Everything Life Coaches Need to Know About the GROW Model

grow model

Are you looking for ways to support your coaching clients on a deeper level?

Learning a new coaching model is always a good approach if you want to help your clients achieve more powerful transformations. One of the most recognized models in the coaching industry is the GROW model.

This coaching framework is really helpful for facilitating change and achieving goals!

Let’s dive into the GROW model’s intricacies so you can master this approach with your coaching clients! Keep reading to discover:

  • The GROW model coaching framework
  • Origins of the GROW model
  • Key components of the framework
  • How to set specific goals with clients
  • Exploring their current reality
  • Brainstorming options or overcoming obstacles
  • Committing to action plans

GROW Model: The Most Commonly Used Coaching Framework

The GROW model is one of the most widely known coaching models. It was developed in the 1980s by Performance Consultants International and Sir John Whitmore

It stands for…

  1. Goal
  2. Reality
  3. Options (or Obstacles)
  4. Will (or Way Forward). 

Though it seems almost too simple to be effective, this foundational model is extremely effective in helping coaches accelerate their progress with clients. It forces the coachee to clearly define and commit to their objectives without backing out halfway through. At the same time, it also leaves room for exploring different options for resolving their situation without jumping into the first possible idea that comes to mind.

Using the GROW model with clients repeatedly helps them stay on track and recognize their progress, which can be extremely motivating. It’s the perfect balance of keeping the coachee focused while open to different possibilities. Plus, this framework is equally effective in group coaching, self-assessments, and one-on-one coaching.

Origins of the GROW Model

Inspired by Tim Gallwey’s book The Inner Game of Tennis, Sir John Whitmore teamed up with Performance Consultants International to create a coaching framework applicable across various industries. Whether you’re an executive coach or a holistic life coach, this model can be equally effective in helping your clients gain clarity on their goals and reach them more easily.

The 4 Components of the GROW Model

Though the third and fourth letters of the acronym have two different variations, the GROW model always follows the same sequence. Let’s explore what each component means in more detail.

  1. Goal: Having specific, achievable goals helps people focus on what they want to accomplish during each session.
  2. Reality: Coaches help clients assess their current situation related to their goals and identify any obstacles or challenges they may encounter on their way to success.
  3. Options (or Obstacles): By brainstorming different ways to reach established objectives or addressing existing hurdles, clients can maintain a sense of optimism and motivation as they work towards their goals.
  4. Will (or Way Forward): The final step of this framework asks people to promise to do one thing to keep moving forward – we call it the “Will do.” Making this commitment means they will keep making progress in their personal development even when they hit bumps along the way.

When applying the GROW model in your sessions, you don’t have to spend an equal amount of time on each step. Some clients will need more time to settle on their objectives, while others might be more stuck with a problem standing in their way.

In certain cases, you may also jump back to previous steps. For example, if looking for options to move forward makes your client realize they need to refine their overall objective, you can go back to step one to do that. As long as you follow the sequence in order (and try to minimize jumping around), you’ll come out on the other side with a clear action plan. It’s better to spend a little more time on the questions that cause difficulty for your client than skipping them and ending up with the wrong results.

How to Set Specific Goals with Coaching Clients

The first step in the GROW model involves setting specific goals that are realistic but challenging enough to inspire growth. You can use this step to define goals for the session itself, as well as for the long-term objectives of your client.

To help your clients progress, you need to guide them to set SMART goals. In other words, goals that are…

  • Specific: Clearly define what you want to accomplish
  • Measurable: Determine how you will track your progress
  • Achievable: Ensure the goal is realistic given your current resources and constraints
  • Relevant: Align the objective with your overall vision or plan
  • Time-bound: Create a timeline for achieving the desired outcome

Specificity is key because vague or ambiguous objectives can lead to confusion and lack direction. For example, instead of setting a general goal like “improving communication skills,” consider something more precise: “Practice active listening during your meetings this week.”

Use the following coaching questions to help your clients set SMART goals:

  • What would be an inspiring goal for you to work toward?
  • What do you want to be the final outcome of this goal?
  • What does the ideal scenario look like in detail?
  • How could you rephrase that goal so it depends only on what you do and not on others?
  • How would you make your goal more measurable so it’s clear when you’ve achieved it?

To uncover the real motivation behind your client’s goals, you can also ask them…

  • How will your situation change as a result of working on this goal?
  • How would achieving this goal impact other areas of life?
  • Would you still pursue this goal if your boss/spouse/parents weren’t interested?

Spending adequate time setting specific goals will help your client achieve results that matter, so don’t rush through this step!

If you sense that your client’s goal is a means to an end, you can try to dig deeper with a powerful questioning technique called the “5 Whys” method. This involves asking “why?” multiple times until you reach the underlying motivation behind an objective.

Exploring the Client’s Current Reality

Now that you have established the right goals with your client, it’s time to move on to the second step of the GROW model: exploring their current reality.

Many coaches make the honest mistake of jumping into solutions without understanding where their client currently stands. Just think about it: you would approach a session completely differently if your client is attempting something for the first time versus if they feel they’ve tried everything and nothing worked.

In this step, you can check in with your clients about how long they’ve been thinking about the goals set in step one and what they’ve already tried to achieve them. You can also assess how much they still believe in their dream and what has worked (or hasn’t) so far from their attempts.

