Are you a leader who must hit a multitude of goals, as well as motivate and influence others to hit theirs? Do you need to solve pressing problems, as well as have the time to think clearly enough to innovate? Is the proverbial “urgent” overwhelming the “important” in your world?

Busy leaders can get stuck in doing, doing, doing, and not have enough margin to let new thoughts rise to the surface. Conversely, spending too much time evaluating and considering alternatives can prevent needed action that brings true change.

The Thought/Action Framework is a coaching tool that can help you save time on your way to making better decisions. Questions embedded in the framework will help you get clarity about what you want, uncover the real barriers in the way, and plan the best actions to get to your goals.

Imagine a square comprised of four quadrants. Each of the four sides of the square is labeled with a word, starting on the top and moving clockwise: Support, Action, Challenge, Thought. As you flow through quadrants in the grid, you can naturally clarify your thoughts and your actions without wasting time. Take a moment to draw the grid on a piece of paper. Curious about how all this works?

Support for Thought

You start in the Support for Thought quadrant to acclimate yourself to the coaching process and build trust with your coach. If you are using the framework yourself, check in to make sure you have enough time and space to work through the Thought/Action Framework. Trust the process, trust your coach, trust yourself. Set a topic and make it specific. What do you want to work on today?

Challenge for Thought

The natural flow of a coaching conversation will take you to the second quadrant, Challenge for Thought. Here you will name where you are now in relation to the topic you want to work on, and name where you want to be instead. Develop the discrepancy. What do you see in the gap between where you are and where you want to be? Construct a well-formed outcome of what success will look like in your preferred future. What will you be experiencing when you are successful? Why is this goal important to you? Finally, challenge your limiting beliefs, contaminated self-talk, or distorted thinking. Do you find yourself saying words like, “should”, “always”, “never” in your description of the gap? Examine the true weight of any distorted thinking and reframe what is true. Is your desired outcome clear?

Support for Action

Your next stop is the third quadrant, or Support for Action.  Here you test and strengthen your motivation. Do you say you want it, but really have no intentions to make it happen any time soon? Perhaps you need to remind yourself of the value of your stated goal. Illuminate the disadvantages of status quo. What will happen if you do nothing? Our motivation can waiver due to faulty confidence, doubt in our capacity to achieve our goals, or the actual level of our readiness to act. A good coach will help you discover what’s impeding your motivations and support you as you make decisions to move past those barriers.

Challenge for Action

After all your work in the first three quadrants, you are ready for quadrant four, Challenge for Action. Adding the new awareness you’ve discovered helps you design actions that will work. You now have a more distinct understanding of the proper goal, and better insight into why it’s important to you. The power of Challenge for Action is getting specific about what it will take to get what you want. Get detailed about what you will do and when you will do it. Connect your action steps with the vibrant vision of what you want. Explore the resources you already have. Decide what else you need to succeed and go get it. Finally, design your own accountability. What helps you stay on track?

Time to Think or Time to Act?

The answer is “Yes”. You must think and act repeatedly to accomplish your goals and keep momentum going. In executive coaching this cycle is called, “Reflect, Plan and Do”. The Thought/Action Framework can keep you on track and minimize wasted time. Each coaching session has a beginning and end. Start your journey in the Support for Thought quadrant, and end in Challenge for Action. Allow yourself the freedom to move in and out of the quadrants, noticing where you get stuck. Start over when you need to begin again.

Can you see yourself trying this framework on your own to gain some traction on a recurring issue? Could you find success working through the framework with a colleague, tackling a joint problem together? With practice I think you’ll find the Thought/Action Framework will broaden and build your ability to solve pressing problems that crowd your time as well as give you a process that frees up your ability to innovate. Best wishes as you coach yourself to success and make the “Reflect, Plan, and Do” cycle part of your professional rhythm.

For further insight into the Thought/Action Framework, read The Process of Highly Effective Coaching, by Robert F. Hicks, Ph.D. Dr. Hicks is Clinical Professor of Organizational Behavior at The University of Texas at Dallas and founding Director of the Organizational Behavior, Coaching, and Consulting program within the Jindal School of Management.

Ready to explore Executive Coaching for yourself or your team? Contact me for a complementary conversation at