A Coaching Model Created by Eduardo Mendes
(Executive and Leadership Coach, PORTUGAL)
A Coaching Model
Trust the process.
For some reason, the “Coaching Model” module comes under the Foundation Coach section in ICA’s graduation journey. It is, indeed, the very foundation of one’s practice as a coach, as it provides structure. A systemic process one can rely upon, whether coach or client. In fact, it helps both the coach and client understand the coaching intervention from a systems perspective (ICA, 2019). And it is no wonder we often hear the expression “trust the process”, as this is something that will provide you a systematic series of actions directed to some end.
There’s a range of published coaching models that are often referenced or adopted by coaches (e.g. GROW, STEPPA) (ICA, 2019). But fortunately, at ICA, students are encouraged to design their own model. The one they resonate with, based on each coach’s values, systems of belief, experiences. That one model the coach will resonate the most with so that the client can benefit from something uniquely crafted to efficiently produce results in a coherent cause and consequence framework.
This model is called WILL. Like many others, follows the basic architecture of an acronym, where the initial letter of the name of each step of the process, forms an overarching word that suits the purpose of the model itself. And it does it not only because it perfectly illustrates the underlying theoretical and practical rationale of the model, but because it also serves the marketing purpose of the methodology as a product or service the coach wants to position in a given marketplace.
WILL is inspired by motivational and positive psychology. It is underpinned by a system of values and beliefs, where we look at the client as a functionally adequate system, with no psychological distress or need for “repairment”. It looks at the client as a holistic system that has the power to transform itself and evolves to a higher and better state, provided he or she has the will to do that. Being inspired by positive psychology, it analyses and works on human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, with a focus on strengths instead of weaknesses, building the good in life instead of repairing the bad, and taking the lives of clients up to “great” instead of focusing solely on moving those who are struggling up to “normal” (Peterson, 2008).
The model is anchored in motivational psychology, as the body of knowledge dedicated to the study of how biological, psychological, and environmental variables contribute to motivation. That is, what do the body and brain contribute to motivation; what mental processes contribute; and finally, how incentives, goals, and their mental representations motivate individuals.
It goes without saying, the fundamental ultimate goal of the WILL model is change and transformation. Therefore, it can be metaphorically illustrated with the image of an insect, changing is exoskeleton as a natural way to grow. It is a transformational leap that will allow one to reach a different state.
This is what the model aims to: the idea of non-linear transformation. It is still growing we’re looking for, but not in a linear progression. It’s based upon the underlying assumption that where there is a will, there is the power to turn on a transformational switch that will propel the client to a different stage.
The model was designed to be broad enough to be applied to several coaching niches. However, in my practice, I intend to use it in Leadership and Executive coaching, to help leaders unlock their full potential.
W.I.L.L., the model
If there is a will, you’ll find a way, if there is no will, you will find an excuse.
As we saw earlier, WILL is an acronym for the 4 steps that compose this process in a pre-determined order: Willing, Inflection, Leading, Leveraging.
These steps, in their turn, unfold into sub-steps which we call stages. As the model is dynamic, every 2 stages there is one stage that bridges the transition between 2 adjacent steps of the model.
The illustration below is an infographic representation of the model and how its composing elements are interrelated.
It is not rocket science. It really means to have the willpower for something.
Throughout the years, several theories were crafted to explain motivation. Some of them quite basic, such as the pioneering studies of William McDougall in 1908 (Feldman, 2001) that contributed to the instinct theory which suggested human beings had 18 inherited basic instincts that would steer our behavior. These first set of explanations were based on the notion of homeostasis borrowed from biology, where a given organism fights to keep its level of equilibrium as it is stimulated by external or internal triggers. Examples of this kind of inspiration can be found in the work developed by Abraham Maslow (pyramid with the hierarchy of needs) and even operant conditioning experiments conducted by B.F. Skinner, in which he demonstrated that the motivation to exhibit a certain behavior is modified by reinforcement or punishment (Feldman, 2001).
