Coach Development – Are we getting it all wrong?

Introduction – Pauline Willis

Over the past year and a half, various ideas for special issues and topics for O&P have been rippling through the community of people who have expressed interest in engaging as guest editors and authors. There are many ponderings and explorations in process. Is the focus going to be curated writing from an organisation or academic institution, or on a topic with invitations to contribute cast far and wide? Both options are welcomed and interestingly, the idea of being able to create an opportunity to write about the work and learning from a specific group, network, organisation, or academic institution has been gathering the most traction. This kind of writing is more than a collection of ideas on a topic. It is the deep exploration of a topic and using the process of writing as the vehicle of learning. This is the first special issue of the O&P since the transition. It is the first to ‘mature’ and reach readiness to share, and it is delightful that the topic itself is a focus on the development of professional maturity for those whose professional identity in developing organisations and people is ‘The Coach’.

On editorial processes and quality assurance

For those of you who are still mulling, experimenting, and exploring ideas for writing projects that might find their home here where a welcoming community of researchers and practitioners eagerly await your contributions, there is no rush. No set deadline unless you choose to impose one on yourselves for whatever reason makes sense to you. There is time, to engage, reflect and create. When you are ready, we will schedule the practicalities of publishing the work.

In producing this journal, the aim is to provide space for writing in a way that is aligned with the ‘Sprit of AMED’, to enable both the original AMED community to continue to engage with each other and write. As well as welcoming those who value the opportunity to share research and practice for the benefit of a global community of networks and professions who focus on developing organisations and people. The AMED writers group continues to meet in London and all are welcome.

If you have not yet had a conversation about becoming a guest editor and co-leading the creation of a special issue focused on your organisation or a topic that may be of interest to the wider community, then please do get in touch to get the process started.

Quality is assured in this journal through a process of critical friendship as a form of collaborative peer review led and performed by the editorial team which consists of our curators, guest editors and when a fully collaborative process is applied, the authors as well. It was through a fully collaborative process that this special issue has been created.

On Seeking Wisdom

In exploring the topic and potential for this special issue with our Guest Editor Bob Garvey, I could not help but be reminded of the motto for my own alma mater, the University of Western Australia based in Perth, The City of Light which is the most isolated city on the planet.

‘Seeking wisdom is all about exploring, in the classrooms and beyond the books. Embracing the challenges we all face, together. Wisdom is hope. Wisdom is our shared journey.’

In taking time to pause and reflect on developing professional identity, it is perhaps a salutary reminder that wisdom is not a destination, but a journey that we take together. The acquisition of knowledge, skills, and abilities (competencies) are useful tools that assist us along the way, if held sufficiently lightly and applied with due consideration for the development of professional expertise they are valuable. It is not the frameworks that are the problem. It is how they are used.

Coaching and mentoring competencies and standards

A research project was conducted over several years in the early 2000’s in broad consultation with the organisations most closely involved with coaching and mentoring at the time. I have a close affinity with this early research of which I was the director when I served on the founding Executive Board of the EMCC. The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), was not originally created as an accrediting body which is what is has become within a broad landscape of accrediting and certifying bodies, but as a ‘council’ of organisations committed to coach and mentor development and learning in all of the forms that these identities were emerging and evolving in all walks of life and work.

The research was conducted to get a sense of the breadth and depth of the field of coaching and mentoring. And, to reveal both the ‘core’ competencies common to all types of professional practice being framed as coaching and mentoring as well as the specialised areas that people were integrating within coaching and mentoring services. It was useful research, in the sense that it highlighted the competences that underpinned coaching and mentoring practice at the time. The research report was made available to anyone who wished to gain access to inform their own coaching and mentoring development or the creation of training and accreditation programmes. The research was foundational to the accreditation standards subsequently set by
the EMCC.

National Occupational Standards (NOS) were also created by ENTO for Coaching and Mentoring in the UK using the EMCC’s research as a key input. ENTO brought together key stakeholders from across the coaching and mentoring community to develop these NOS including myself and representatives from a range of professional bodies involved in coaching and mentoring as well as training organisations.  Subsequent work was done within the British Psychological Society (BPS) to compare Coaching NOS with the NOS for Psychology with which I also assisted. The BPS NOS project team found that there was substantial overlap between the two sets of standards. A set of subject benchmarks was also created by Professor David Lane to make explicit the competencies that underpin what is now identified as coaching psychology. This work was led and overseen by the Professional Practice and Research Subcommittee of the BPS’s Special Group in Coaching Psychology which I co-chaired with clinical psychologist Clare Huffington. The standards based on these subject benchmarks now form the basis of chartership within the British Psychological Society’s Division of Coaching Psychology for which a postgraduate professional practice route is available for those wishing to become coaching psychologists. It was with some intrigue and delight to have engaged with the assessment process for these standards myself as although I was one of the founders of the coaching psychology profession, we all had to undertake a formal assessment as part of grandparenting to attain the title of Chartered Coaching Psychologist. I found the process to be centered on appreciation, dialogue and mutual respect for the different experiences and research inputs that have informed the diverse and integrative practice of coaching psychology as it is conceptualized in the UK.

