One of the best ways to get better at nondirective coaching is to try conversing using the GROW model, devised in the 1980s by Sir John Whitmore and others. GROW involves four action steps, the first letters of which give the model its name. It’s easy to grasp conceptually, but it’s harder to practice than you might imagine, because it requires training yourself to think in new ways about what your role and value are as a leader.

The four action steps are these:


When you begin discussing a topic with someone you’re coaching, establish exactly what he wants to accomplish right now. Not what his goals are for the project or his job or his role in the organization, but what he hopes to get out of this particular exchange. People don’t do this organically in most conversations, and they often need help with it. A good way to start is to ask something like “What do you want when you walk out the door that you don’t have now?”


With the goal of your conversation established, ask questions rooted in what, when, where, and who, each of which forces people to come down out of the clouds and focus on specific facts. This makes the conversation real and constructive. You’ll notice that we didn’t include why. That’s because asking why demands that people explore reasons and motivations rather than facts. In doing that, it can carry overtones of judgment or trigger attempts at self-justification, both of which can be counterproductive.

During this stage, a good reality-focused question to ask is “What are the key things we need to know?” Attend carefully to how people respond. Are they missing something important? Are they talking about operational issues but forgetting the human side of the equation? Or the reverse? When you ask people to slow down and think in this way, they often lose themselves in contemplation—and then a light comes on, and off they go, engaging with the problem on their own with new energy and a fresh perspective. This step is critical, because it stops people from overlooking pertinent variables and leaping to conclusions. Your job here is just to raise the right questions and then get out of the way.


When people come to you for coaching, they often feel stuck. “There’s nothing I can do,” they might tell you. Or “I have only one real option.” Or “I’m torn between A and B.”

At this point your task is to help them think more broadly and more deeply. To broaden the conversation, sometimes it’s enough to ask something as simple as “If you had a magic wand, what would you do?” You’d be surprised how freeing many people find that question to be—and how quickly they then start thinking in fresh, productive ways. Once they’ve broadened their perspective and discovered new options, your job is to prompt them to deepen their thinking, perhaps by encouraging them to explore the upside, the downside, and the risks of each option.


This step also doesn’t usually happen organically in conversations, so again most people will need help with it. The step actually has two parts, each involving a different sense of the word will.

In the first part you ask, “What will you do?” This encourages the person you’re coaching to review the specific action plan that has emerged from your conversation. If the conversation has gone well, she’ll have a clear sense of what that plan is. If she doesn’t, you’ll need to cycle back through the earlier steps of the GROW process and help her define how she’ll attack the problem.

Situational coaching involves balancing directive and nondirective styles.

The second part involves asking people about their will to act. “On a scale of one to 10,” you might ask, “how likely is it that you will do this?” If they respond with an eight or higher, they’re probably motivated enough to follow through. If the answer is seven or less, they probably won’t. In that case you’ll again need to cycle back through the earlier steps of the process, in an effort to arrive at a solution they are more likely to act on.

Of course, workplace coaching usually takes place outside of formal coaching sessions. Most often, it happens in brief exchanges, when a manager might respond to a request for help by posing a single question, such as “What have you already thought of?” or “What really matters here?” When more of those interactions occur—when you notice your managers growing increasingly inquisitive, asking good questions, and working from the premise that they don’t have all the answers—you’ll know you’re on the right track.