to think about a problem, their response to it and their own solution. As Michael Bungay Stanier says in his Book “The Coaching Habit” – say less, listen more. Don’t become the advice monster, coaching isn’t about stroking your ego and thinking you know best, it’s about being curious and questioning someone else to greatness.


Being present will likely mean you are in a great position to ask a better quality of question than if you weren’t paying attention. Whilst there are some questions that are great go-to questions, the best way to be effective is to be present, listen to your coachee and ask questions to help uncover and overcome limiting beliefs.


Here are a few examples of good go-to questions but remain present to really take your questioning to the next level:


  • What does that mean to you?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What do you want it to look like?
  • What makes that compelling for you?
  • What’s stopping you?
  • What’s the way forward?


The next step is creating an engaging coaching conversation is the use of accountability.

Does your coachee feel accountable for their results?

Do they feel accountable for their actions and inaction?

Who is walking away from the conversation with the action plan?


When people feel accountable, they begin to pay attention and focus on what they are able to do instead of focusing on the barriers that are holding them back. Accountability is one of the most important skills to develop in people as it empowers your coachee to succeed by their own standards.


One of the best ways to create accountability is to demonstrate it yourself. The next time someone misunderstands your question, instead of blaming them say “I’m sorry, perhaps I didn’t word that right…” or next time someone starts blaming others for their lack of progress say “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I wasn’t clear when we last spoke. The only way to give ourselves the best chance of success, is to take ownership. What can we work on together to improve this?” If you weave accountability into your coaching conversation, you will begin to embed its importance.


Next steps


Finally, we need to think about our next steps. This keeps your coachee engaged not only during the coaching session but also after it and into the next coaching session. There are many goals setting models to choose from, such as our GURUS method, GROW model or the SMARTER method. These tools give you a solid framework to base the cachees next steps on.


Like the rest of the coaching conversation, real value comes from pulling the answers from your coachee, not providing the answers for them. For commitment and accountability, your coachee should set their goals.


One final word on goal setting comes from Jones et all 2016:


Whilst coaching is great and should happen daily and organically outside of formal coaching sessions, when you need that formal session, it makes sense to have a structure to your conversation. A well structured session can lead to the following benefits:

  • It can create psychological safety
  • It provides a clear journey
  • It increases focus
  • It sets expectations
  • It can increase buy in
  • It can increase motivation
  • It can improve confidence
  • It can improve your credibility

Whilst we know there are some fantastic benefits to a good coaching structure, there are some barriers that we need to look out for: Time constraints, lack of preparation, lack of focus, lack of engagement and lack of outcome.

Spend some time thinking about how you can overcome these barriers so you are prepared for them when they show up. Once you’ve looked at how to overcome these barriers, it’s time to structure your session. We do this by; preparing our session, engaging with the coachee (which includes understanding objectives), P’s & Q’s (presence and questions), accountability & next steps.

There are plenty of great models out there that you can use to structure your coaching conversation, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, focus on how you can best support your coachee and the rest will come with practice.




  • 1 Page guide for creating a coaching structure
  • Coaching session template
  • Structure Reflection sheet
  • From an hour to 10 minutes question sheet

Transform Accusations into Achievements with the Accountability Ladder

How would you like to become a:

  • More vigilant problem solver?
  • Better decision maker?
  • Continually high performer?
  • Highly motivated person?
  • Highly satisfied person?

Well, together we are about to explore how accountability can drastically change the way you live your life, lead others and achieve your goals. We are going to Discover an amazing tool called the Ladder of Accountability and how it can transform your mind-set to make you unstoppable.

If you are thinking:

We’ve got you covered. Here’s the funny thing about accountability…when done correctly; it encourages others to take ownership, it gives you more time back, it feels empowering, you are more in control of your life and find more satisfaction in your choices. Not to mention that accountable people are more successful and are more positively viewed by their peers. The benefits of accountability are huge.


Accountability is about being responsible for success and silencing the voice in your head that wants you to be a victim. Don’t worry, we all have that Victim mind-set within our head from time to time and the temptation to listen to it can be strong because it gives people an excuse not to try. This article aims to help you fight the Victim mind-set by using an Accountable mind-set that aims to cut out the voices of “It’s not my fault”, “I don’t have the time” and any other thought you have about life happening TO you instead of happening BECAUSE of you.



Let’s begin to embrace accountability and take a look at how we can push back against the Victim mind-set and embrace freedom, success and empowerment through the Accountable mind-set


Why accountability matters

We hear people talk about accountability and we know that it’s important for getting things done – but the benefits of accountability are far greater than that. We are going to look at how accountability impacts; motivation, results, others, stress levels, time and fulfilment.


That’s right! Being accountable puts you in a motivational state. Think about anytime you have set a goal you are passionate about. You will know what actions you need to take, when to take them and you carry out these actions because you understand the purpose behind them.

Take a moment to consider the difference that these 2 options have on the way you feel:


  1. “Someone needs to help that person.”
  2. “I am going to help that person.”

Did the 1st one make you feel like a bystander, a victim or generally uninterested and detached?

Did the 2nd one make you feel more empowered, helpful, motivated and in control?


When you look around your house and see job after job, piling on top of each other – consider the difference in these 2 statements:

  1. “There is so much to do, why am I the only one that does anything around here?”
  2. “I’m going to make a list, get it done, ask for help and set a game-plan so we stay on top of things next time.”

Did the 1st one make you feel like a victim and that bad things in life happen to you? That there was so much to do because no one else pulled their weight? Did you feel overwhelmed and stressed?

Did the 2nd one make you feel empowered, resourceful, motivated and relieved?


This is the power of accountability. It’s a skill, one that comes with time and lots of practice. Fortunately, there is a simple tool you can use to help you identify whether you are in a Victim mind-set or an Accountable mind-set and take appropriate steps to take back control, feel more motivated, energised and calm.

Let’s get right into the Ladder of Accountability so we can create a much more useful and powerful Accountable mind-set.

The Ladder of Accountability was shown to me by my first Leadership mentor when I told him that operations wanted to see improvements in both the Quality and Productivity of my team but were not giving me adequate time to coach them to success. He immediately got out a printed image of the Ladder of Accountability and asked me if I was in a Victim mind-set or an Accountable mind-set. The answer was painfully obvious, I was in a victim mind-set. THEY wouldn’t give me the time, therefore my mission wasn’t possible. I was wrong, it was possible and with accountability, I took control and we smashed it.


The Ladder of Accountability has 8 rungs, 4 of which are Victim mind-sets; “I don’t know”, “Blame others”, “Excuses” and “Wait & hope.” The last 4 are Accountable mind-sets; “Acknowledge reality”, “Own it”, “Find solutions” and “Make it happen”. As you climb up the ladder, you become more accountable and begin to power your way through to success.

To understand the Ladder in more detail, we will need to explore each rung and discover how to climb to the top in order to achieve accountability and set ourselves up for success.

At the bottom rung of accountability is ‘I don’t know!” at this stage people simply don’t know that there is a problem. They are completely unaware that the problem exists or that something needs attention. We are surrounded by topics and situations we don’t know about – if we knew about them all we would likely have information overload. It makes sense then that we are all at this rung in some aspect of our lives – it’s up to you to identify it and decide if you want to take action.


This stage could be something simple as using an old process at work and saying “I did it because it’s what we’ve always done!” – when in reality the process is no longer fit for purpose. You may not have known it was an issue at the time, because you simply hadn’t taken a step back to consider the risks of taking the actions you did.


How many times have couples said to each other “How am I meant to know unless you tell me?” – A mix here of the stage “I don’t know” and our next stage “Blame Others.”


Before we move on to the next stage though, lets look at 3 quick ways that we can become more aware of the world around us and our levels of accountability:


    1. Mindfulness and reflection
    2. Risk assessments
    3. Conversations

1. Mindfulness is the state of being in the present and paying attention to the moment. When you are in the moment, you feel calmer and pay more attention to yourself and the world around you. This, alongside reflection may help you become more aware of the situations and problems you have been overlooking such as a partners body language, troubling situations or habit changes.