In 2008 a working group project was conducted as part of the Global Convention on Coaching (GCC) to ‘map the field’ of coaching, which I also led. This was conducted with the ethos of appreciation and service to the wider coaching community. Having a map is essential if you are navigating your way through the opportunities to bring coaching into your work or life. Both the seminal research on coaching and mentoring competencies from the EMCC and the ‘map of the field’ from the GCC are available on request.

Unlocking potential and forging new futures

As an organisational and coaching psychologist, what was always exciting for me about competencies and standards in the work context, was the potential to make transparent the knowledge, skills abilities and capabilities for all work roles. In doing this, we can respond to the challenges of the ‘future of work’ in better ways. Instead of having to relearn old material, or attain a new qualification each time the world changes and a role transfer or change is required, recognition for prior learning can be awarded to people who have already attained the KSA’s needed. There can also then be clear language and processes for identifying new skills needed as roles evolve. Processes such as peer consultation and supervision to support effective integration of new skills into a coherent professional practice also gains importance. As does the need to embed both informal and formal assessment into these developmental processes.

This is a vision that is very far away from that of using standards and competency frameworks to ‘capture, constrain and control’ services, markets or professions. Being reflexive, and adaptable ‘agile’ in it’s true meaning, is key to ensuring that our workforces keep up with the rapidly changing world of work. With the opportunities and challenges brought by developments such as Artificial Intelligence, which is changing both the nature of work and the way we engage with technology, taking a different approach to coach development might be key not just to the future of coaching, but to the way we all work and live.

The becoming of this special edition – Bob Garvey

This special edition is the result of many interactions with different people over several years.  Most, but not all of these interactions have been online.  It started sometime before 2011 when David Clutterbuck and David Megginson published a piece called ‘Coach maturity: An emergent concept’.   Here they speculate about the ways in which coaches may develop from a novice to a mature coach over time. Six years later in 2017, Dave Clutterbuck and I found ourselves together at the same conference in America and we discussed the idea of researching this concept of coach maturity. We got together some interested researchers and practitioners and started work.  Then COVID struck!  Undaunted, our work went exclusively online.  The research title shifted from ‘Coach Maturity’ to on ‘Becoming a Coach’ to reflect the idea derived from our research that maturity is not a destination but a continuous process – our coaches in our study appeared to be always in a state of becoming but never arriving! Our first paper, ‘On becoming a coach: Narratives of learning and development’ Rajasinghe, Garvey, Smith, Burt, Barosa-Pereira, Clutterbuck and Csigas was published in ‘The Coaching Psychologist’ in 2022. 

David Clutterbuck and I talked about the implications of our research for coach education with Kirsten Dierolf and the first paper in this special edition ‘Supposing everything we knew about coach education was wrong’ was born. Here we offer a critique of ‘standard’ coach education and offer a way forward for an alternative.

Stephen Burt et al., led the piece called ‘What do coaches do that enables them to develop?’. This is a practitioner-oriented article based on our original research.  It explores three questions:

  1. Why do coaches invest in professional development? 
  2. What activities and practices enable coaches to grow?
  3. What are the implications for coach development?

The piece aims to use the complex and varied narratives of the ways in which our research participants described their experience of growth, learning, and development as coaches to offer a rich resource for other coaches and coach educators.

During the period of research, I was supporting Andy Pendle with his PhD research ‘A narrative inquiry into the construction, composition and performance of coaching identities’. In the thesis Andy writes:

“…the performance of a mature, developed and honed coaching identity based on the autobiographical journey of the coach and the resulting narratives of self, has a more profound impact than the interventions, approaches and frameworks that a coach might study and utilise. The implications for signposting people into the industry are that ethically it should be clear that aspiring coaches should commit to substantive journey of personal development and reflexive practice. Not to be transparent in this respect creates the potential for novice coaches to pour substantial money and time into an enterprise likely to fail. In terms of the content of coach training there is potential for a shift of emphasis towards greater focus on identity working and pluralistic practice.”

Andy Pendle

Andy’s contribution to this edition, ‘On becoming a pluralistic coach’ is based on his research.  He offers a biographical account of how his PhD research also became about the becoming of himself as a pluralistic coach.