The cognitive theory later shifts the focus to the role of thoughts, expectations, and a general understanding of the world as drivers for our behaviors, differentiating intrinsic motivation (nonrelated with tangible rewards) from extrinsic motivation (triggered by the promise of a tangible reward). This gets interesting if we think that according to research, we tend to put more effort and be more motivated to act in the presence of intrinsic motivators (Harackiewicz and Elliot, 1993).
More recently, researches in the field of neurosciences seem to indicate that neurotransmitters, or brain networks, regulate our motivational behavior. One regulates emotional response for risk-reward processing, another for reinforcement, the third area for memory, and a fourth for functions like decision-making. It is no surprise that our behavior, such as all other animals, is determined by biochemical reactions in our nervous systems (Deci, 2006). As science evolves, a new breve world unfolds in the way we understand our brain and behavior.
These last paragraphs pinpoint the role of motivation, and especially intrinsic motivation, as an important driver for one’s behavior. Hence the aforementioned sentence, if there is a will, you’ll find a way, if there is no will, you will find an excuse. Therefore, linking the various things laid out in this document so far – in an attempt to simplify a complex string of events -, this model aims to leverage self-determination and it is built on the principle that tapping into those intrinsic motivators will ignite all the internal neurological processes that will produce the appropriate chemicals in our brain to regulate our behavior towards the desired direction.
Looking at the model’s infographic, we can see the Willing step unfolds into the following dynamic stages:
- Exploration: where the coach helps the client explore the desired “to be” scenarios or upgraded versions of him/herself. This may involve letting the client navigate through various aspects of his life that gravitate around the topic that made him/her start coaching sessions in the first place. If the client was not the one asking for coaching (which might happen in the corporate environment), it will certainly require exploring how the client would like to see him/herself in the future before narrowing down to a certain behavior or set of behaviors to change (which will later be explored in the Design stage). Either way, this stage will be paramount to reaching the coaching agreement.
Although all of ICF’s core competencies can be of use in this stage, there is a high correlation with all those under group C (Active Listening, Powerful Questioning, and Direct Communication).
Awareness: where the coach helps the client gaining knowledge and understanding of where he/she wants to go in terms of the transformational journey. The more the client can narrow down the behavior he/she wants to change, the better. This will allow focus when going through cause and consequence analysis, underlying beliefs, and values, and, of course, when drafting the plan at a later stage of the process. To put simple, in the light of the WILL model, this stage is about helping the client becoming aware of what he/she wants. It is important to differentiate will vs illusion (cf power tool), as any work from this point onwards needs to be built upon a clearly identified will to transcend oneself (linked with intrinsic motivators) and not on an illusion or dream of some ”nice to have “ future state. Although all of ICF’s core competencies can be of use in this stage, there is a high correlation with Creating Awareness under group D.
- Design: this is where the frontier with the second step of the process (Inflection) begins. So, it is a gradual shift towards action. This phase’s about the coach helping the client narrowing down the exact set of behaviors he/she wants to change (e.g. to become better at networking, to lose weight, or to do a career change). Within this stage, “design” stands for accurately designing the new version of the client or, in other words, his/her future transformational stage. His/her future exoskeleton to use the insect metaphor. Note this is not to be confused with designing actions, as those will come later in the process.
Although all of ICF’s core competencies can be of use in this stage, there is a high correlation with those under group C (Active Listening, Powerful Questioning, and Direct Communication).
The second step of the model is where the change – that already begun since the very first step – starts to get tangible. This is where the coach helps the client to pencil out a plan towards transformation. It has more of an operational focus, breaking down the necessary steps and actions that will produce change. As it requires that the client idealizes him/herself going through the steps he/she envisions as being necessary to produce results, several opportunities to check the amount of willpower there is to change may arise at this stage. As said before, if there is no will, one will find an excuse. The coach may have a golden opportunity to use all group C’s competencies from ICF in this stage (Active Listening, Powerful Questioning, and Direct Communication). As this phase is also about starting to build the action plan, it goes without saying that competencies under group D will also be of major importance in this step as well, in particular the 3 first ones (Creating Awareness, Designing Actions, Planning and Goal Setting).