2. Risk assessments aren’t just for businesses. Have you thought about what would happen if giant ants from space came to enslave the earth? What would your emergency plans be for yourself and your loved ones? Yes – we got a bit crazy there but there is nothing wrong with creating an emergency plan in case of; natural disasters, burglaries, redundancy and so on. These are all things people can have a Victim Mind-Set about with questions such as “How was I meant to know?” or “What can I do about it?”


In reality though, there’s a simple answer: Risk assess and plan. Ideally do this proactively and before the event occurs but occasionally things happen and we have to react. The best way forward once you have a plan in place is to figure out how to stop similar situations occurring in the future.

Consider a simple 9 point Risk Assessment – Impact /Probability grid that may help you identify what risks you are best placed to focus on.

For example, if you were assessing the risk of being made redundant and you are in a secure job where it is unlikely you will be let go, you would start at the ‘Low Probability’ row in the above image. If that job was well paying and you have lots of financial commitments, we can agree that the impact of redundancy would be high and so you would need to go to the grid point: Low Probability/High Impact. This Grid axis takes us to a “Medium” risk level as outlined below:

Something to create a plan for but not immediately stress over. If however, you didn’t have financial commitments and had lots of savings then the impact could be considered “Low” making this a Low Probability/Low Impact event, taking us to a “Low” risk level. It’s a good idea to have something in place still but even just to be aware of it and the potential impacts is a start.


 3. Conversations are essential in life, they work wonders for accountability too. By talking to others, you are understanding their perspectives and they will likely talk to you about potential situations you were not aware of. You will also be able to pick up where you both are on the Accountability Ladder by the words being used.


Next time you hear yourself say: “I had no idea!” or “How was I supposed to know?” – recognise where you are and figure out WHY you didn’t know and how you could ensure you positioned yourself in a place of knowledge going forward.

With a good understanding on how to combat the ‘I don’t know’ rung of the ladder, we can begin to climb the ladder and get to the next Victim stage: Rung 2 – Blame Others.

This is the phase where people want to shift the uncomfortable spotlight from themselves onto someone else. Whilst this can temporarily ease the pressure, it doesn’t make you feel better in the long run, it doesn’t get us to a solution faster, it damages relationships and it can make us feel guilty and ashamed later on.

This stage is a bit like the Stanford Marshmallow experiment – where children were given the choice between 1 immediate marshmallow or 2 marshmallows if they waited for a period of time. The study was to test instant gratification or delayed gratification. Like the experiment, you have 2 choices:


1. Cast blame for the immediate spotlight to be off of you (1 immediate ‘reward’)


2. Be accountable, explain what you could have done differently and find solutions going forward (2 much more satisfying rewards).


So before you go to cast blame on someone else, ask yourself whether you are choosing to take 1 or 2 marshmallows today?

To drive the importance home, here are 2 further points to consider:


  1. In follow up studies, they found that the children who had waited and taken 2 marshmallows were more successful in life.
  2. Blaming others in no way guarantees you that the spotlight will come off of you. In fact, you will likely develop a reputation for it, be considered untrustworthy, lose relationships and be even more likely to be considered responsible for the failure. People catch on quickly so don’t be known as the person that blames the world, make it known that you own issues and take action to get results.

In the words of Extreme Ownership Authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin:

So how do we stop blaming others and start being more accountable?

Here are the 6R’s that we formulated based on research and over a decade of experience as coaches:

Step 1: Recognise

You have to be aware of yourself when you are mentally or verbally placing the blame on someone else. Catch yourself doing it, stop the behaviour and move on to step 2.

Step 2: Refocus

You are now aware that you were about to cast blame on someone else. Take a breath and quickly scan why you were about to do that, you might find the reason you are responsible for the issue. Don’t dwell too much here right now, we need to refocus on the next step – Review.

Step 3: Review

What were you or are you accountable for? Find a way to be accountable for what’s happened.

For example:

  • A colleague had 100% responsibility for a project but didn’t deliver? How could you have changed that? What support could you have offered? Could you have offered support in a different way? There are countless ways to make yourself accountable for something that at first doesn’t seem like it should be your responsibility.

Find out what you were accountable for, own it and be vocal about it. Chances are, this mind-set and mentality will help others become accountable too.

Step 4: Rescue

There is no point in placing the blame anywhere, even on yourself if you are not going to do anything about it. Work on fixing the immediate issue at hand. This level of ownership and responsibility will likely be admired by your peers and people up the chain of command as well.

Step 5: Reflect

We have fixed the issue at hand, all that’s left to do is reflect on why mistakes were made, how to improve ourselves, processes and teams to make us more efficient in the future.

Step 6: Recommend

All that’s left now is to make recommendations so that this doesn’t happen again. Up your accountability here and take some time to do a wider risk analysis to see if there is anything else that could benefit from being reviewed. This is where great learning opportunities come from, put processes in place to ensure your success in the future. Working with a team here helps build future accountability so consider facilitating a session on the best way forward.

Here are 3 common reasons people pass blame, why they don’t work and what you can do about it:

With the realisation that blame is actually our enemy other than our friend, it’s time to take the next step up the ladder. This rung is called Excuses.

As coaches, we hear excuses all of the time, such as:


  • “I can’t!”
  • “I don’t have the time!”
  • “No one is supporting me! What if I fail?”
  • “I cannot do this on my own!”
  • “This is too difficult, nobody could do this!”
  • “Of course THEY did it, they had support!”

People that say these kinds of things don’t tend to recognise them as excuses, they think they’re legitimately unmovable obstacles. As coaches we tend to call them ‘Limiting Beliefs’ and it’s something we are very good at challenging, reframing and helping people overcome.

A limiting belief is an assumption you hold about yourself or your situation that isn’t actually true. It’s our job as coaches to challenge this thought process through questioning and curiosity. We know that Limiting Beliefs often come from 3 main places: fear, uncertainty and self-doubt.


Once you have identified where these excuses or limiting beliefs are coming from, you can start to question your thought process on them. Taking a few of the above examples, we will identify where the limiting belief has come from and then look at some sample questions you can use to challenge them.


“I can’t!”

Where does this come from?

  • Self-doubt.

What questions could challenge this limiting belief?

  • “Really?” Followed by silence.
  • “What’s the specific reason you can’t do it?”
  • “Is there anybody that could do it?” followed by “How would they do it?”

“I don’t have the time!”

Where does this come from?

  • Uncertainty

What questions could challenge this limiting belief?

  • “How could you make the time?”
  • “What is stopping you from making the time?”
  • “How much time do you think it would take?” Followed by “Could you split this into smaller chunks?”
  • “Who would have the time?”
  • “Why isn’t this important enough for you to make the time?”

“No one is supporting me! What if I fail?”

Where does this come from?

  • Self-doubt and fear

What questions could challenge this limiting belief?

  • “What makes you think you need support?”
  • “What support do you think you need?”
  • “Could you ask for help?”
  • “What makes you think you will fail?”
  • “If you do fail, what then?”

It’s important to listen out for limiting beliefs and excuses. By effectively challenging them you open up the door to accountability and success. Once we have successfully navigated the excuses and limiting beliefs, the next rung on the ladder is Wait and hope.

This is the last of the Victim mind-sets on the Ladder of Accountability. Whilst it isn’t blaming others, making excuses or being unaware of the situation, there is still a clear lack of accountability that needs addressing.

At this stage, the person simply waits and hopes someone else will do it. If we are being honest with ourselves here, there is at least one thing that you have left and hoped someone else would do. The problem here is that if everyone waits for someone else to do it, no one would do it! Here is a short video that explains the story: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, Nobody:

Wait and Hope in work can be seen as a cultural lack of accountability. Everybody assumed somebody would do it, because anybody could do it but nobody does! This can push us right back down to the Blame game on rung 2 as we start pointing fingers at other people who should have done it.

Do not waste your time and energy falling back down the ladder. Here are 3 quick and simple ways to get passed Wait and Hope:

  • Do it yourself.
  • Explain to someone why you cannot do it and ask for help.
  • Offer to take work from someone else so they will have the time to do it.

