THE FOUR S's
by Sue Coleman, CPPC and Susan Sussman, M.Ed.
A Comprehensive Program for Coaching People With ADD
A comprehensive approach towards coaching people with ADD can be summarized in four words: structure, support,
skills and strategies. Each is a focal point at various times in the coaching relationship; and sometimes all are provided or worked on simultaneously. Structure, support, skills and strategies are the building blocks used in providing an ADD client with a complete coaching experience.
Structure is a framework within which the ADD client can
live his life. It provides the means by which an ADD client
can be proactive (not reactive) in the face of chaos, paradox
Structure consists of the following components:
1. Clearly defined vision, goals, and values. These
concepts are central to a life with direction, purpose and
fulfilment. To illustrate this, in his book 'First Things
First', Stephen Covey defines them as the "compass for our
lives". Goals, vision, and values are clarified in the early
phases of the coaching relationship and inform the client's
basic and true sense of identity, purpose, and fulfilment.
2. Systems for managing daily life. Systems are developed for things like decluttering on a regular basis, handling mail and bills, doing the shopping, and handling financial affairs.
3. The essential structure of a time management system.
A time management system is created that works for the
client (it could be a Franklin Planner or Daytimer, or
something totally personal and original). The coach helps
the client identify priorities, break them into manageable
steps, and schedule them into a calendar.
4. Daily or weekly appointments that are scheduled,
reliable and consistent. An integral part of consistency is
the accountability the coach requires from the client for
5. A single daily action (SDA) taken every day, no matter
what. The SDA, identified in the initial coaching session,
gives the client a sense of accomplishment and forward
momentum and raises self-esteem.
6. Daily habits which are small constructive actions done
on a daily or routine basis, These daily habits form the
foundation upon which major change takes place. Habits
can be developed in a client's professional and/or personal
For ADDers who have spent their lives feeling blamed,
criticized, and misunderstood, support is essential. In a
support role a coach can serve a number of functions. First,
clients need an opportunity to tell their story. Here the
coach serves the role of witness and empathizer, someone
who understands and has empathy for the client's journey -
his past, current struggles and victories, and his future
hopes and dreams.
Coaches also offer support in other ways as the coaching
relationship unfolds: Feedback and support involve
telling the client what you see them doing. For example, "It
seems to me you are really efforting in your life right now.
How can you make it easier for yourself?"
The coach can support the client and acknowledge their
wins. Clients can start the check-in call with a list of wins
accomplished since the last call. Coaches need to acknowledge clients' wins and encourage clients to acknowledge
themselves. During this process the coach must be sure that
the acknowledgment "lands," i.e., that the client really gets
Coaches can also offer support by holding their client's vision - especially when the client forgets. Individuals with'
ADD can forget their vision when the going gets tough. At
these times coaches can remind clients of their vision and
help them get back on a forward-moving track.
Coaches can also champion their clients. This is the skill
of standing for the client when they doubt or question their
abilities Championing occurs when the coach really knows
the client. The coach can act as the client's memory, reminding them of their basic values, the path they have
chosen, and their inventory of strengths.
Celebrating is another support-based coaching skill. The
coach uses this skill to deepen the client's appreciation of
their failures and successes. Celebration serves to deepen
the client's experiences and appreciation of their lives at any
Clearing: When a client is preoccupied with a situation or
mental state which gets in the way of resourcefulness or being
proactive, a coach assists by being an active listener while the
client vents or complains, helping the client clear the situation
out of the way.
Creating trust: The coaching relationship rests on a foundation of safety and trust. To create trust, the coach discusses
both confidentiality and safety. The coach offers the client the
opportunity to verbalize the various ways the coach can be
most helpful, and is specific about what the client can count
on from him.
Finally in the area of support, the ADD coach can track
progress and provide specific information and guidance each step along the way.
When individuals with ADD work on skill building, their
worlds become more consistent and predictable.
The first step in the process of skill building occurs when the
coach helps the client identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Coaches help clients with the process of skill building
and support clients in working from their strengths. Coaches
can help ADD clients build the following skills:
Time management: Most ADD clients have difficulty
managing time. There are many helpful tools available. Often
ADD clients need information about these tools and help
putting them in place and using them.
Goal setting: Includes educating clients about the characteristics
of a goal (establishing the who, what, when, where, and
why) and teaching clients how to break goals into manageable
Setting boundaries: Includes recognizing that one's time has
limits and being able to say "no" when appropriate. Clients
can be given a written description of healthy boundaries that
can be referred to throughout the coaching relationship.
Dealing with transitions: Consists of teaching the client
about the nature of transition. Clients can be referred to the
book Transitions by William Bridges when dealing with big
life transitions. (One such transition is the process of ADD
diagnosis and learning to understand and manage it.)
Transition skill-building also includes developing strategies to move
smoothly from task to task.
Dealing with the Inner critic: The ADD client often has a
strong inner critic who gives negative feedback on an ongoing
basis. Helping the client track the voice, identify its messages,
and learn to detach from it is an important part of skill building.
Other areas in which ADD coaches work with clients include
developing listening skills, social skills, and organizational skills.
Strategies are creative tools coaches use to help clients navigate
their daily lives efficiently and achieve their goals. Lists of
strategies can be as extensive as the creativity, skill and knowledge
of the individual coach allow.
Back to Information
1. Corralling energy: The coach can help the client identify
high energy times for engaging in tasks requiring concentration
2. Pattern learning: This strategy enables clients to remember
to do tasks because they are "piggybacked" on top of other
tasks. For example, "When I finish brushing my teeth I will
take my medication."
3. Setting realistic start and stop times for each action: A
project with a defined end is much less daunting than one that
seems endless. An effective strategy is to chunk down tasks
into 15 minutes or 30 minute segments. Teach clients to set a
timer so that when the time is up, they can give themselves
permission to quit.
4. Identifying blocks and resistances before the beginning of
a project as well as each step of the way. With this approach,
obstacles can be defused before they sabotage the job. Also
clients become familiar with their resistance patterns and can
develop strategies for avoiding them in the future.
5. Establishing markers to identify the completion of each
step of a project: For example: "When I'm finished labeling
my file folders, I'm done with the second step of reorganizing
my off ice."
6. Setting up rewards: "If I declutter my office on Saturday,I
can treat myself to dinner at my favourite restaurant or buy
myself the computer game I've been dreaming about."
Although there is no one "right" way to coach clients with ADD, coaching that carefully examines how structure, support,
skills and strategies can benefit each unique client will help immeasurably in creating a relationship between coach and client
that fosters growth, learning, and change over time.
Sue Coleman is a Certified Professional & Personal Coach and graduate of the COACHES Training Institute in San Francisco.
She specializes in coaching adults with ADD and resides north of San Francisco in Larkspur, CA.
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