There is more to goal-setting in coaching and mentoring than merely highlighting deficiencies and setting goals to fill the gaps. Indeed, many authorities on coaching encourage us not to focus on deficiencies from the outset.

For example, professor of organisational behaviour Richard Boyatzis and others have argued that it is better to specify an ‘ideal self’, and work towards it.

An interesting book called What is Good?, by philosopher Anthony Grayling (2004), offers a rigorous philosophical exploration of what goodness, or the good life, is. This will help thoughtful coaches and mentors to construct a framework for helping others to consider these questions.

Boyatzis and his collaborators suggest that we should develop learning plans (which are positive emotional attractors), rather than performance improvement plans (which are negative emotional attractors).

His behaviour-oriented research indicates that change is more likely to occur if people are working towards a positive ideal, rather than trying to plug a negative deficiency – particularly at the start of the working relationship. Once progress is being made, then the gaps can be addressed.

Boyatzis suggests that, if you ask anyone to identify who has been the most helpful to them over their career and what they did that helped them, the results follow a pattern. Try this for yourself before reading on. Note down a maximum of 10 people who have been helpful in your career and briefly list what they did to influence you.

When we did this task, the results confirmed Boyatzis’s claim that 80% of all the comments will be about extending dreams and reaching for new experiences. They are about clarifying and enlarging what it is to be successful and good.

Visioning is a technique used in many coaching situations, but it is particularly powerful in goal-setting. The core of effective visioning is the engagement of all the learner’s senses – especially sight, smell, touch, and inner emotion.

The developer invites the learners to close their eyes and imagine themselves as they want to be in a specified period of time. Generally, the bigger and broader the goal, the longer the forward projection will be.

The questions set may vary, but in most cases, they are likely to be along these lines:


  • Where do you want to be?
  • What do you see around you – such as the environment, the people
  • How do you appear?
  • What are you doing? Why?
  • How do you feel? If you feel good, what is making you feel that way?
  • How do those around you feel?
  • Describe what you hear


  • How is this different from now?
  • How big is the gap between how you see yourself, and how others see you?
  • How big is the gap between how you feel, and how others feel?
  • How do you feel about that gap? Do you have a real desire to bridge it?


  • What could you do to make the vision a reality?
  • What is your first step?

Visioning is best used when the learner is relatively relaxed. It requires the engagement/focus of the whole consciousness for someone to place themselves in a possible future.

It can be used to explore and compare different goals – by analysing a set of different futures, the learner can begin to decide between them.

For example, how does the scene appear in two years’ time, if you stay in the current company or department, compared with if you move on?
The approach can also be used in almost a planning/decision-making process, where the outcomes will take some time to emerge.

More techniques
This chapter is an edited extract from Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring by David Megginson & David Clutterbuck, published by Butterworth Heinemann.

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