Just like that, we have taken accountability and either taken control of the situation ourselves of empowered someone else to complete the task. Of course, ownership is about owning the task completely, so even if someone else says they will do it, find a way to be accountable for the task still – check in on the person, see if they are getting on okay or if they need support. Delegating work doesn’t make you less accountable, you should still be responsible for the end result.

With strategies in place to deal with the 4 Victim mind-sets, it’s time to begin the climb into the Accountable mind-set. Give yourself a pat on the back here, celebrate and enjoy the moment. Accountability is hard but it is worth it. Ensure you celebrate and reward yourself for taking accountable actions.

Acknowledging reality is where we are able to put all of the petty and unhelpful Victim mind-sets to one side. This can be a difficult step for our ego to take but it’s a necessary one to become an accountable and successful person. When you acknowledge reality you strip away all of the noise, beliefs and assumptions that were gathering on the first 4 rungs. You look at the facts of the situation, where you are, the facts that led to the problem and understand that something needs to change.


Let’s understand why acknowledging reality is important:

  • Reality gives you an honest view on what’s happened and why
  • This lets you get to the root cause of the problem instead of fixing symptoms
  • Often the sting of acknowledging short comings can stop you from making the same mistake twice
  • People around you will see you truly want to understand and fix the problem

Once we understand how important acknowledging reality is, we need to establish how much of what we are seeing is raw factual data and how much of it has been interpreted by ourselves through our beliefs and assumptions.

For example, if we revisit the scenario where jobs are piling up around the house, our view will be distorted by our beliefs and assumptions:


“The other person doesn’t do anything around here.” – Belief

“They are just lazy!” – Assumption

“They don’t care about me or the house.” – Assumption

“I am not valued here.” – Belief


Wow, that spiralled quickly out of control! We need to break away from these beliefs and assumptions and get to the facts. Here are some questions that may help you dive down into the concrete evidence:

  • Which of my beliefs are impacting these thoughts?
  • What assumptions am I making and why?
  • Am I using all of the available data or am I being selective with it?
  • What are the core facts of the situation?

After thinking about these questions, we may come to the below conclusions:

There are lots of jobs that need to be done.

The jobs I do are X, Y & Z.

I don’t know what jobs the other person does, I should probably find out.

I do not factually know why the house has so many outstanding jobs right now.

I do not have any proof that says they do not value me or the house, it’s just the way I felt.

What I do know is that we have a lot to do, we need a game plan to fix the problem and have a strategy for the future.


With these simple questions, we have moved from quite an emotional state to one of a rational and calm mind that is now able to take ownership and find solutions. Living in the facts and acknowledging reality is a powerful skill to develop. Keep working on it every time you feel your emotions getting the better of you.

Here are 3 more great questions we have highlighted in our previous article on the GROW model. They use a method called ‘Chunking down’, which is when you take an emotive statement and ask a question designed to break the emotional pattern and focus on a factual and logical answer.

If you want to know more about the Grow model, our article on it is here: https://www.developtheedge.com/get-up-and-go-with-the-grow-model/

With an honest view on the situation, it’s time to climb to the next rung of the ladder –Embrace it.

This is the stage that can be quite difficult as you now have the facts, it’s time to embrace your responsibility for what happened. When you own the mistake or problem. You are more determined to solve it.  This stage is a constant battle with your ego as it pushes back from taking blame and wants to shout about all the things it has done not the 1 thing it hasn’t. The problem is, the 1 thing you didn’t do is the cause of the problem. There is no point running a 100m race and stopping at the 99th meter.

As Whitmore said, ownership leads to motivation and thus results. If you take ownership of the problem, you will be driven to find a solution.

We are going to give you a scenario that may be difficult for you to take ownership of.

Work out how you could make yourself accountable for the problem, what mistakes did you make here that lead to the failure of the project?

  • A project came in to the team from your client, one of your colleagues eagerly put themselves forward for the task and your manager happily gave it to them. In your weekly meeting your manager checked the progress of every team member’s projects and your colleague always said everything was going great. Whenever you caught up with your colleague in meetings or the breakroom, they seemed confident in their work and abilities. They always seem on top of everything. On the day of the deadline your colleague told you that they were nowhere near completion and that they had been lying when they said everything was great. Due to the project not being completed on time, client ended up cancelling all contracts with your team, losing the company a lot of money and damaging its reputation.
  • List all of the ways you can take ownership of the projects failure before continuing with the article.

If you are struggling with this one, watch this 15 minute video by Jocko that may give you a few ideas.

Once you have answered the questions, the article continues below the video.

Once you have worked out how you can take ownership of the situation, think back to a time where you felt like there was no-way you could have been accountable for a problem or situation – when it was 100% someone else’s fault. Take a different perspective on it now and think about what you could do to change that – what could you make yourself accountable for in that situation?


Now that we have embraced our accountability of the problem, the next step is vital – Find a Solution.

It’s pointless just taking ownership of a mistake, you have to learn from it and try to fix it. Consider the immediate way forward for the problem or situation and how you will take responsibility for it.


We also need to learn from our mistakes, so with your clear view on what went wrong from the Embrace it stage, start to come up with solutions that will stop it happening again.

Consider the last scenario we went through together, where you colleague took on a project which failed and cost the company both income and reputation. Review your list of mistakes that you are accountable for and write down what you will do differently next time to ensure that future missions will be a success.


You can also do this with your personal scenario.

Ariana Glantz has a TED talk about finding solutions where she acknowledges how scary it can be to start looking for solutions, especially if we don’t initially think we have the tools or confidence to do it. To help overcome this, she has created a simple 5 step process for generating the way forward. We have broken this down for you below but the video is here:

  • Mindset

Make being solutions minded part of your identity. Before sitting down, remind yourself that you are a person that is focused on finding solutions. If you brain keeps drifting back to the problem, redirect it to the solution.

  • Structure

Create your own process for problem solving, whether it’s a start to finish approach or is more about idea generation, know what works for you and make tweaks to it along the way.

  • Question

Clarify the problem by asking questions about it – there’s no point creating a solution if you haven’t explored the problem – your solution may be wrong! Question colleagues, friends and subject matter experts for their opinions and ideas.

  • Practice

Finding Solutions is a skill that takes time and practice, so use every problem as an opportunity to try out your new process.

  • Patience

Be kind to yourself and others, learning a new skill or just navigating through problems can be a challenging time. Support yourself and others.

With a Solution in mind, it’s time to climb up to the final rung of the ladder Make it happen.

You’ve done the hard work, you have put your ego to the side, admitted accountability, embraced the feelings and consequences that come with making mistakes and you have generated a way forward. Now all you need to do, is take action.

As you have made the decision to be accountable, this step should be fairly easy. People who feel accountable are much more likely to take appropriate action to get the desired results. Take time to celebrate what you have achieved here, taking ownership is not an easy road but it is one that will see you succeed, it is one where you will become a leader and inspire others to be more accountable.

The next time you make a statement or have a thought about a problem or situation, take a minute to consider where you are on the Ladder of Accountability. Think about what steps you need to take to move from a Victim Mind-set to an Accountable-Mind-set in order to succeed.


There are 8 rungs on the ladder of accountability; “I don’t know”, “Blame others”, “Excuses”, “Wait & hope”, “Acknowledge reality”, “Own it”, “Find solutions” and “Make it happen”. You have the choice on whether you want to have a Victim mind-set or an Accountable mind-set. Being a Victim is easy in the short term but can cause long term damage to your mentality, relationships, skills and abilities. Being accountable may be difficult in the short-term but the long-term pay offs are massive. You become more passionate, more dedicated, more solutions focused, more satisfied, better at solving problems and inspirational to others. In fact, Arti Trivedi in his paper A Study of Literature Review on Individual Accountability, said this:

That brings our article on the Ladder of Accountability to a close. We have added the following resources to the bottom of the page:

  • A FREE 40 Page Guidebook to help you and others become a Victor instead of a Victim
  • 2 x Ladder of Accountability Hand Outs
  • Ladder of Accountability 1 page guide

 If you have found the article valuable, consider sharing it with others by clicking the Social Media icons below.