Let’s see how this step unfolds into its different stages:
- Plan: where the coach helps the client to brainstorm about what are the concrete objectives and specific goals to attain moving forward. It is very much linked with all ICF competencies under group D, in particular Designing Actions and Planning and Goal Setting.
- Take action: this stage is in the middle of the transition between the second and third steps of the WILL model (respectively Inflection and Leading). It is where the coach helps the client to trigger actionable engagements designed in the previous stage. It is intimately related to ICF competency Managing Progress and Accountability, as the steps moving forward will also be.
This step is about empowering the client making him/her accountable for his/her own transformational journey. It is paramount to use group C’s and D’s core competencies to constantly relate every behavior and action with the underlying intrinsic motivation.
In this step, it is also important to understand the system of values and underlying beliefs of the client. Concretely, the more the client tends to understand events in the world as a consequence of something for which he/she has control upon, the better. This is called an internal locus of control, and it is the belief that one can control his/her own life. On the other side of the spectrum, there is the external locus of control, where individuals tend to believe that life is controlled by outside factors that the person cannot influence, or that chance or fate controls their lives. If we are talking about empowering the client to be fully accountable for his/her change, it is acutely important to assess and work on his/her perception of locus of control.
- Steer the change: to put simple, this is about making the Client realize he/she is in the driver’s seat in his/her transformational journey. In this phase it’s utterly important to celebrate successes with the client, bringing awareness to the link between those accomplishments and the intrinsic motivators. Note the foundational theory upon which this model is built, where clients will seek reward from the biochemical reactions in their nervous systems - stimulating their centers of pleasure - as a consequence of attaining something the client was self-determined to achieve. If we look at Skinner’s operant conditioning model, the self-inflicted neurochemical reward will maximize the likelihood of maintaining the behaviors towards change. It will therefore reinforce the will to change on a constant feedback loop.
- Maintain support structures: this stage is about helping the client sustaining the momentum in change. Helping the client building or tapping to support structures is key, as they provide a systematic, comprehensive, and organized framework that brings sense to a different state of things.
The key competency here is group D’s Managing Progress and Accountability. Note this is a transitioning stage between the third step and the fourth – and last – step of the WILL model (Leveraging).
This step is about leveraging the newly reached set of competencies. It has the purpose of sustaining change building stronger foundations for the new behavioral framework through operant conditioning. Meaning, the client will tend to repeat the recently acquired behavioral scheme as he/she feels rewarded by the biochemical stimulation of his/her centers of pleasure triggered by the accomplishment of self-determined will.
- Monitor stabilization: if there is a competency that is core at this stage, that would be Managing Progress and Accountability. Although the WILL model was designed as being sufficiently flexible to be used in a single session or, across several sessions for larger transformations, this stage is particularly helpful in multi-session programs, where the coach can help the client monitoring progress between sessions by holding his/her attention on the coaching plan and outcomes, agreed-upon courses of action, and topics for future sessions.
- Exploration (back to square one): Over time, the new behavioral scheme of the client will leverage the level of fluency in satellite or other transferrable competencies, thus propelling the client to a virtuous circle of self-development. This is why the model was conceptualized as a circle, ending where it starts with perhaps a new Exploration stage, provided the client has the will to continue to progress.
Deci, Edward L. (2006). Ryan, Richard M. (ed.). The Handbook of Self-Determination Research. University of Rochester Press.
ICA, (2019). Module: Coaching Models. Retrieved from URL https://learnsite.icacoach.com/english-campus/foundation-coach-course/coaching-models/
Feldman, Robert S. (2001). Comprehend a Psicologia (5th Ed). McGraw-Hill Portugal.
Harackiewicz, J. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1993). Achievement goals and intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(5), 904–915
Peterson, Cristopher (2008). A Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press.
Reference to another piece of Portfolio Development: the power tool developed as part of the ICA graduation program, which is deliberately intertwined with this coaching model.