Dr Sujaya Banerjee

Dr Sujaya Banerjee is the Chief Talent Officer - Essar Group, Founder of L&OD Roundtable and Women Leadership Forum of Asia (wlfa.in).

The Power of Appreciative Coaching

Dr Sujaya Banerjee



Appreciative Coaching is based on the principles of Appreciative Inquiry – a revolutionary process of managing change by focusing on and leveraging the organisation’s core strengths, rather than seeking to overcome or minimise weaknesses. Rooted in Positive Psychology, this approach focuses coaching on a positive present and possible future, not on problems of the past and the present.

Appreciative Inquiry is a philosophy, a revolutionary force, a transformational process, and a new world view. It is a positive, strength-based approach to change, learning and development, and seems most ideally suited to coaching by applying the principles of Change Management for an organisation. The same principles and the 4-D cycle approach to manage change can be applied to manage change among individuals as well. Let us explore how this can be done in the rest of the article.

The five core principles of Appreciative Inquiry detailed below explore each in the context of the approach and philosophy with which coaching must be practiced. The power of the Appreciative Inquiry Approach to coaching is that each of the five core principles and emergent principles summarise the tenets on which a strong coaching practice must be built. We presume when we entrust the coaches with the job that they already believe of coaching. We articulate a new insight that what the coach believes will manifest through the coaching. That coaching is not merely the act of helping individuals remove problems but also enabling them to discover new reservoirs of strength and positive energy. Here are the five core principles of Appreciative Inquiry that lend themselves to Appreciative Coaching:

  1. 1.) The Constructionist Principle: ‘Words create world’: Reality is constructed through language and coaches must be sensitive about how they define realities for their coachees.
  2. 2.) The Poetic Principle: ‘Whatever we focus on grows’: If we focus on success, we create more success. If we focus on problems, we create more problems. A coach’s job is to primarily enable successes to grow.
  3. 3.) The Simultaneity Principle: ‘Change begins the moment we ask questions’: Inquiry is intervention – all questions are leading questions. Therefore, coaches must be careful about the nature of questions being asked, because in that, they set into motion the direction of change.
  4. 4.) The Anticipatory Principle: ’Image inspires action’. Human systems move towards images of the future. Positive images create positive futures. Therefore, it is the coach’s job to not lose any opportunity to create a positive change imaginary of the future for the coachee.
  5. 5.) The Positive Principle: ‘The Positive Core’: consists of strengths, achievements and this must be leveraged through the coaching Process. Building strengths is more effective than correcting weaknesses.

Here are the five principles of Appreciative Inquiry and how they apply to Appreciative Coaching:

  1. 1.) The Wholeness Principle: Wholeness brings out the best’: We are part of a bigger whole of an interconnected web of relationships. It is the job of the coach to bring this alive to the coachee through the coaching process.
  2. 2.) The Enactment Principle: ‘We must be the change we want to see’: coachees must be encouraged to experiment with new behaviours that help them align with what they want and build from there.
  3. 3.) The Free Choice Principles: ‘Free choice liberates power’: Free choice stimulates excellence and positive change. Therefore, coaches must be allowed the freedom to choose which will result in greater commitment to perform.
  4. 4.) The Awareness Principle:Social and self awareness can greatly enhance performance and excellence’. Understanding and integrating the Appreciative Inquiry Principles can help coachees achieve their potential.
  5. 5.) The Narrative Principle:Stories are transformative’: We construct stories about our lives and have the power to change them to help us bring more of what we want.

Based on the philosophies of the Five Core Principles and Five Emergent Principles, are the Five Core Generic processes of Appreciative Inquiry that lend themselves as much to individual transformation as they do to organisation change.

Appreciative Coaching would as much involve the following five processes:

  1. 1.) Choosing the positives in the coachee as the focus of the inquiry.
  2. 2.) Inquire into stories of life giving forces — the high point experiences of the coachee and times when the coachee has done their best.
  3. 3.) Locate themes in the story and select topics for further inquiry.
  4. 4.) Create shared imagery for a preferred future.
  5. 5.) Work with the coachee to find innovative ways to create that future.

The 4D cycle of Appreciative Inquiry for driving change applies to the four stages or 4-Step Approach for conducting Appreciative Coaching.

  1. 1.) Discovery: This phase will involve investing time in understanding and exploring the best of what has been, by asking the right questions. The Constructionist Principle, Poetic Principle and Positive Principles will apply greatly in this stage of exploration.
  2. 2.) Dream: This stage involves creating a result-oriented vision for the coachee – in relation to the discovered potential and corresponding to a higher purpose, i.e. – ‘What is the world calling us to become?’
  3. 3.) Design: This stage comprises creating possibility propositions of an ideal organisation, articulating a plan together with the coachee — magnifying the positive core to realise the newly expressed dream.
  4. 4.) Destiny: This is the most powerful stage and enables the coachee to keep momentum with the change that is self-initiated. The job of the coach is to strengthen the affirmative capability of the coachee and sustain momentum for ongoing positive change and high performance.