If you want to become a more vigilant problem solver, better decision maker, continually high performer, a highly motivated person and a highly satisfied person – Book in your FREE no commitment consultation session with us today:

Get up and go with the GROW model

If you:

  • Feel like you aren’t progressing when it comes to planning and achieving your goals
  • Get lost when structuring a coaching conversation
  • Want to help people achieve their potential but you just aren’t sure where to start

This article should be packed with value for you.

Based on John Whitmore’ book ‘Coaching for Performance 5th Edition’, we discuss WHAT the model is and HOW to use it. If you want to learn more about the benefits of the GROW model, consider subscribing to our blog as we will be discussing this with you soon!

For now though, let us begin to explore this widely used model and discover what it could do for you.

What is the GROW model?

The GROW model was created by John Whitmore as a tool to help coaches and leaders have effective conversations with their colleagues. Whitmore advised that the model should be used similar to a journey planner – find out where you want to go, understand where you are and plot the best path to get there.

The acronym GROW is broken down in to 4 easy to follow steps which stand for; Goal, Reality, Options and Will.

How to use the GROW model

The GROW model is a fantastic tool you can use alongside your coaching and facilitation skills, it gives you a framework to base your conversations around so that they follow a sensible structure. It isn’t a replacement for interactive coaching, so it’s important to stay engaged as you work your way through the model, being flexible in your approach will help the conversation flow and allows you to avoid an awkward and rigid tick box exercise.

Before you launch into understanding your coachees goal, it makes sense to set the scene. We don’t mean brief your coachee on the model but we definitely should explore the purpose of the coaching session. What is the end goal of the session and why is it important? Whether you have a specific agenda for the coaching sessions or not, it’s always a good idea to ask your coachee what they would like to get out of the time you are spending together.

Consider these simple, thought provoking introduction questions:

Do you have any impactful questions that you like to open a session with? Connect with us @DevelopTheEdge on Twitter or LinkedIn and let us know how you start your sessions off powerfully!

With the scene set, we can look at how we can use the model to guide our coaching conversations. The first part of the model we are going to engage with is Goal.

The first part of the model is extremely important as it focuses on what is to be achieved. Much like with Locke and Latham’ research, Whitmore advises that the goal needs to be stretching for the coachee. When we look at goal motivation, we see that when a goal is too easy or too hard, we give up on it because it is either not valuable (too easy) or not worth the effort (too hard).

If you only have a short amount of time to coach with, consider asking your coachee to have a goal in mind before the session.

Whitmore identifies 4 different types of goals:

  1. Dream Goals
  2. End Goals
  3. Performance Goals
  4. Process Goals. 

The different types of goals can impact motivation levels, goal success and accountability in your coachee so it is important to know which goal we are dealing with at any one point. If for example, your coachee is missing a Dream Goal, they may lack motivation and the inspiration to do their best. If they are missing Process goals, they may lose accountability and lose track of their next steps. Missing a goal type may not bode well for their goals success. With that in mind, let’s explore the 4 types in more detail:

This is the inspiring vision of the future, something that is not yet possible but in time and after a lot of focused effort, will be. This is real big picture thinking, it is a focus on who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.

This is your driving force of the goal and it needs to be exciting, compelling and inspiring. This can take a lot of exploring and reflection – you will likely need to revisit the Goal stage of the GROW model later as you refine your purpose.

Here are some valuable questions to identify and probe further into a Dream Goal:

  • Why do you want to do this?
  • What is it that you really want?
  • Why do you really want that?
  • What is the purpose of achieving this?
  • How will your life be different after you achieve this?
  • What will it mean to you once you have achieved it?
  • Who do you want to be?
  • Why do you want to be that future self?
  • What will achieving this allow you to do?
  • Why is this important for you in the long run?
  • How does this link to business goals (where coaching in the workplace)
  • What excites you about this goal?

Remember: this Dream Goal needs to be inspiring and motivating.

Similar to the Dream Goal, is the End Goal. The main different here is that we are looking for something a more tangible. We are looking less at the abstract dream goal and more at the measurable results we can achieve.

  • Consider framing the goal in the SMARTER format, more on that can be found here: https://www.developtheedge.com/securing-success-by-setting-smarter-goals/
  • How will you measure the goal?
  • What are the conditions for success?
  • When do you need to do this by?
  • How does this link into the Dream Goal?
  • How does this link into your values and mission?
  • Could you be more specific on what you want to achieve?
  • At this stage is this an achievable goal?
  • What would you need to do to make it achievable?

Whilst End Goals are important, they are not 100% in your control, there is typically an element that will be out of your control. For example:

Your End Goal maybe to win a 100m race – Which is measurable as the condition for success is clear. The goal isn’t entirely in your control, think about:

  • How hard the other competitors train
  • Any inherent skills or abilities they have
  • Who will sponsor you
  • The weather conditions on the day
  • An injury from overtraining

The list isn’t exhaustive but you can already see that this end goal of yours doesn’t just lie in your hands. Instead, you need to figure out how to position yourself to win regardless. What you need then, is a Performance Goal linked to your End Goal.

Performance Goals are part of your End goal. These are the goals that you believe will put you in the best possible position to achieve your end goal. They are more specific and more focused on the short term wins that get you to your longer-term End goal.

Your Performance Goals may look like:

  • By next week I will be running 100m in 25 seconds
  • I will ensure my brand is positive and engaging, by posting about my training, key related topics and speaking to people. This will help Sponsors see value in supporting me.
  • I am going to increase my leg strength by 10% over the next 3 months to aid in the 100m sprint
  • I am going to look after my body to prevent over training and injury

These goals are all within your control and will put you in the best position to achieve your End Goal. We can still drive to one more area of detail, if we think about the End and Performance Goals as the ‘What’, the ‘How’ outlines the actions we take to achieve it. These goals are called Process Goals as they outline the process you need to go through to achieve your Performance Goals.

These goals are the specific actions you are going to take to achieve your goal, sometimes referred to as the ‘How’.

Process Goals may look like this:

  • I will work out with weights 3 times a week, achieving at-least 1 personal best each session. This will help me to increase my overall leg strength by 10% within 3 months.
  • I will post on Social Media once a day – this will help me reflect on my performance and engage with my supporters. I will run these posts through an App that checks how positive and engaging my posts are before posting them.
  • I will practice the 30m sprint, 200m sprint and 300m sprint to vary my practice and get to know how my body feels during performance, this will help me with my 100m sprint time.
  • I am going to stretch for 30 minutes after each session and get adequate rest each night to help me prevent injury.

Now we have the Why (Dream Goal), the What (End Goal and Performance Goal) and the How (Process Goal) we will be ready to move onto the next step. The GROW model is a flexible approach, if you need to revisit this step or if the goal doesn’t seem quite right here, come back to it. As Whitmore says in his book:

Be mindful not to speed up this process just because of time-constraints. You may invest more time here than intended but consider what is more important: Getting the Goal set within your expected time-frame and later realising it’s the wrong goal or taking longer initially but setting the right goal.

How will this stage help with success?

Evidence shows us that when we find our goal engaging and worthwhile, we are more likely to achieve it!

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

Practice the questions we have discussed and create your own in order to see the impact great questions can have in a conversation. Remember – great coaches don’t tick boxes, use the questions appropriately – have a fluent and engaging conversation.

With a concrete goal in mind that is inspiring us into action, the next stage we need to look at is Reality.

There are two great approaches you can use here, we love these techniques and will cover them in future articles but for now, consider researching them if you are unfamiliar with them:

  • The 6 Hats
  • The Ladder of Inference

The 6 Hats technique works by focusing on your goal and situation through 6 different perspectives: The Facts, Emotions, Optimism, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Process. This helps give you a well-rounded look at the situation and is great for both facilitated sessions and 1-on-1 coaching.

The Ladder of Inference works by evaluating where on the ladder your thoughts are, the higher up the ladder, the less grounded in reality you are. The bottom rung of the ladder is simply ‘Data’ – Facts with absolutely no beliefs or assumptions attached to them. When attempting to find the Reality of a situation, the bottom rung of the ladder is where you need to be.

