A Coaching Model Created by Guustaaf van de Mheen
(Business Coach, NETHERLANDS)
Those who do not move do not notice their chains. Rosa Luxemburg
Overview of the Hockey Stick Model
The hockey stick model derives its name after the famous model describing global warming. The model is developed to give guidance when there are factors in play that prevent a group or person to make progression because of blockages and takes into account several steps before a person will make the progression that is required.
While it may appear as if progression of a person is not happening. Going through the different phases of fear, doubt, indecisiveness and challenge are real steps a person can take before they reach progression. As such the steps made are real progression in itself. Getting from fear to progression is not a one step process. Like assuming that a toddler can speak in one day it is not realistic to expect a person that is blocked by fear to overcome that fear and blockage easily. It can be helpful to adapt language and actions to the person with the fear and change the language and actions at every level.
This coaching model is about the more subtle fears people come across in human interaction. Fears like losing face, fear in being hurt, fear of making a mistake, fear of being punished can be real blockers for progression, both as an individual as in a company or society.
The model can be used: In a coaching situation, in a one on one employee situation and to think about and manage organizational change.
It is good to note that this model is developed in the context of a developing country business. (in the cultural context of a high masculine, high power distance where (corporal) punishment and blame are common practice and where therefore fear and avoidance are normal survival strategies. Although sometimes fear in that context is more eminent, the model is also applicable in other cultural settings where people are encouraged to take more risk and strive for more progression.
The different phases can be passed within one session and over years, depending on the person the issue at hand and how deep the fear is. Different stages can be more intense and take longer or shorter time. This is also depending on the ability for the client to overcome different stages in the process.
Level 1: Fear
While fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat, fear can be much more subtle and the belief can be based on past experiences and is often not realistic in the current situation. In a recent brainstorm of high potentials on what in the past their reasons were not to enroll into a development program the reasons given were: Fear for the unknown, Fear to be punished, Fear to be blamed or lose face, but also wanting to stay in their comfort zone and not feeling good enough.
This power tool is not about the fears of immediate danger like during a robbery or phobia’s, but about addressing those fears that are limiting a person to make a further step in his career or life. That type of fear can have many shapes and forms. It can be expressed in personal strives like the need to have a management position, material gains, retaining existing securities, norms and protocols, despite a clear need to change or optimism. Optimism is a common cause for not changing, by believing that things will change for the better in the future without the person’s active intervention.
Fear can also take the form of opposition against change without clear reasons, being defensive and passive or expressing problems and not solutions, not being open to alternative lifestyles opinions or solutions or not caring about their environment or organization they work in but primarily caring about themselves.
Fear can make somebody over prepare and loosing the possibility to adapt and improvise or can overlook the needs of the other and find the middle ground. It can spend too much energy in creating resources for competition instead of finding the complementary possibilities in working and living in co-operation and synergy.
Although sometimes fear can be real, often the fear is seated in experiences in the past and are therefore imaginary.
When a person fears something asking them to act is not realistic. The best advice is not to act. It can be, not to write an email or make a phone call at that moment, or make sure that a person can make the preparation but does not need to do a presentation themselves. Often taking of the pressure, taking a person out of a situation or group or taking over the task from that person can be an option. Sometimes it can be useful to stop a meeting or conversation and take away the discomfort before continuing.
Dissolving the fear is not always possible and trying with arguments will often makes the blockages all the more real. It is much more useful to support a person from an emotional or mental perspective rather than a cognitive perspective. This It can help to name the fear and, at that moment in time stand next to the person who has the fear. Often talking about the fear without solving the fear itself can help to create awareness. Creating awareness is the first step to understanding the fear. The second step is to create awareness about the different aspects of the emotion.
When fear is standing in the way of a longer term ability to grow, more time is available to reinforce somebody’s self esteem first and to appreciate the course of the fear. Understanding the course of the fear and supporting the person in taking away the fear can help to make a next step.
Where fear is a blockage without a clear reason, doubt is a blockage with clear reasons. Therefore the best way to make the next step is by understanding together with the client what is causing the fear.
