A while back, I was running a coaching business mentoring group when one of the participants asked the group:
“I know this group is all about business but I’m curious how other coaches continue to develop as a coach after qualifying.”
What a great question!
It’s all too easy for a coach to focus on client acquisition and building their brand after qualifying, often to the detriment of their capacity, capability and maturity as a coach.
As a group, we stopped to consider this question and I asked how they continue their journey of growth and learning as coaches. Unsurprisingly, as the founder of a coaching training school and a coaching supervision school, I wasn’t shy in suggesting that supervision should probably be a vital part of a coach’s ongoing growth.
But it was fascinating to hear the range of methods coaches used from the books they read to how they learned from each other and to the next course they were going to take.
Now, never one to turn down a golden opportunity to invent a memorable acronym, I put together PROSPER to capture the key areas they shared.
PROSPER – A Continuing Professional Development Model for Coaches
In this article them, I will share the 7 areas of focus you might explore when thinking about and planning your ongoing development as a coach.
I think it’s vital to remember that qualification as a coach is really and truly just the first hurdle. Coaching is not a binary pass/fail concept; it’s a journey of evolution over time and it’s critical that as a coach we are looking at how we develop.
So let’s dive in to PROSPER.
P – Practice
R – Reading
O – Openness to Opportunity
S – Supervision
P – Peer Support, Associations and Community
E – Education and Training
R – Reflective Practice
The first step is simply to continue practising your coaching.
This might seem obvious but many coaches find that, after qualifying, the amount of coaching they do reduces drastically.
The immediate driver of qualification is behind them, and they start to focus on the business side of being a coach: website, social media, brand development, blogging, and so much more.
Coaching is parked whilst the business is put in place.
But businesses take time to develop and if all your energy gets directed there, and you stop coaching as a result, then development and growth stops too. Indeed, it is very easy for your confidence as a coach to drop once you stop coaching.
So a vital step to continue growing as a coach is to keep on coaching.
Find ways to coach even if the client isn’t your ideal coaching client or the fee isn’t quite right.
I recall a member of my mentoring group sharing that she had someone who wanted to be coached by her but he wasn’t really a good fit for her niche and she wondered if she should say “yes” to coaching him. I believe it is critical to keep coaching for your confidence and skill development and this trumps other considerations.
Are you continuing to practise your coaching?
When I first trained as a coach in the early part of the 2000s, the coaching literature was pretty sparse.
It mainly comprised a few, now-classic, works such as Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance and Kimsey-House et al’s Coactive Coaching. The coaching field had yet to fully appreciate the contribution of psychology, psychotherapy and other helping professions – indeed, there was almost a deliberate response to eschew such approaches.
Thankfully, all that has changed.
Coaching psychology is well-established with an ever-growing range of books covering every conceivable concept. Related to this, the profession now appreciates and draws extensively from the whole range of talking professions.
This has made the list of books available to coaches almost endless and it might even feel overwhelming! But it’s also a rich source of new ideas, skills, and frameworks.
Books can challenge us, teach us, inspire us and make us question what we do. They can connect dots, introduce new dots and even show that dots are actually dashes!
Books have the capacity to transform our practice.
What areas of coaching do you think would be useful to read about?
Openness to Opportunities
A common theme in coaching is the discussion of niche.
“What’s your niche?” is a question that echoes around coaching schools the world over.
And, at one level, it’s a sensible question. Coaches have to consider how they find a place in the coaching world.
But it’s also potentially limiting. It can lead coaches to work with the same kind of clients on the same kind of issues in the same kinds of contexts in the same kind of ways.
We’ve found that coaches can experience huge developmental growth by embracing opportunities to work in settings that demand new ways of working or new styles of relationship.
One way to achieve that can be volunteering in coaching projects.
Many of the coaches who qualify with us have worked on a range of projects including Macmillan Cancer Trust, Age UK, Spark Inside, Yes! Futures, Coach for Carers, More Happi and The Wilderness Trust.
We’ve heard so many inspirational stories from coaches who have volunteered for these projects. As well as the positive emotional outcome for themselves and their clients, they are expanding their skills, experience and scope.
How might you expand your scope through new opportunities? Where might you volunteer?
Supervision as a practice is often misunderstood.
The word itself, as I wrote about in another article, doesn’t do justice to what actually takes place.
Supervision suggests a managerial, authoritative stance in which the coach must submit themselves to scrutiny. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Erik de Haan describes supervision as reflection-in-relation and this perfectly captures the essence of it.
Quite simply, supervision is the space to step back from one’s practice and notice what’s going on through conversation with a fellow practitioner.
If coaching schools are the gateway to the profession, then supervision sessions are the stopping off points to check your journey. Supervision is the formal ongoing professional nurturing of your practice and yourself as a practitioner.