One tactic here is to use ‘Chunk-Down’ questioning techniques to probe abstract thoughts and feelings to get concrete answers. Chunking Down is using open questions to get specific answers such as:

At this stage you are looking to find out:

  • Where the coachee is in relation to their goal (close or far)
  • What skills they have that will benefit them
  • What skills they will need to acquire to be successful
  • How Realistic the goals are

How will this stage help with success?

When we understand where we are, it makes it easier to plot the path to where we are going. If you want to know more about how this stage can impact your mental well-being, consider reading our article on the 5 stages of learning: https://www.developtheedge.com/demolishing-doubt-during-the-5-stages-of-learning/

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

Help guide your coachee through the facts by recognising emotional language and bringing them back to the facts. Build a realistic journey to avoid disappointment and instill accountability.

With a solid grasp on the Reality of the situation and goal, the next part of the model is about the Options available.

This stage is all about creativity and exploration. You need to approach this believing that there are no barriers and there are no silly ideas. You can use mind-maps, write down lists or just have a back and forth conversation. The important thing here is to get creative, do not allow yourself or your coachee to be constrained by what they believe is possible.

In the below video from Star Trek’s 2009 film, Captain Kirk beats an impossible simulation created by Spock. He did this by installing a virus and technically cheating (although the rules didn’t say he couldn’t do it). Kirk later defends his actions by saying “I don’t believe in no win scenarios.”

Whilst we don’t condone ‘cheating’, this out of the box thinking is key at this stage. It’s this creativity in finding a solution that allows Kirk to beat the simulation. There are many activities that can help you get more creative with your problem solving skills so have a look around! Whitmore suggests the 9 Dot Exercise, which we will briefly cover here:

We challenge you here and now to complete the 4 line and 1 line 9 dot image before continuing.

Were you successful?

People can automatically respond to this challenge by saying it’s impossible. We limit our own potential with this kind of thinking. We need to look at all of the options available to us.

If you found it impossible, did I say you couldn’t:

Rearrange the dots?

Cut them out?

Copy and paste them into a better order?

Draw the line through the sides of the dots instead of the centre?

Folded the gaps in the paper to make the distance between the dots shrink?

Use a large highlighter and printed the 9 dots out on a smaller scale?

Get creative and ensure you are challenging limiting beliefs and assumptions here.

Here are some thought provoking questions to ask your coachee:

  • What would your future self say?
  • If you were me, what question would you ask?
  • What qualities would the person you admire bring to the table? How would these be beneficial?
  • What could you do if anything was possible?
  • If budget wasn’t an issue, what would you do?
  • If you had unlimited time to do this, what steps would you take?
  • If you were the CEO, what would you do here?
  • What attributes do people see in you?
  • What attributes would they say are missing?
  • What makes someone great at this goal?

Once you have explored all of the options available to your coachee, time to drill them down and review them. Take some time and encourage them to rate each option in terms of what will be the most effective way forward.

How will this stage help with success?

You will have more ideas in your head than you can ever really know, its about getting creative and finding solutions. This stage can help get you outside of what you think will work and push the boundaries on what is possible.

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

This is a full-on facilitation session, use probing questions to explore ideas and ensure you stay out of judgement. Be encouraging but curious, explore all answers given to help your coachee find the best way forward.

Now that all Options have been explored, the next part of the model is about having a specific way forward and is called Will.

This stage focuses on accountability.

You have discovered your goal, understood the reality and engaged in finding options. The decision now needs to be made, ask the simple question: ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Whitmore suggests three simple questions to boost accountability and action:

  • What will you do?
  • When will you do it?
  • How will I know you’ve done it?

These questions will help give your coachee a concrete action plan – that they have created themselves. We know as coaches that in order to feel connected to a goal, it needs to come from the coachee – not the coach. Let your coachee tell you the answers and set their own path towards the goal.

The questions don’t need to stop here though, always let your coachee guide the conversation, questions are tools – not tick boxes. Here are some other considerations to discuss with your coachee upon setting your concrete plans:

  • Are there any obstacles for you to achieve this? If so, how can you manage them?
  • What support will you need?
  • How will this help you achieve your goal?
  • Do you have any other thoughts?
  • If you realise the goal will be delayed, when will you let me know?
  • How committed to this goal are you?

With the way forward set, it’s a good idea to schedule in a review meeting or meetings to see how your coachee is getting on. It’s important to remember that you need to stay out of judgement here – you are spending time with your coachee to see how you can support their progress.

When booking in review and feedback meetings consider the following:

  • How frequent they need to be (daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly etc)
  • Where the meetings should take place (face to face, phone, video call)
  • Keep in mind the role of a coach and be: supportive, challenging, open and understanding.
  • Use this as a learning and growth opportunity for your coachee
  • Consider if the goal is still achievable and relevant, revisit the steps of GROW if required

With your review and feedback sessions set out, you should be in a great position to support and encourage your coachee to succeed.

How will this stage help with success?

This is all about accountability and setting a concrete action plan. This is where you put yourself into action and reflect on what is working. If you don’t look at your progress, what’s working and what could go better, you could be missing ways to become more effective and reach your goal faster.

How will this enable me to become an effective coach?

Ensure that the coachee is accountable and focused on their next steps. Ensure your review meetings are about open and honest conversation. Be candid where you need to but stay out of judgement. A coach supports people to succeed, you cannot support someone whilst you are in judgement.


To summarise, the GROW model is a useful tool for any Coach or Leader to use. It is best used in conjunction with other coaching and leadership skills than as a strict process to follow.

The acronym GROW stands for: Goal, Reality, Options and Will. At each stage, aim to ask open and judgement-free questions to help your coachee understand their goals, skills and the options available to them.

Let us know what has been most valuable to you about this article and what works well for you when using the GROW model.

Check out the below resources to help you facilitate effective and engaging coaching conversations:

  • The GROW model – One Page Guide
  • The GROW model – Guidebook
  • The GROW model – Template

Demolishing Doubt During the 5 Stages of Learning

Could you be damaging your psychological and physiological well-being when trying to achieve a goal or learn something new?

In a 2012 study about giving up personal goals, the researchers found that when we reach the stage in goal attainment where we believe the difficulty of the task outweighs the value of completing it (known as an action crisis) we not only damage our psychological and physiological wellbeing but we also smother our ability to evaluate the goal at hand effectively.

The thought of damaging our mental and physical well-being when facing difficulty may start to make sense when we reflect on the below questions:

  • Have you ever given up on something you wanted?
  • Have you ever felt so defeated and frustrated that you were unable to complete a challenge or task?
  • Have you ever felt like a failure for being unable to grasp what you initially perceived to be something simple?
  • Have you ever wondered why you even bother?

Each of the above questions may have conjured up negative feelings and memories for you, which helps us make sense of what they found in the study.

Most people will have given up on a goal or pursuit of a skill at least once in their life. Most of us know how that feels and the impacts it can have on our confidence, well-being and overall health. If this is or has been you, consider adding the 5 stages of learning to your tool kit, it can help you understand and combat some of these pain points so that you can more effectively push through these difficult stages and become an expert at your chosen skill.

Think about how good will you feel when this difficult task, skill or goal becomes so familiar to you that you can do it in autopilot. Better yet, how will you feel becoming so masterful that you will be able to teach your skill to others?

The goal of this article is to help you lead yourself and others through the 5 Stages of Learning – using empathy, coaching and persistence to get the best out of the situation. We will discuss the different stages, what they look like and how you can guide people through their learning journey. Supporting effectively through the difficult times and celebrating together through the successes.

What are the 5 Stages of Learning?

The initial model only had 4 stages of learning and was often displayed as a matrix instead of a pyramid. A final and 5th stage was added and it is now often displayed as a pyramid or ladder. The new model is the one we will look at today.

The 5 stages are used to describe the different phases people go through when they are learning something new. This allows you to understand where you or your Followers are on their learning journey, enabling you to find the best way to help progression through each stage. 

The author of this model is unknown, with different people claiming it as their own. Given this and the fact that we have been unable to find any real challengers to the theory, the 5 Stages of Learning look to be more of a universal truth rather than just a model. Whilst we will refer to it as the 5 Stages of Learning, you may have heard of it as the Conscious Competence Matrix or the Learning Matrix.

