What makes a strong coach? The list is long, and the ability to help a client remain focused on her movement forward is high on the list. For coaches—particularly those who partner with a high volume of clients (e.g., Life Coaches partnering with students through a university-based coaching program; internal coaches whose job descriptions dedicate a large proportion of their time to coaching activities)—staying organized is key to achieving this goal.
As team members at Florida State University’s (FSU) Center for College Life Coaching, we developed and piloted the Dynamic Circular Coaching Model to help coaches keep client engagements on track both during and between coaching sessions. After the model was tested in more than 1,000 coaching meetings at FSU, it was adopted as the preferred coaching model for use in all FSU College Life Coaching engagements.
Authenticity is a significant quality of a strong and impactful coach; therefore, it was imperative to create a model that honors the organic process of coaching. Since the power of the coaching relationship lies not just in what happens during the coaching meeting itself, but also in what happens in between coaching meetings, the model is based on the entire coaching relationship.
The design is meant to be fluid. A coach may begin with the component of the model that is most appropriate for the client, flowing through the model in any direction to best support the client and his needs.
In The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden, 2010), Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, defines connection “as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” This is the intention of what the coach provides for the client throughout the full coaching experience while practicing this model.
“Connect” is centrally placed in the model and its lines extend to encompass all other components of the model. This is because the concept of connection is central to and infused through all aspects of the coaching relationship.
The “collaborate” component is a process whereby the coach and client work together to discuss multiple areas of the client’s life to determine what will be in their best interest to focus on, as the defined movement forward, for that moment in time.
At this stage, the coach can leverage the competency of powerful questioning (e.g. “What’s happening in your life right now?”; “What are your current plans or goals?”; “What are some of the challenges you’re facing right now?”; “What are you celebrating right now?”; “For you to feel confident moving forward right now, what do you feel would be the best topic to focus on?”). Once a topic is identified, it is then time to determine the most effective way to support the client in moving forward. This model offers the coach and client three routes to consider:
A situation occurs when the coach and client have discussed different areas of life and have determined that a particular situation would be most useful to focus on or that there is a pressing matter the client needs to further discuss. A coach will recognize a situation by the fact that it is something the client has intense energy around, and therefore is where her focus clearly is.
“I have a conference to attend, but it is during my child’s recital.”
Reflection is most appropriate when the client requires extra reflection space to critically think and make meaning of a past, present or pending experience; as opposed to a “situation” where the client is not in need of deep reflection. This is an opportunity for the client to connect the dots of his experiences and the effect those experiences have on his present and future life.
“I have a huge presentation coming up in one of my classes. I’m prepared, but for some reason this one is making me really nervous.”
An activity is a structured, tangible exercise that can be prompted by the client’s need to plan for or further understand a past, present or future circumstance. The intention of the activity is to assist the client in making abstract thoughts into tangible tools and provide clarity on her defined, desired movement forward.
Client Example: “I need to figure out my budget for the month.”
Ultimately, all three categories lead to an action (movement forward) through the coaching process.
Action in this model can be defined as the client committing to a conscious choice in her life that will assist her in reaching her potential, with the goal of acting upon that conscious choice moving forward.
In this component, the coach empowers the client to explicitly define action steps for moving forward and commit to taking those action steps, based on a reflection, situation and/or activity. Examples of an initial action might include making a conscious change in perspective or behavior, or partnering with the coach to draft an action plan for making and meeting SMART goals.
Situation: The client figures out that she can attend the recital and skip the first day of the conference. Her action step is to request her supervisor’s permission to do so.
Reflection: The client realizes that his class presentation focuses on a topic he is extremely passionate about and recognizes that it could shift his career path. His action step is to conduct research on possible career paths connected to this topic.
Activity: After completing a budgeting exercise, the client commits to executing it for seven days and assessing the results at week’s end.
The continue component has two functions: facilitating follow-up and starting a new topic. This is the component of the model that best illustrates the continuity of the coaching relationship.
The function of follow-up allows for the power of accountability in the coaching relationship. This is when the coach and client continue from a previous conversation or meeting in an effort to assess progress on the previously stated action steps.
If the client did not accomplish the intended, previously stated action, the follow-up is an opportunity to reassess and commit to a different action that is perhaps more realistic and/or beneficial. In this exchange, the relationship moves from “continue” back to “act,” demonstrating the model’s flexibility and recursivity.
If a coaching session has included the “collaborate” and “act” components and time permits, the coach may ask the client permission to continue the meeting by starting a new topic. If the invitation for a new topic is accepted, the meeting will continue, flowing into collaboration. Once again, the goal will be to reach the “act” component so the client may establish a committed action to movement forward.
The coaches who have utilized the Dynamic Circular Coaching Model in their coaching practice have reported that the model has indeed allowed them to stay organized, while staying true to the organic nature of coaching.
Cristina Madeira is a Certified Executive and Team Coach by