The Spiral Staircase Coaching Model


A Coaching Model By Sarah Lupton, Transformational Leadership Coach, UNITED STATES

The Spiral Staircase Model

In coaching, the goal is to move the client forward from their current state toward their desired end result. However, as most coaches know, the process of reaching the desired end state is not exactly as straightforward as that. In my clients (as well as in myself), I have noticed the pattern of declaring a new goal, exerting effort in making forward strides, and then hitting a wall, feeling like no change is actually happening.

It’s in these moments of perceived stasis that it is understandable that clients get discouraged or frustrated with the process. And if the client does choose the belief that the process isn’t working, they will, in fact, stay at this plateau. However, there is another framework clients can choose to employ when they feel like they are putting in a lot of effort but keep ending up right back where they started. It’s called the Spiral Staircase Model.

The Spiral Staircase Coaching Model

Spiral Staircase Coaching Model By Sarah Lupton

In the Spiral Staircase Model, then loops back to the client’s perceived start state are not considered backsliding into old patterns but are actually an integral part of the process of moving from the current state to the desired end state, which is a state of elevation gained by mastery in both self-awareness and action. This model accounts for what we know to be true based on our lived human experience, as well as client case studies and neuroscience[1]—that growth is not linear.

On the path toward our goals, we must eliminate the actions that are detrimental to our goals, and increase the actions that move us closer towards them. Within that process is the breakdown of old habits to create new ones.[2] The most hindering habits are the ones that are so innately wired in us that we don’t even have visibility on them to change them. That’s where the Spiral Staircase Model comes in. It presents that when we set goals, we create the possibility that we reach them by taking action. In the process of taking action, we may or may not get the desired outcome. In either case, there are valuable learnings to discover on the way to the goal. Integrating the new knowledge about ourselves, we repeat the “take action” step again, until we begin to actualize our results. We may have encountered the same block, but this time, we encountered it with an elevated understanding of the pattern from where we started, at the bottom of the staircase. Let’s break the process down clearly here.

1: Start State – The start state is the current situation a client is in

2: Possibility – The client creates the possibility that their goal becomes real by taking action

3: Integrate – The client debriefs the results of the action and integrates learnings

4: Repeat – With the new awareness, the client modifies actions and goes again

5: Actualize – With the right actions, the client begins to get results aligned with the goal

6: L Elevated State – Upon self-mastery around this goal, the client has achieved an elevated state, reaching the top of the spiral staircase of their goal

In the Spiral Staircase Model, the client may climb as many “floors” up as needed. Each metaphorical floor is a feedback loop in which the client evaluates what worked or didn’t work around the actions they took to move closer toward their goal, and provides an opportunity to adjust actions accordingly before starting on the next flight of stairs. The model accounts for the deeper integration that new habit building[3] may require, including what we can’t see from the very bottom of the stairs. Only through climbing and getting some elevation can we see new facets of the old patterns break on the way to achieving our goal.

Case Study

The Spiral Staircase Model can be applied to both tangible goals, such as losing weight, and intangible goals, such as improving self-confidence. I tried the model out with a client I worked with for the course of a year, as the model is best applied to long-term coaching relationships.

Albert is a young entrepreneur building a multi-million dollar company. He initially came to me because he wanted to break through his revenue plateau of $30k per month. His goal was to hit $60k per month. After about four months of rigorously applying the Spiral Staircase Model – creating possibility through taking action, integrating learnings, and repeating with new awareness — he began to actualize his results. The revenue began to rise! After six months, he had increased his revenue to consistently hit $70k. He had achieved a level of mastery in self-awareness and actions that empowered him to access this elevated state.

Albert was hungry to get to the next level of the spiral staircase. This time, he set a goal of increasing his revenue to $200k per month. Once again, he was at Start State, but this time he was equipped with the learnings gained from growing from $30k to $70k. As he began to take action on the Spiral Staircase, he realized he wasn’t generating an increase in revenue from the actions that had gotten him to $70k. So he integrated his learnings and realized that the block in generating revenue was in the motivation of his sales team. They didn’t feel connected to him as a person, and as a result, were not inspired to go to the next level of revenue with him. So for this elevation, Albert had an intangible goal — build a connection with his sales team. This is where Albert currently sits on his spiral staircase. Each week in our sessions, he debriefs what works and doesn’t work, and integrates his learnings into the next week’s actions. While he is eager to achieve his goal, he is not discouraged if he comes to a session with a lot of “what didn’t work” to share. He understands that he is climbing the staircase to get to his elevated state of mastery in self and action.

The Staircase Model

The Staircase Model empowers clients to look at results with neutrality, and then mine them for clues about how to get to the next step on the staircase. It is best applied for clients that you are working with over the course of several sessions and is most helpful when the client identifies a deeply rooted habit they are committed to shifting to build new habits that are more aligned with their goals.

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[1] Gollwitzer, Peter & Sheeran, Paschal. (2006). Implementation Intentions and Goal Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of Effects and Processes. First publ. in: Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 38 (2006), pp. 69-119. 38. 10.1016/S0065-2601(06)38002-1.
[2] Neal, David T., Wendy Wood, and Jeffrey M. Quinn. “Habits—A repeat performance.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 15.4 (2006): 198–202.
[3] Society for Personality and Social Psychology. “How we form habits, change existing ones.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 August 2014. 

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