Whilst we will go through these stages in more detail later in the article The 5 Stages of Learning are:

  • Unconscious Incompetence
  • Conscious incompetence
  • Conscious competence
  • Unconscious competence
  • Reflective Competence

It’s time to break this model down into its individual phases:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

Unconscious Incompetence is where we all begin on our learning journey. At this stage, it is simply impossible for us to grasp the scope of what we do not know. This is what we mean by Unconscious Incompetence – we are that incompetent, we don’t even know it!

Consider the arm-chair coach, who thinks they  know better than the actual coaches and the athletes on TV who have dedicated their lives to mastering a sport.

This stage could also be likened to a child that sees a parent driving, it looks simple – the child would probably be brimming with confidence about being able to drive because to them, all they need to do is turn a wheel. They don’t know anything about the degree in which to turn the wheel, let alone the theory, the law, road signs, traffic lights, crossings, clutch control, gears, indicators, fuel, engine checks and so on – They are unconsciously incompetent, they do not know the extent of how much there is to learn.

This was explained in Dunning & Kruger’s 1999 study where they identified that those with low competence greatly overestimated their actual competence levels and those with higher competency slightly underestimated their competency, in other words, it takes competency to identify competency!

So let’s put ourselves at this stage – we are blissfully unaware of what we don’t know, we are overestimating our abilities and our ego is telling us how great we are. What do you think a good thing to do here would be?

If you’re thinking take a step back and assess, you’re on the right track. We know that setting unrealistic goals is one way to make ourselves feel deflated when we inevitably fail to reach the impossible. We know that where we don’t prepare for a threat, we are less capable to deal with it and we know that when we don’t look at our strengths and available resources, we are not operating at our full capacity.

With this in mind, a SWOT analysis can be a useful tool to honestly look at your situation, your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with this new learning journey.

From here you can use the SMART model (or any goal setting model) to set realistic goals. If you are looking to help others or have a wider group of people to train, consider a training needs analysis to build an effective program to support your learners.

Another useful tool to use at this stage is Situational Leadership. Hersey, Angelim, and Carakushansky (1982) found evidence that using the Situational Leadership model during a learning journey can help embed information and aid in learners development.

At this stage, we would look to utilise Directive leadership – a Telling approach where step by step guidance is provided. This helps yourself or others understand exactly what is involved in the task and can aid in repetitive practice.  This method also ties in the wider purpose and objectives associated to the steps so the learner can begin to understand the importance of these tasks. 

Think back to a time you wanted to learn a new skill, you likely sought out expert guidance in the form of books, people you respected, videos, podcasts and articles. These formats don’t engage you in discussion about what to do, they tell you what needs to be done. 

The benefits to this are:

– It provides clear steps on what you need to do

– It helps you understand why the steps are important

– When dealing with the unknown, an authoritative voice can build confidence 

– It helps you see how much work you need to put in, giving you realistic expectations

Pro Tip: Positive feedback is vital here to increase confidence and reinforce positive behaviours towards success.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

As you begin to understand your development areas, the journey ahead of you and what skills you need to develop in order to be successful, you begin to move into the conscious incompetence stage. Here you are getting the grips with what you dont know.

Lets think about what this may be like.

We’ll take Jim for example, he has seen Mixed Martial Arts on TV, he is confident he can do it and that he will be a champion in no time (Unconscious Incompetence). He goes to his first training session and the following happens:

In the warm up session, Jim struggles to breathe and keep up with everyone else.

Then, someone smaller than Jim gets him to submit (give up) due to a submission.

Another person lands multiple body shots on Jim, who has never been hit before – causing more pain than he expected.

When practicing basic jiujitsu transitions, Jim struggles to get to grips with the movements.

Consider how Jim felt at the start of the session – full of confidence and ego. How is he feeling now? – take a few minutes to reflect on this.

Did you get the below?

  • Defeated
  • Low confidence levels
  • Unfit
  • Unworthy
  • Weak
  • Stupid
  • Like he’s made a mistake
  • Like he wishes he never started
  • Like he doesn’t see the value in continuing 

Jim is now conscious about what he doesn’t know – and that feeling can weigh a lot of people down, leading to regret, frustration and low self esteem. Knowing about this stage allows you to positively reinforce the correct behaviours or actions taken, helping to counter some of the negative feelings associated with Conscious Incompetence. This is the stage we will most likely reach an Action Crisis – where we question if the task is worth it and consider giving up. Try to remember that an action crisis isn’t good for you psychologically of physiologically. Your opinion on the worth of the goal will also be clouded by the difficulties you are facing. Be kind to yourself and others here, this is a normal phase to go through.

It’s important here to remind people why they are on their journey, consider Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle or emphasising their purpose, reignite the passion that caused them to start this journey. The Golden Circle works on the basis that your ‘Why’ should drive your ‘How’ and ‘What’. Your goals should be connected with a higher purpose, this will help you understand the importance of the task and can keep you going when your journey gets tough.

If we use Situational Leadership here, we would look for the Coaching or Selling style of leadership. Here we encourage people to work towards their own solutions using their experience alongside providing direction and reinforcing the purpose of the tasks and the outcome of their success.

Here are some great motivating questions:

  • What did I set out to achieve in the first place? How will it add value to my life?
  • What lessons can I take from this?
  • What did I do well and what am I proud of?
  • What can I do differently to make this a more valuable experience?
  • How can I use this to add value to others?
  • What will my life be like after I get back up and achieve?

Be patient with people here, understand that frustration and disappointment are normal and can make people react in less than beneficial ways. Mix empathy with positive reinforcement to help yourself or others build the skills to become competent.

There are other methods to motivate and rekindle passion – consider what works for you whether that’s a vision board, reviewing your end goals and the results of your success or even just understanding that discipline and resilience can get you through the process when motivation levels are low. This is a tough stage – so keep a clear picture in your mind of what awaits you when you pass it and begin to reach mastery.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

By being resilient, getting back up and working on your skills you reach the next stage, conscious competence. Here, you are fully aware of what you know and the skills that are enabling you to be competent at the task you are performing.

You are aware of your actions as you do them, methodically working through the steps required, making conscious effort to perform each part of the process. This is a great time to celebrate, you have done it! All of your hard work had led to this moment and you deserve to be proud of yourself as you mindfully work your way through each part of the process you have just learnt.

At this stage, you still have to pay attention to what you are doing so take as many opportunities as you can to practice, embed and improve your skill set. Remember to celebrate how far you have come but understand that now is not the time to tick the skill off as complete and move onto something else. Encourage practice here to reinforce your skill or behaviour to really see progression and movement into mastery.

As you work on your own or your Followers confidence here, consider a facilitation style of leadership. This method can drastically improve confidence and motivation levels in skilled individuals. Practice your new skill in different situations and settings, making your practice varied and somewhat unpredictable can give you a greater understanding and ability to utilise your new skills. For example, if your goal was to throw a ball into a hoop that’s 10 feet away, you would be better if you practiced at varying distances of 5, 10 and 15 feet instead of just repetitions at 10 feet.

Support through reflection and questioning, allowing yourself or your Followers to apply your or their own thoughts, experiences and creativity to the newly learnt skill. Think about the different situations you have already or could use your new skill in, we know that when we can connect ideas from one skill to another, it helps embed and refine our understanding. This is called Elaboration and was discussed in Peter Browns, Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniels book ‘Make it stick – The Science of Successful Learning’ – here’s what they said:

Stage 4 Unconscious competence

The penultimate stage (or final in the original model) is Unconscious Competence. Here, you are so skilled that you don’t need to think about what you are doing, the process happens in autopilot.

At face value this sounds like a great state to be in and whilst it does have its advantages, it actually comes with it’s own set of risks. What do you think some of the risks could be for someone who is Unconsciously Competent? – take a few moments to consider this before moving on.

Did you get the below?

  • Overconfidence
  • Complacency
  • Mistakes get made
  • Bad habits may get reinforced
  • You stop looking for efficiency or improvement
  • You may stop reflecting
  • You may not be teaching or coaching others
  • You may not be empathetic to those going through the other stages of learning – you have forgotten your journey and don’t understand why others don’t find it as easy as you.