Level 2: doubt
Once a person is taken out of the immediate fear they feel the topic can be discussed in real terms and can be seen as doubt. This can be doubt of oneself, the other or the situation. Although the situation is still fear instilled a discussion about the fear can be created in a safe environment.
The objective in this phase is to assure courage and the ability to rationally think about what needs to be done and go to a more neutral state.
Doubt can be recognized by expressions like “I don’t know how to handle this because” or “I know how to solve it but I fear the risks of doing it” When doubt is the most dominant factor it is good to give support make it small and give time to think things through and create alternative approaches. How can you get a person out of the mindset of “this can not be changed”. There are several ways to move forward.
A good exercise in this phase is to analyze with the client what the worst thing that can happen to them is if the client tries to get out of the situation you are in? In this way the doubt is analyzed and the problem is slowly reduced to more sensible portions. Another exercise is to move forward in time in the imagination of the client and let them think about how they feel looking backward if they did not handle it or in which position they would be.
It is good to realize that while in the doubt phase the most dominant element is the doubt itself. When the attention changes to tackling either the objective of overcoming the fear or tackling the issue of which the fear is about. The level of indecisiveness starts to gloom at the horizon.
Level 3: Indecisiveness
While doubt is still a negative emotion, indecisiveness is slowly turning the tide towards giving a neutral weighting of options. At this point in time the objective is self directed goal setting. In this phase it can be helpful to discuss the larger objective for the person, gather options, weigh pro’s and con’s of each option and come with the best objective and a plan to execute it. In this phase models like the GROW model can play a role in mapping out the different options and the way to get there.
At this stage thinking outside of the box can still be challenging. Help the client to think outside of the box in terms of options. Irrespective of the options being realistic or the ones ultimately followed the fact that there is reasoning taking place marks the transcendence to the next phase.
You can give alternative approaches as a coach, but the risk you run is that the ideas of the coach are taken over by the client which is contradicting to the coaching ideal. To avoid this while at the same time still catalyze thinking you can come up with several solutions but always end keeping options open. This can be done for example by saying “There can be many more solutions and the best solution is your own” Also you can name if you give solutions that you give the idea’s to inspire thinking.
A way to make sure that the person thinks about ways to solve the problem is by making them think laterally. You can ask, which people do you admire? After this you can ask how this person would solve the problem. Alternatively you can connect to persons that influence the client in their personal life and ask how that person would solve this problem.
Level 4: Challenge
If the job is done well in the indecisiveness level the client now becomes engaged and committed to the objectives to be put in place. The emotion can slowly change from a fear to a challenge. Key elements to facilitate this are making the steps small enough and sometimes if need be making the first objectives reachable. In addition, it is good to assure sufficient support and facilitation.
In this stage the role of the coach changes from support in overcoming the fear to support in creating a planning that is realistic. A client can change from over cautious to over ambitious. It can help to show the client smaller steps, by every time asking can you break it even in smaller steps. This until the smallest possible unit/step is reached.
After the analysis and planning of how to reach the objective is done, we can now shift our focus to the challenge reaching the objective entails.
Level 5: Progression
The last step in this power tool is progression. It is important to make the first steps small and create an atmosphere of continuous encouraging and support for the person that needs to make the steps. Steps however small are best celebrated, while failure or setbacks are best to be reduced in their importance. To get momentum going the first steps can be difficult, slow and are costing a lot of energy. However while changes are slowly made, the energy released will create sufficient momentum to have the client overcome next hurdles itself while there is a growth in confidence.
Small setbacks can throw the client immediately back into the “fear emotion” Being aware of this as a coach is critical and can help prevent these types of setback. It can also be an indication that the model has not been followed thoroughly. In that case it is good to check as a coach on which level you can start the discussion again to avoid going back all the way to the fear level.
The coach can support maintaining momentum by assuring both a long term less detailed plan based on objectives and a more detailed short term action plan based on actions. Often putting a deadline or timeline on the objective based plan can be counterproductive. It can be enough to use it as a check on how different activities in the activity based plan are supporting the bigger objective.
 This brainstorm was done with the management team members of Mango Tree about 1 year after they finalized their staff development program, reflecting back on their and others hesitations to enroll.
 He or His is also referring to women and vice versa.