The GROW Model: Your secret weapon for goal-setting and leadership

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This article is part of the Propel Her Australia – Defence Women’s Leadership Series by Shamsa Lea and Lyndsay Freeman.

There is a cartoon showing two ladders. The first ladder has rungs close together, and the climber is immersed in the task of climbing their way to the top. The second ladder has rungs far apart, and the climber is standing on the ground and unable to reach the first rung. The first ladder represents goal-setting: being the process of developing manageable steps to achieve your ambitions. And it doesn’t matter how motivated or intelligent the climber of ladder two is, if they are unable to reach the first rung, then their journey to the top won’t begin. 

Supporting Aristotle’s Final Causality Theory that ‘purpose can cause action’, many studies show that setting ambitious and challenging goals tends to increase a person’s overall performance. And those who write their goals down accomplish them at significantly higher rates than those who do not. 

The recent uncertainty brought about by the global pandemic has led to a common hesitation around setting goals. This is the time for positivity and an inward assessment of what you want to achieve, so setting well-defined goals with flexible and realistic steps to achieve them is key to moving forward. 

Start by setting your goals

It can be hard to work out what your actual goals are. In leadership coaching, the Wheel of Life is a tool that is used to assess areas where goal-setting may benefit you. The wheel asks you to measure your satisfaction against various areas of your life to identify areas where your current level of success is different to your desired level. This link provides you a printable guide to conducting the Wheel of Life. Here is another, with links to an interactive wheel.

GROW Your Goals

Once you have worked out your goals, here’s a five minute exercise to get you moving! These questions form the basis of the GROW Model used by ADF leadership coaches:

  • GOAL: Think about your goal; how you can refine it to make it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Realistic and Timely). Write it down. Make it excite you.
  • REALITY: What is currently holding you back, and what have you tried in the past to achieve the goal?
  • OPTIONS: What options do you have to remove the obstacles you’ve identified? What do you need to do to move forward just one step?
  • WAY FORWARD: The tough bit. How are you going to move forward this week/month? Commit to ONE small step towards that goal.

As you begin to set and plan goals using the GROW model, you’ll find that it comes naturally. The most important step is the Way Forward – courageously pushing past your perceived barriers (like that pesky Imposter Syndrome…here’s our advice on that one). 

What else can you use GROW for?

The GROW model is not just for smashing your personal goals. It can be your new leadership secret weapon! The real benefit of GROW is the way it can provide a logical sequence for structured conversation and problem solving, as follows:

  • Conducting performance conversations. If you are a Supervisor, use GROW to help your team articulate what they want to achieve when you discuss their agreed goals. Ensure they can articulate what they want to do, the current reality, the options and the steps you both agree they can take to achieve the goal.
  • Improved communication. GROW is a fantastic framework to arrange your thoughts and communicate with brevity. Imagine that your boss comes to you for an update on a task you are working on. Instead of stumbling through a long winded explanation, the conversation can go like this:

“Ma’am, we need to [insert GOAL]. Right now [insert REALITY]. We’ve considered [insert OPTIONS], and I’ve decided to [insert WAY FORWARD]”.

  • Empowering and coaching your team. The age-old saying “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime” rings true when it comes to goal-setting through coaching. The GROW Model can be used by leaders to improve their team’s performance and help them plan for, and reach, their longer-term career objectives. Start their journey by asking them what they are trying to achieve (goal), what the current restrictions/issues are now (reality), what options they have to move forward (options), and finally, what they think they could do next (way forward). This model allows leaders to facilitate, mentor and guide their team members to reach their own conclusions without having a solution thrust upon them.

There are many goal-setting tools available – with GROW being just one tool to mapping a way toward your goal – but the message is the same for most methods. Deliberate, methodical and ambitious goal-setting will set you up for success and propel your team forward.


About the authors

Shamsa Lea is an Air Force Logistics Officer, leadership coach and Board Director of a veteran support organisation. She has been engaged in female recruitment, retention and progression activities in Defence for a number of years, with a specific interest in helping ADF women achieve their leadership potential.  Twitter: @ShamsaLea.

Lyndsay Freeman is a mother of two and a Transport Officer in the Australian Army. A former Chief of Army Scholar, she is currently the Senior Instructor for the ADF’s Gender, Peace & Security Courses at the Peace Operations Training Centre. Lyndsay is passionate about the ADF’s pivotal role in advocating for women’s empowerment across the globe. Twitter: @LyndsayFreeman8.