Unconscious Competence is great for automating but as you can see, operating at an unconscious level has its risks.

Some great methods to combat this Unconscious Competence stage come from the next step of the Learning Matrix – so don’t rest here for long!

Stage 5: Reflective Competence

As you have likely gathered, a person that has spent a lot of their resources and efforts getting to the Unconscious Competence stage, to then discover that potentially the best way to be consistently good and attentive to your skill is to step back down to Conscious Competence, could be quite disheartening.

Numerous people have put in a new fifth stage of the Learning Matrix – Reflective Competence. This creates a level above Unconscious Competence, creating real expertise and mastery. Remember the Dunning-Kruger effect? Being this skilled allows you to rate competency in others and identify where on the learning journey they are! What does that mean though? Well, it varies from author to author but here’s a summary below of a few key points.

Linking theories

Reflective Learning can create ‘lightbulb’ moments where you can connect what you have learnt to different situations. a eureka style moment where you gain a deeper understanding – this is the Elaboration method we looked at before.

Early on in my leadership career, I was given the task of bringing an entire new policy and process to a different part of the company I was working with. I had come from a site the policy and process had been created and tested on and was told there would be resistance to the change at the other site. The culture at this other office, despite being the same company was vastly different. My approach was very matter of fact with the process changes and made the process much harder than it needed to be. Whilst this initially inspired me to research change management and influencing techniques, which improved my relationshp management skills, it wasn’t until reading the book ‘Scaling Up Excellence’ by Huggy Rao and Robert Sutton, that allowed me to reflect on my approach almost a decade later with a ‘lightbulb’ moment, connecting the dots for me in ways that my other research and experience hadn’t. It felt like I had flipped a switch where I instantly understood the times to be strict with process and policy implementation and when to allow for culture to influence the change, I saw my mistakes now not just from an influencing and relationship management perspective but also understood what makes the most business sense and how to establish essential parts of process implementation versus ‘nice to haves.’

A key message here is to ensure you reinforce yourself and others at this stage, it isn’t an easy task to keep assimilating and adapting – keep morale high by celebrating that you are still learning and evolving. True masters of a skill look out for ways to refine their technique further and rarely rest at their current level.

Reflecting on performance

This is a great way to maintain competence in a field. Thinking about how and what you did to accomplish your activity enables you to find errors and areas of improvement as well as focus on the most efficient and effective parts of your process. By reflecting, you begin to reinforce your skills and behaviours, rewarding and training your brain by focusing on the right actions. Let’s say you want to work on your communication skills, after each meeting you could take time to reflect on the following:

Who spoke the most and what was the reaction to this?

Who was the most effective at listening and how do I know this?

What body language was used?

Who was most influential?

How conscious of this was I in the moment?

You can quickly develop your own reflective questions when you understand what it is you want to work on.

Pro Tip: We tend to have reflection templates in the resources part of each article we write for you to utilise, check them out and consider which type of questions work well for you in order to create your own reflection template.

Teaching others

Noticing incompetence in others is regarded as one of the key skills linked with Reflective Competence. It gives you a great opportunity to establish where in the Learning Matrix others are in order to effectively guide them through it. As much as you may think you know about a certain topic, it is only when you begin to teach it that your understanding reaches new depths. When you reflect over the task, the best way to accomplish it and how you will transfer this knowledge to someone else, you begin making more connections and thus build a deeper understanding. Teaching others ensures you are at the top of your game as you will have to keep up to date with your skills and the wider field to ensure you are in the best position to train others.

Exercise: Consider something you are proficient in, take 15 minutes to write down all of the skills or attributes that make you great at it.

Next, list the ways you could impart your knowledge, skills and attributes to others. Write down how they could use this knowledge to become proficient themselves. How could you get your understanding across to others as simply as possible? Notice how you feel about this exercise, have you achieved a greater understanding just by doing this alone? Take it a step further, write a session plan and deliver it to someone, how did this engagement make you feel? What did you learn from it?


The 5 Stages of Learning are:

Unconscious Incompetence – Here, you have no idea how much you there is to learn. As such, people at this stage are often over confident. A SWOT analysis to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Its important here to be realistic about your abilities as the higher your confidence is at this stage, the tougher the next stage will be for your ego to manage.  Directive or Telling approaches work well here.

Conscious Incompetence – At this phase, you are aware of how much you need to learn. It can be tough here to persevere as you weigh up the difficulty of the task and the end result. Use compassion, empathy, celebration and coaching to support people through their frustrations during this stage. Remember, 1 step a day is 365 steps a year – you’ll be miles ahead of the person who isn’t trying.

Keep yourself and others focused on the purpose of the mission, use coaching to help embed the learning and encourage people to adapt and overcome barriers. This is where you are likely to enter an ‘action crisis’ so use positive reinforcement and seek support on whether to keep trying, change your approach or identify a new goal. Being disheartened at this stage can unfairly influence whether you want to stick at the goal or not, a coach can help you find the best way forward.

Conscious Competence – This stage is where things start to click, you are skilled but you need to think about what you are doing. Keep practicing, getting feedback and reflecting at this stage to move into mastery.

Unconscious Competence – This phase is where your skill becomes almost auto-pilot. It takes very little effort to think about what you need to do – its second nature. Reward yourself for getting this far but be mindful not to linger here for too long, that can be risky.

Reflective Competence – The final stage is where you can identify competence in others and use your skills and knowledge to train people. Link theories together, reflect on your performance and train others to keep your skills sharp and effective.

Take some time to consider your skill sets and where within the five stage of learning you are for each skill. What was the most useful thing you will take from this article and how will you support yourself and others through the Stages of Learning?


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– 5 stages of learning one page guide

– 5 stages of learning reflection template

– 5 stages of learning Guidebook

File Name: 5-stages-of-learning-guidebook.pdf

Securing success by setting SMARTER goals

A study by Gabriele Oettingen and Doris Mayer discovered that you are unlikely to achieve a goal if you have a positive fantasy about it. All is not lost however, as they also discovered that if you have positive expectations about your goal, then you are more likely to achieve it! We explore what this means and the science behind getting the best out of your goals below.

A positive fantasy is where you think it will turn out great whereas a positive expectation is where you take a realistic look at your goal and understand what it will take to achieve it. Having confidence after doing this makes success more likely than just having positive thoughts on it. If you have ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect, this may start to make sense.

The Dunning-Kruger effect suggest that people who are not skilled at something tend to over-rate their ability in that area. Think about armchair coaches who seem to know better than the professional athletes or coaches they’re watching on TV – these armchair coaches seem to be high in confidence but low in wisdom compared to the professionals.  

Oettingen and Mayer’s study concluded that whilst having positive fantasies about your goal was negative, having positive expectations about it acts as an effective way to achieve your goal. In other words, understanding your goal and being realistic about achieving it is a better pathway towards success.

If you struggle with creating tangible and realistic goals, we may be able to help. This article will look at when to use the SMARTER model and then look at how to get the most out of it.


The What and When of SMARTER goals

SMART goals were initially created by George Doran, Arthur Miller and James Cunningham. They were invented to help organisations set and allocate meaningful objectives amongst their teams.


Since their inception, SMART goals have been utilised in both businesses and personal lives of people who are looking to set specific goals for themselves. Whilst they have been modified multiple times and even added to over the years (Such as the SMARTER model), the central concept remains the same – create a clear goal that you are motivated to achieve.


The SMARTER acronym we are looking at today is; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound, Evaluate and Reward. Let’s take a look at what these actually mean in the context of goal setting.

Before we go into specifics, we need to be clear – we don’t suggest you use the SMARTER model for your initial objective creation. That needs to come from a place of passion and excitement for you. Your goals should be a reflection of your higher purpose and be a way to get you there. Goals need to align with who you are. 

If you are struggling with your purpose, if you feel stuck or trapped – don’t worry. People in all walks of life can feel like this at times. What is important is that you find a way to take control of your life and become the person you are meant to be. If you need help finding your purpose and potential, connect with us at: Client.Services@DevelopTheEdge.com, our professional coaching service will be on hand to help.