Following the publication in the ‘Coaching Psychologist’, as a group, we started speaking at events and putting our work ‘out there’.  It was at one of these events in Bristol that I presented our work to the ‘Critical Coaching Group’. Interest was sparked among this group.  Under the guidance of Daniel Doherty, a free writing group was established, and it started experimenting with the idea of writing about becoming a coach. Six members of this group worked together. They peer reviewed each other’s work, and the results are here to see; to read, saviour and contemplate.

In Jo Cheesman piece, ‘Emergence’, she recalls her ‘intoxicating’ experience of being coached for the first time. Her story, as she puts it “has involved as much unbecoming as it has, becoming; as much learning to ‘be’, as ‘coming to be’.” This idea of ‘unbecoming’ is something we also found in our research.  It seems to be about ‘letting go’ or ‘holding lightly’ skills and techniques in coaching. Jo invites coaches to be vulnerable.

Daniel Doherty contributed ‘Smudges’. It is a piece of smudges – obviously!  Little bits and pieces about the identity of the person who accidentally coaches. “Stop staring out of the window and concentrate on the task in hand” scolded the teacher. Daniel’s becoming is ‘re-attiring’, it is struck by those life events which we experience as we age.  We have no choice. Life happens! In the Stephen Burt, Duminda Rajasinghe and Alexandra Barosa-Pereira’s contribution, we learn about the influence of life events on a coach’s development.  They indeed create a legacy or leave one for sure Daniel.

Leslie Goldenberg on ‘Becoming a Coach’ comes next. Leslie starts with a recurring dream with her standing on the edge of a cliff. Leslie, also influenced by a major life event with the death of her friend and colleague suggests that “you can see more from the edge than the centre” and our life force urges us to keep on becoming.  For Leslie her becoming has been shaped by her challenging family setting learning to “maintain equanimity amidst chaos”. She ends with more dreams, new dreams or is she going over the edge of the cliff?

Martin Vogel in his piece ‘Contemplations of becoming a mature coach’, starts with a set of questions and responses from William Blake – “What is the price of experience?”  “Maturity suggests arrival, the possession of wisdom”, writes Martin.  Whereas “Becoming suggest transition…”  But, he speculates, a transition to what? Having spent many years becoming and never arriving as a coach, he now notices that something has changed. The impact of Covid appears for the first time in these accounts.  A major life event for all. A time for reflection and questioning for many.  For Martin his reflections led him to the idea that ‘mastery’ becomes a “self-deluding babble”. Was this thought Martin’s completion of becoming and the “beginning of a new unbecoming.”?

Olwen Mary Hughes, ‘Becoming by and Bye’ is up next with a web of “chance intersections.” Mary sows a seed and waits for thoughts to swell the seed and make it grow.  A kaleidoscope, a spiral of thoughts rooted in taut tensions, survival, the ying and the yang of life and becoming what? A human perhaps? It’s your choice…

Kay Robinson’s ‘Early Light’ is a matter of life and death; a matter of survival and struggles.  Yet, through it all there is light, an early light that shines through the pain, the challenges, the questions and the broken pieces, something emerges.  Something good.  “Storms always pass!”

It is uncanny how these pieces of free writing resonate so strongly with the original research. The central idea of this special issue is about learning to become and it is clear that this happens through experiencing whatever is thrown at us and then reflecting on the experience and acting upon it, or not! We have choice and agency. This brings into question the way in which we conceive and practice developmental activity.  Carl Rogers was clear about his approach:

“No approach which relies upon knowledge or training, upon the acceptance of something that is taught, is of any use.  These approaches seem so tempting and direct that I have, in the past, tried a great many of them. It is possible to explain a person to himself, to prescribe steps which should lead him forward, to train him in knowledge about a more satisfying mode of life. But such methods are, in my experience, futile and inconsequential. The most they can accomplish is some temporary change, which soon disappears, leaving the individual more than ever convinced of his inadequacy. The failure of any such approach through the intellect has forced me to recognize that change appears to come about through experience in a relationship.”

Rogers, 1954, p. 2

Could he be talking about coaching I wonder? What is your approach and how might it shift in the light of this special issue?


Clutterbuck, D. and Megginson, D., 2011. Coach maturity: An emerging concept. The handbook of knowledge-based coaching: From theory to practice, pp.299-313

Rajasinghe, D., Garvey, B., Smith, WA., Burt, S., Barosa-Pereira, A., & Clutterbuck, D. & Csigas, Z. (2022)  On Becoming a Coach: Narratives of Learning and Development, The Coaching Psychologist 18(2)

Rogers, C. R. (2015) Becoming a Person, Two Lectures delivered on the Nellie Heldt Lecture Fund, (1954) Martino Publishing, CT 06250 USA

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