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Four Stages of Appreciative Coaching

One path for coaching others

The four stages of appreciative coaching form an outline for the appreciative coach to follow. This path of discovery, dreams, design, and destiny helps the coach create a path for the coachee to follow. As I examine these four stages for their feasibility in my life, I’ll evaluate their effectiveness, and try to define how I can put these themes into practice. I’ll also compare the strengths vs. deficit approaches to coaching.

Discovery & Dreams

The first two stages of appreciative coaching, discovery and dreams, are all about finding out what the client has done in the past, and what she wants to do in the future. Discovery “is about truly appreciating what gives life to our client” (Orem, Binkert, & Clancy, 2007, p. 107). The discovery stage is designed to help clients focus on accomplishments in a way that allows them to pull their personal strengths and dreams from their own examples. Questions like, “So what experience made you feel proud” or “Was there a single experience or what about this experience made you proud” (Capella University, 2010) help the client focus on what they’ve done to succeed in the past, and what will work again in the future.

The dream stage is perhaps my favorite of all the stages. This stage is where the coach encourages the client to reach for the stars and truly define their deepest desires. It can be difficult to get clients to open up in this stage. “Facing a blank canvas is exciting because the possibilities are open, but it can be daunting if one does not take it a bit at a time” (Orem, Binkert, & Clancy, 2007, p. 129). During this stage, it is important that the coach help the client focus on being the best they can be by maintaining a positive demeanor throughout the process of dream discovery.

Design & Destiny

Design and destiny tie up the four stages of appreciative coaching. During the design stage, the coach and coachee focus on developing dreams into a workable plan. This stage is all about the questions asked while engaging in an encouraging discussion that maintains a broad focus. Remember, “A focus that is too detailed tends to limit clients to re-creating the present and seeing only what is immediately in front of them” (Orem, Binkert, & Clancy, 2007, p. 151). The point is to help the client identify priorities, create steps of action, and define what success will look like. “The coach’s role in the design stage is to continually affirm the reality of the client’s dream...” (Orem, Binkert, & Clancy, 2007) while helping the client look at multiple options and many possible action plans.

The destiny stage in appreciative coaching “is not about endings or even beginnings; it is about living one’s life fully and well” (Orem, Binkert, & Clancy, 2007, p. 171). This stage usually leads up to the time when formal coaching sessions end, and it is essential to the success of the coaching process. This stage is all about reflection, support, and recognition of ongoing efforts in helping the client realize their dream, and then drawing the formal coaching relationship to its natural conclusion when we see that the client is ready and able to proceed on her own. “Clients set the pace of their own change” (Orem, Binkert, & Clancy, 2007, p. 179), and it’s important that we, as coaches, maintain their schedule for success.

Strength vs. Deficit Coaching

Appreciative coaching leads from a position of strength. It works to examine what success a client has had in the past, and how they can build on that success in the future. It examines a person’s strong points, and defines their desires for a successful future. Leading from a point of weakness would be antithesis to the appreciative coaching process. By dwelling on the negative, we would simply create more negative, and that cannot be the goal of any coaching relationship. It makes sense to focus on how to move forward positively rather than miring in negativity, which will only bring us down.

Making it Work

I’m excited to start putting the four stages of appreciative coaching to work when school resumes in the fall. I think the kids and I will have fun examining times when they’ve been at their best in the past, and starting to define how they want to use those strengths in the future. I have already created an initial questionnaire, and can’t wait to see the looks on their faces as I present it as an ongoing assignment. They won’t like it at first, but like many of the changes I’ll be implementing next year, I think they’ll come around to it as they see that we’re focusing on what they can do instead of what they cannot.


The four stages of appreciative coaching; discovery, dreams, design, and destiny form a framework that I can follow in the classroom next year. Helping my students discover what’s best about them, and supporting them as they begin to define and work on their dreams for the future is something that energizes me, and helps me attain my dreams for the future. Utilizing these steps is a win-win situation for all of us, and by focusing on strengths rather than deficits, I expect my students will truly begin to excel.


Capella University. (2010). Appreciative Coaching Transcript. Retrieved 28 2010, July, from

Orem, S., Binkert, J., & Clancy, A. (2007). Appreciative Coaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.