Unfortunately, supervision within the coaching profession is still only sporadically accessed and only poorly understood. Certainly many coaching schools now provide supervision as part of their course but, once qualified, many coaches forget the vital importance of this ongoing inquiry and reflection with a more experienced coach.
I believe that receiving supervision is a vital part of a coach’s ongoing development and I’d encourage every coach who reads this to try out supervision. You have little to lose and everything to gain.
Do you have a supervisor? How might you try it?
Peer Support, Associations and Community
Coaching can sometimes be a lonely profession.
You coach your clients within confidentiality agreements, frequently by phone or a virtual platform, and you often spend time growing your practice through writing, social media, and other often solitary methods.
You might see a supervisor to discuss your work and how you’re feeling about it but perhaps only once a month.
You can often feel alone.
That’s why building peer networks, joining associations and becoming an active part of a coaching community can be vital.
We’ve found that coaches feel more supported and confident when they have other coaches to bounce ideas off, share challenges with, get inspired by and generally feel understood.
From small WhatsApp groups to large LinkedIn and Facebook groups, coaches can create and join spaces that enable them to learn from each other’s practices. This can provide a constant source of energy and motivation, a springboard for new ideas, and a sense of belonging.
Similarly, the established professional bodies can provide an excellent space for connecting to the other coaches whether through their events, webinars, networking, training or online forums. Associations such as Association for Coaching, EMCC and International Coach Federation offer spaces to connect, decompress, learn and share.
What groups and networks do you belong to that support you coaching?
Education and Training
Education and additional training tend to be the go-to approach for further development after qualifying.
Coaching CPDs, advanced courses and academic studies abound.
There’s no doubt that further training can be an excellent way to develop as a coach. New skills can enhance your work with clients and re-energise your own sense of self as a coach.
However, I have to say that over my years of providing supervision, I’ve noticed the tendency for such extra training to be a search for “the missing piece”.
There can often be a sense of “when I do this next course, I’ll be ready to start coaching for real!”
The risk is that the focus is always on acquiring new skills rather than honing and developing existing skills.
New skills are unquestionably valuable but they need to complement developmental approaches that enable growing confidence in, and mastery of, existing coaching skills.
To my mind, it was a very positive step when the International Coaching Federation recognised supervision as CPD alongside the skills development of accredited training.
My concerns aside, however, it’s clear that training is a vital part of a coach’s further development and this is recognised by all the professional bodies which require ongoing CPD for renewal of their coaching credentials.
What new skills do you think would serve your clients or help you take the next step in your coaching journey?
The final piece is one that is so often overlooked and yet so powerful.
Malcolm Gladwell introduced the now well-known concept that to master any skill takes 10,000 hours of practice. However, there’s a difference between 10,000 hours of deliberate, reflective practice and the same one hour done 10,000 times!
There’s a natural assumption that the more you do something the better you get. And there might be an element of truth to this. Certainly the skill becomes more easy to access, more repeatable, more unconscious.
But does it get better?
You only have to look at how car drivers become complacent with time as they pay less attention to the safer way to drive and develop increasingly poor habits. Indeed, driving is one of the most common skills in society and most people acquire thousands of hours of practice. Yet does that make them great drivers?
It is the act of reflecting on practice that enables a skill to be consciously and meaningfully improved.
In supervision, we often talk about helping coaches develop their Internal Supervisor. They begin to ask the same questions that a supervisor might. This is enhanced further when those internal questions get externalised through, for example, a coaching journal.
The coach grows when they take time after each client to think about what happened, what they might do differently, what they need to learn, how they were feeling, why they were feeling that way, and much more.
Reflective practice is the art of taking the time to be deliberate in what you are learning about yourself and your profession.
It’s so easy to ignore this and to think “I’ll get round to it at some point”. But start now and you will soon make this a habit that strengthens your coaching and makes every hour count!
What reflective practice are you doing or how might you start?
Together, I think these seven areas represent key opportunities for you as a coach to develop your skills, grow your confidence, expand your experience and enhance your understanding.
Some of these areas cost nothing but time and can be done daily.
Others cost more and only take place occasionally but introduce the wisdom and skills of another coach who can help bring new light to areas of your practice that you might otherwise not see.
Some focus on developing current skills, whilst others focus on new skills and new knowledge.
Some are introspective, others are intraspective.
All are valuable and all will support you to grow as a coach.
I would encourage you to look across all seven and ask yourself whether you are meeting each in some way. If not, what might you do differently?
Do you want to identify a knowledge gap that a book might help address? Will you seek out a coaching circle to practise and reflect? Do you want to find a coaching supervisor? Will you begin contributing to a LinkedIn group and build a network of coaches to share ideas? Will you start a journal?
No matter what you have or haven’t done so far, the new element of your development and growth as a coach can start right now.
Oh, and to misquote Mr. Spock, “Coach Long and Prosper”.