Here are some coaching questions that can help you assess the current reality of your client:

  • Where are you today in relation to this goal?
  • What have you already accomplished?
  • What have you tried that worked/didn’t work?
  • What events and decisions led you here?
  • What led you to seek out this assistance?
  • Who else is involved in this situation and how?
  • How do you feel about your progress toward this goal so far?
  • What factors have contributed to your success or challenges in achieving this goal?

Brainstorming Options or Overcoming Obstacles

In this stage of the GROW process, coaches can brainstorm and explore different options that will move them toward their desired goals. Alternatively, they can identify obstacles that stand in the way and find ways to overcome them.

As a life coach, it’s important to encourage clients to be open-minded and explore new ways rather than just sticking to their current perspective. 

In practice, what can this look like?

You can foster open-mindedness during option generation by asking thought-provoking questions and providing supportive feedback throughout the session. Some techniques for promoting open-minded thinking include:

  • Using “what if” scenarios to spark creativity
  • Challenging assumptions and limiting beliefs
  • Suggesting alternative perspectives or approaches
  • Praising effort rather than focusing solely on results

Asking powerful coaching questions can also help stimulate creative problem-solving while keeping your client engaged in their journey toward their goals. Here are a few questions in the third stage of the GROW model.

  • What are some options you have in this situation?
  • Let’s come up with five more ways you could move toward your goal.
  • If you had unlimited time and money wasn’t an issue, what would you do?
  • How could you try these strategies in smaller, more achievable ways?
  • Who could give you more clarity on possible ways to achieve this?
  • Who could help you move closer to your goals?
  • What have you seen others do that might work for you?

Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles

Another way to approach the O in GROW is to reflect on the obstacles holding your client back. Once they know the bottleneck that can unlock their progress, they can regain their motivation and focus on overcoming it.

These barriers could be internal or external, sometimes both. Here’s how you can examine both of these aspects.

  1. Determine if there are mental blocks: Clients may have limiting beliefs or fears that prevent them from taking action. Encourage your clients to share their thoughts and feelings openly so you can help them overcome these barriers.
  2. Identify external obstacles: Sometimes, things outside the client’s control could be holding them back, like a lack of resources. Help your clients recognize these challenges and brainstorm potential solutions together.

Once you’ve identified their roadblocks, you can stir them back to a solution-oriented mindset with the question:

What would you do if this obstacle was removed?

Committing to Action Plans – “Will Do”

The final component of the GROW model requires your client to commit themselves fully toward at least one action step – also known as “Will do.” This commitment ensures that they take responsibility for their progress and keep up their momentum on the goals you’ve discussed together.

Here’s how you can help your client get clarity on their way forward related to their objectives:

  1. Create an action plan: Work with your client to break down their goal into smaller steps that are manageable yet challenging enough to inspire growth.
  2. Identify resources: Encourage your client to think about the people, tools, or information they may need to help them overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. This might include books, online courses, support groups, or even asking friends and family members for help.
  3. Develop coping strategies: Help your clients build resilience by teaching them effective stress management techniques, such as mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises. You can also encourage self-reflection through journaling or other creative outlets that promote emotional expression.

You can also use these coaching questions to define clear actions for your client:

  • Which options do you want to take action on (first)?
  • How can we turn that into an actionable task?
  • What’s the first step you want to commit to?
  • By when would you like to get this done?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how likely is this step to get done by this timeframe?
  • How can we turn that into an 8?
  • What do you need to do to make sure this step gets done?

The Importance of Accountability in the GROW Model

Keeping your coachee accountable is key to making the coaching relationship effective and fruitful. It’s a coaching tool every coach has on their toolbelt.

Here are some ways you can promote accountability:

  • Create an environment that fosters open communication between you and the client. They should feel comfortable telling you about their mistakes and failures, not just their positive progress.
  • Set specific milestones or deadlines for completing the tasks in their action plan. Watch out for the “wiggle,” your client’s resistance to commit to a certain action. Revisit these actions until your client genuinely feels ready to commit to those deadlines.
  • Celebrate successes, but also discuss setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning. This teaches a growth mindset to your client.
  • Get your clients to ask for help and feedback on their progress. This way, they can learn how to own their need to receive support through accountability.

Techniques for Tracking and Measuring Progress

You can keep your clients on track with their commitments with simple coaching tools. These techniques help measure their progress and serve as exercises for reflection during future coaching sessions.

  1. Journals: Encourage your clients to journal their thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to their progress on goals. This will help them see patterns emerging over time and adjust or modify their current strategies accordingly.
  2. Progress Charts: Progress charts or graphs can be great motivators for clients. These visuals help them see what they’ve accomplished and what still needs to be done.
  3. Regular Check-ins: Check in with your clients regularly to discuss progress and address any challenges that have come up since the last meeting. (Voxer coaching is a great way to do this!) This consistent communication helps them stay on track and achieve their goals while also giving them a chance to course-correct if needed.

Supercharge Your Coaching Skills With the GROW Model

grow model

By now, you should have a deeper understanding of how you can use the GROW model in your coaching sessions. Using proven models like this can help you accelerate the results you create for clients and make you more likely to earn a testimonial or a referral.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2023 and has since been updated for accuracy.

By Charlene Boutin
Charlene is an email marketing and content strategy coach for small business owners and freelancers. Over the past 5 years, she has helped and coached 50+ small business owners to increase their traffic with blog content and grow their email subscribers.
November 29, 2023

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