Leading the World by Supporting Christian Coaching

Designing Actions: Don’t Ask For the First Step

(original post date September 2, 2018)

Insights without action steps are just nice ideas.  When coaching, it is essential to ask for action steps.  But awareness-raising doesn’t end when you begin forming action steps. If fact, how you ask for action steps will partially determine their quality. 

What’s the first step in working on this? 

This popular question is meant to relieve pressure on the client by only asking for the first step, not a comprehensive plan.  Actually, this question can confuse more than it comforts. Take a look at the rapid mental process involved in answering this question.  The client has to:

  1. Consider the available options. 
  2. Decide which they want to pursue. 
  3. Decide the order of these steps. 
  4. Decide the first step to answer the coach’s question.

What’s your first step? is a loaded question.  The same goes with, What’s your next step? 

Instead, begin the action step forming process by asking a reflective question that will move the client toward action.  Like this one:

What actions could you take to move forward? 

This carefully crafted question gives the client plenty of room to think about their options.  I begin with “could” instead of “will” so the process begins with freedom to experiment and explore.  A minute later, after exploring several options, I might ask, “Which of these do you want to commit to doing?”

The same freedom and reflection is true of the phrase “move forward.”  That phrase includes doing something or reflecting further or talking to someone or deciding, etc.  It doesn’t limit the client to one type of action like “What will you do about this?”  When people hear “do” they go to physical actions, perhaps missing non-action-y action steps like thinking, praying, and reflecting. 

Helping clients apply their learning through forming action steps is a reflective, as well as, planning process.  What actions could you take to move forward in applying this with your clients?


Keith Webb will be presenting the core competency, Designing Actions, on September 17, 2019, at 1pm ET.  Please join us for this webinar!

About the Author: 

Keith E. Webb, DMin, PCC is author, speaker, and consultant specializing in leadership development. He is the founder of Creative Results Management, a global training organization focused on helping ministry leaders multiply their impact. For 20 years, Keith lived in Japan, Indonesia, and Singapore where he designed and delivered leadership development programs to leaders around the world.

He is the author of The Reflective Journal for CoachesCoaching in Ministry, and The COACH Model for Christian Leaders. Keith is the Past-President of ICF Washington State and lives near Seattle with his wife and their two children. He blogs at keithwebb.com.

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