Only once you know who you want to become or what you want to achieve, should you look at using the SMARTER model to help you evaluate and quantify your goal and make a crystal clear mission for you to achieve.


For example:

‘I want recognition and a pay rise.’ Is vague and there is no clear way to measure the goals success. ‘I want to be recognised by my line manager with a 5% pay-rise by April this year for my thorough and timely work on projects. This increase will allow me to treat my family more often.’ Gives us more to work with – we now have an idea on who we need to influence (the line manager), the focus area (project work), a time frame (this April) and a measurement (5% pay-rise).


Neuroscience tells us that when we value and focus on something, our reticular activating system (RAS), helps filter the world around so that we see more of it. It makes sense then, to focus on creating a goal that gives us a crystal clear vision on what success looks like so that our RAS can filter in ways for us to achieve it. With that being said, it’s time we looked at the individual components of the SMARTER model, let’s get started.



The more specific you can make your goal, the clearer the image of success will look in your mind.

If your goal is recognition at work, you RAS may just look at all routes to recognition. Some may be positive but not progress you towards your goal such as: holding open doors, doing favours or buying treats for colleagues. Without conditions for success, your RAS may take a darker turn and nudge you to taking on too much work and burning out or even taking recognition for other peoples hard work.

Without specific criteria, how will you get towards your goal in an ethical and effective manner?


A good way to get SPECIFIC is using the old communications trick for open questions; 5 Ws and a H.

Why – do you want this? / Why is it important?

What – do you want to accomplish or obtain?

When – do you need to do this? When can you start?

Where – do you need to go? Where will your actions take place?

Who – do you need to become? Who’s help will you need?

How – are you best positioned to achieve this?

These should help you frame your goal into a specific and clear focus point, meaning we can move to the next step – Measurable.



By making the goal measurable, you will be able to track the progress towards your goal, make adjustments and know once you have achieved it. Think in terms of metrics that you can actually measure and track.

For example: 

Losing 5kg in 6 months is measurable, you will be able to weigh yourself monthly to check progress and make adjustments to your diet or exercise routine where you need to.


If we look at our example of a promotion, you could use a Gantt chart to track the progress of your projects and test their quality by either using colleagues, your manager or the quality assurance department to ensure it is up to standard. The last measurable part of that goal is the 5% pay rise – you will know once this has been achieved because you will be able to see it in your wage.

The importance of being able to track your goals has been highlighted by the American Psychological Association in their 2016 Study “Does Monitoring Goal Progress Promote Goal Attainment?” with the below quote:

We can see then, that by making the goal measurable and monitoring our progress, we are more likely to achieve the goal and become more disciplined as well.

Once we have selected a metric to measure the goal by, we need to know whether this is actually achievable.



To have strong performance you must have high expectations of success. This means that the goal will need to be challenging but possible for you to achieve.

Look at your skill set and strengths here, figure out whether the goal will stretch you and make you grow to achieve it. Performing a SWOT analysis here may help you understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to success.

Consider the steps will you need to take, the skills you will need to acquire and who you will need to become in pursuit of this goal.


Once you have confirmed that your goal is achievable, it’s time to look at how relevant your goal is.



Relevance is an important part of this model as it ensures the goal is linked to your higher purpose to make it engaging. If you are leading other people, you need to be explicit with the goals relevance. You may know the reason the goal is important but do your team?


In their 2015 paper ‘Six Questions for the Resource Model of Control’, Inzlicht and Berkman said:


Consider the following questions when you are checking the Relevance of your goal:


           Is now the right time for this goal?

           Am I the right person for the job?

           Does this goal fit with my values and purpose?

           Is there a better way to accomplish this?

           Why do I believe this goal is important?

           How will my life be different once I’ve accomplished this goal?

           What priority level is this goal?

By the end of these questions, you should feel connected to your goal and motivated to get started. If this isn’t the case, consider how relevant the goal is to your higher purpose and whether you are being true to yourself about your purpose.

Taking our example of a promotion – Financial decisions tend to get made in April, so that date looks good. Do you need to outsource any part of your projects? Could you obtain feedback about your work from people your manager respects to boost your proposals chances? In terms of value, you may already have plans for that 5% increase – investing in family time, charitable donations or qualifications to become a subject matter expert.


By ensuring our goal is relevant, we are more likely to stick with it and can look at the Time-bound element.



An end date enables you to have a clear focus in your mind when you will need to accomplish your goal by. Remember that the best goals are challenging but possible – consider a time-frame that will ensure you are being productive with your time. If it is too short, you may burnout trying to achieve it. If it is too long, you may put off taking action.


Some questions to consider:


           When is the soonest I can achieve this?

           What happens if I don’t accomplish it on this date?

           What would be a realistic time for me to complete this (use a mix of your experience and research to judge)

           Are there any upcoming and important events?

           Does my goal need to be broken down into smaller time-bound chunks?


Looking back at our promotion example, if we do not accomplish it by April, we may have to wait another year for the promotion to be considered. Other upcoming and important events for this goal would be the project due dates that your case for a promotion is riding on.

This is where the original SMART model ends and whilst you will now have a comprehensive and clear goal, with an understanding on what success will look. By ensuring it is relevant and achievable, you should also have positive expectations for achieving your goal.

As previously mentioned, the model we are looking at is the SMARTER model. Whilst we do not know who first established these extra two steps, they are valuable and worth understanding further to get the most out of your goal setting.



As with our own GURU’s goal setting methodology (which we will visit shortly), sense-checking your progress is vital to getting the best out of your actions. Any company that values success will have a quality assurance framework to test its products, the same should be true of us and our goals.


If we only take action and do not evaluate our work, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. If you are not evaluating your performance, how can you know what is working well, what needs improving and what needs stopping all together? Spending time evaluating your progress will help you shape your future expectations, improving your skillset and focus on improvements.


Consider asking yourself:

           What went well

           Why did it go well?

           What could have gone better?

           Am I where I need to be?

           What improvements can I make?

           Am I still on track?

           What can I learn from this?


The final step of the SMARTER model is Reward.



Research suggests that you can increase self-discipline and focus by rewarding yourself. In Inzlicht and Berkman’s study ‘Six questions for the Resource Model of Control’, they states the following:

To keep your motivation levels high, ensure that you are celebrating your successes along the way, not just once you’ve completed the goal.


For example, let’s look at a fitness goal:

Celebrate writing out your exercise plan – thank yourself for taking the first step and dance to your favourite song.

Celebrate getting your clothes ready for the gym the night before – Thank yourself for making it easier for you to get to the gym tomorrow and watch an episode of your favourite show

Celebrate going to the gym – Thank yourself for keeping on track, cheer yourself on in the car.

Celebrate completing a work out – Thank yourself for turning up and giving your best. Raise your arms up and cheer in celebration.

Celebrate getting half way to your fitness goal – Thank yourself for getting half way and treat yourself to your favourite meal.

           Your rewards don’t have to be extravagant or excessive but it is important to celebrate all of your little successes. This will help you become more aware of your wins in the future and keep you engaged in your goals.



As in Oettingen and Mayer’s study, when we have positive expectations that are grounded in reality – we are more likely to be successful in achieving our goals. The SMARTER model ensures that our goal is set up to create a crystal clear outcome and motivate us to achieve it.


It’s time to summarise why being SMARTER in the way we set our goals will help us to achieve them:


S – When we have a Specific goal, our RAS looks out for ways to achieve it.

M – By having a Measurable goal, you are able to keep track of it and know once you have succeeded.

A – When a goal is Achievable but requires effort, we are more motivated to accomplish it.

R – Ensuring the goal is Relevant will keep you motivated as it will be tied to your higher purpose.

T – By keeping your goal Time-bound you are setting an end date that requires effort to get to.

E – Evaluating your progress helps you find the best ways to achieve your goal.

R – Rewarding yourself is an important motivation tool that helps habitualise behaviour.


Thank you for exploring the SMARTER model with us today. Let us know what you found most valuable about this article and if there is anything you are going to do differently when setting your goals going forward.


We have added resources below which may help you make your goals SMARTER.



SMARTER Goals Guidebook

The SMARTER one page guide: