Coach development plan – a key to continuous Professional Development

Professional coaches and mentors are in the business of people development. It might be expected, therefore, that they would be role models for self-development, both generally and as coach/mentors. The reality is somewhat different. In a number of workshops and seminars in recent years, I have asked coaches “How many of you have a Coach Development Plan – a planned approach to your development as a coach?” Only once have more than half the people in the room said that they did. It seems that many coaches, once they have achieved their basic level qualifications, tend to take a relaxed, ad hoc and opportunistic approach to their own development.

We don’t have any evidence that this is necessarily a bad thing, as long as the coach continues to invest in their professional development at a level that keeps their competences in tune with developments in the field. Professional supervision clearly plays an important role in coach development, but take up is still very patchy and the formative element of supervision tends to be reactive, based on immediate or recent issues the coach meets in their practice, rather than on a longer-term developmental vision. 

We can say that there is a potential issue of credibility – what do you say when a client asks about how youinvest in your professional development? —  “What are your reflective processes for determining where to focus your learning in the next 12 months?”

A Coach Development Plan (CDP):

  • Makes the coach more mindful of how they are growing in comparison with the world of coaching and the needs of their clients (what might have passed for “good” a few years ago, now looks increasingly average)
  • Helps maintain the humility essential to effective coaching (“I may have a lot of experience, but I’m still learning, too.”)
  • Provides a rich source of topics for reflection and to take to supervision
  • Gives focus and direction to the development of coaching skills, practice and philosophy

So, both in supervision and more generally, I have been exploring with coaches around the world what would be a pragmatic and helpful approach to creating and pursuing a Coach Development Plan.

Good practice in self-development planning involves taking time regularly (at least every six months) to reflect upon experience, to identify areas of learning need and learning interest, to set some broad learning objectives and to identify specific learning opportunities. It also involves adopting a mixture of learning styles , while recognising that you have greater preference and achieve more using some styles than others. And it involves co-opting other people into your learning network, sharing your learning aspirations with them. Writing all this down facilitates each of these steps and helps you remain mindful to your personal growth (which otherwise can so easily fall to the bottom of your priorities).

You can structure a personal development plan in many ways, but a practical framework has the following seven elements:

  • Knowledge

How you will expand your understanding in a range of important areas, including:

  • Coaching
  • Business
  • Related disciplines, such as psychology, counseling, neuroscience and so on
  • Yourself – looking inward to develop greater understanding of your motivations, thought processes, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses, personality traits and so on 

To a considerable extent, this is also about extending our resourcefulness as coaches. The more relevant bodies of knowledge we can draw upon in our coaching conversations, the easier it is to free ourselves from being driven by models and processes. The questions we need emerge naturally from the associations the conversation elicits in our knowledge bank and, while they do not necessarily completely replace process, give it a fluidity that allows the client’s thinking to take centre stage.

  • Skills

The practicalities of being an effective coach – how you listen, question, give feedback, summarise, interpret and generally support the client.

This includes your portfolio of tools and techniques and the ease, with which you combine them to facilitate the client’s thinking. Do you have enough of a toolbox to relax into the coaching conversation, with justifiable confidence that you will have an appropriate response when it is needed? What can you do to increase your level of attentiveness to the client, to what they are saying and what they are not saying?

  • Characteristics

Personal qualities that you wish to develop – for example, curiosity, empathy, presence, authenticity.

This is about being a coach rather than doing coaching – how you integrate the coaching process with your own sense of identity and growing maturity.  An important element here seems to be how we choose who we admire, because the qualities we see in those persons are likely to be prominent in those we develop within ourselves.

  • Range of practice

Who you can work with and in what circumstances; how you can extend your portfolio by taking on clients, who will stretch you and/or who come from a very different cultural background.

Alternatively, you may wish to narrow the range of your coaching clients, on the basis that you can learn more at this stage of your development as a coach by working at more depth with specific kinds of client. Or you may want to make the transition from one-to-one coach to team coach.

  • Context

How you will create a better environment for your coaching – through, for example, network development, and how you use supervision.

This also includes attention to your personal well-being as a coach. It’s very easy to put so much effort into caring for our clients that we don’t care enough for our own well-being.

  • Your business as a coach

How you will build a business that aligns with your values and provides the income you want; and how you market your services and ensure that the business is soundly managed.

This might include taking topics such as developing a marketing plan, financial management, or how to create better Powerpoint slides. It could also cover how you build and manage your reputation in your chosen markets, through, for example, articles, blogs, books and conference presentations.

  • Contribution to the profession

What you will put back into the world of coaching, through research, writing, supporting new, less experienced coaches, contributing to social network sites and so on.

This links to reputation building, but it also reflects your developing identity as a coach.

Under each of these headings, you might wish to consider:

  • Where am I now and how did I get here?
  • Where would I like to be a) in the short term and b) longer term?
  • What resources can I draw upon to help me? (Both formal and informal. Books, journals and people.)
  • What actions am I specifically going to take over the coming months?

To bring it all together, consider the questions:

  • Who is the coach I want to be in five years time (or whatever time period suits)?
  • Am I looking for depth or breadth or both? (It’s common for coaches to seek all their CPD within the context of a narrow discipline or school of thought, but that can have severe downsides in terms of impact on the client. Equally, there are coaches, who are like magpies – pursuing everything that glitters, but not integrating it, so their practice has breadth, but little depth.)
  • How can I find the right balance between just letting my growth as a coach happen and being driven by an inflexible planning process? (There has to be a place for opportunistic, unplanned learning!)
  • What else is happening in the world of coaching that I should at least raise my awareness of, with a view to incorporating it into my CDP as and when it becomes relevant?

As a coach supervisor, I find that coaches, who have undergone this kind of reflection on their own future practice and learning are often better able to contextualise and integrate what they do as a coach, with their aspirations for being a coach. They also tend to have less anxiety about their development as a coach, because they are more aware that it is happening and that they can to a reasonable extent manage the pace of their development.

© David Clutterbuck 




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