What is at the centre of Appreciative Coaching is an affirmative topic of Choice that appeals to the coachee and is an area of interest from a personal Transformation Perspective.

4D Cycle


Appreciative Coaching using the principles, process, and approach of Appreciative Inquiry is a powerful process for leadership, personal development and an ideal process for enabling people to become more aware of their own strengths and abilities in a manner that can increase their effectiveness in different parts of their lives. The essence of Appreciative Coaching is that human beings are heliotropic – which means they will naturally move towards the generative and creative images that reside in their most positive core — values, vision, achievements and best practices. The following assumptions about individuals and change are inherent in Appreciative Inquiry and therefore, AI based coaching makes the process powerful:

  • – In every society, group or individuals, something works!
  • – What people focus on tends to become their reality.
  • – The act of asking questions of an organisation, group or individual influences them in the same way.
  • – People are more comfortable in their journeys into the future when they carry forward part of their pasts, especially pleasant parts where they have been happy and successful.
  • – It’s important to value differences.
  • – The language and words people use define their reality.

Leaders/Managers are usually trained to approach an organisation as a problem to be solved. Therefore, problem solutions and solution generation is the focus for most leaders. When the focus is on problems, individuals within the organisation have difficulty focusing on possibilities beyond these problems. And generating excitement and passion among the people involved in driving change or executing solutions is unthinkable!

An AI approach enables leaders to stop seeing organisations as ‘problems to be found’. The same, when applied to coaching, enables coachees to recreate themselves and use language through the inquiry process that facilitates positive transformation. Fundamental to using AI for coaching is the assumption that in every individual something works, and what people focus on becomes their reality.

What is most unique to using AI for coaching is the use of appreciative language and appreciative questions that enable the coachee to move into a frame of positivity and excitement, and bring about personal transformation. Here is how Appreciative Inquiry questions contrast with traditional problem solving questions that one may use in a coaching session.

Coaching for performance and coaching high potential employees and future leaders is a significant need within organisations. Coaching is easily the most wanted leadership competence for the Gen Y, and a talent hook within organisations where leaders have developed the art of coaching for knowledge transfer and preferred leadership behaviours.

Unfortunately, coaching gets mistaken for providing directions or offering suggestions to the coachee. True coaching requires more asking than telling, and more listening than speaking. It is the process of letting people discover their own answers.

  • – Uncovering — What does the person value? What does the person believe? What are his mental models that drive his behaviours? What does he enjoy doing? What does he find most meaningful?
  • – Recovering — What has he already learned? What skill behaviours has he been successful in using in other situations?
  • – Discovering — What can the person explore/understand about the implications of certain choices. What can be learned about perspectives and expectation of others?

Coaching can uncover what the person already knows about the situation. It can encourage expression of deep needs and feelings. It can help reveal the real drivers for transformation. It can also  infuse actions with meaning and bring more joy and fulfilment to the process of learning and change.

Leaders interested in using the Appreciative Inquiry Approach to coaching must follow the 4D Cycle for driving change for individuals, and follow a 4-Step Coaching process to inquire about what is happening to help the coachee envision what is possible. Identify goals and construct a plan to achieve certain laid down objectives, and follow through to ensure that the plan is implemented.

People generally have stories to tell. They are hungry for other people to listen. The inquiry form of coaching can help draw out these stories and affirm what people are already doing. What sets Appreciative Coaching apart is its fundamental core and the Emergent Principles, particularly in its use of Appreciative language. Like other strength based coaching orientations, Appreciative Coaching appears to some as naïve and too idealistic as it does not focus on problems or negative stories to drive the purpose for transformation. The social constructivist framework enables coachees in thinking about their world as they would like it to be, and explore the positive to contribute to their development.

The Pygmalion principle of rising to the expectations and beliefs of the coach, combined with the Anticipatory Principles of manifesting the vision for a more positive self, prevail to drive personal transformation and performance excellence. There are several accounts of how the AI approach to coaching has cultivated peak performance and leadership in work places; and how Appreciative Inquiry organisational practices have been used to create strategic competitive advantages.


  • – ‘Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change’ by Orem, Binkert and Clancy
  • – Appreciative Inquiry – A Positive Revolution in Change by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney
  • – AI in a nutshell: Innovation Partners International


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