Understanding Coaching Maturity

See also: Coaching at Home

Our pages What is Coaching? and Coaching Skills discuss some of the ideas around the concept of the ‘coach as facilitator’ model of coaching. They set out some of the skills required to coach using this model.

However, coaching is not a static concept. Coaches focus on helping those they coach to develop their skills. However, they too are developing their coaching skills all the time.

The emerging concept of coaching maturity, developed by David Clutterbuck and David Megginson, offers a useful model and concept to support coach development and improving coaching quality. It shows coaches how they can develop their skills and approaches towards a more client-centred way of working, and learn to let go of the coaching process to put the client in control.

This page outlines that model, and the concept of coach maturity.

Emerging Ideas About Coaching Quality

Clutterbuck and Megginson’s concept of coaching maturity arose from discussions about how to define coaching quality. They observed that quality coaching provided and showed:

  • Delivery of both desired and positive but unplanned consequences (in almost all cases, this was more than the original defined goal, which might even have turned out to be the wrong objective);

  • Strong and deep rapport between client and coach;

  • Positive energy in the relationship and interaction between client and coach (they noted that a poor coach often seemed to ‘suck the energy out of the room’); and

  • What they called “a systemic approach to the coaching dynamic”, meaning that the coach understood how the client and the relationship fitted into the wider organisation and system.

They also noted that there were many factors that had no relationship with quality, including qualifications, accreditation, client satisfaction, or fees. On the face of it, this seems counter-intuitive. However, qualifications and accreditation tend to be minimum standards, rather than very ambitious. Clients may also be satisfied with a coach who listens and sympathises, and be less happy with someone who challenges their view of the world.

Clutterbuck and Megginson concluded that assessment of coaching quality needed a new framework that would reflect the way that coaches’ thinking changed and developed as they became more experienced, and their skills improved.

Introducing Coaching Maturity

Clutterbuck and Megginson therefore developed a four-level model of coaching maturity based on observations at coaching assessment centres:

  • The most basic level is models-based coaching. At this level, practitioners tend to focus on a single clear model, and use it in all coaching conversations. The focus is very much on the intervention, not the coaching relationship. This approach tends to be used by new coaches, who may lack confidence in their own ability. It seeks to control the conversation, and steer it where the coach wants it to go.

  • The second level is process-based. This is more flexible, but still structured around a fairly limited range of tools and techniques. The main focus is to contain the conversation within boundaries, but recognising that the client should be given control of the process.

  • The third level is philosophy-or discipline-based. This approach goes wider still, basing interventions within a defined structure of a broad philosophy, rather than a simple toolkit. The best coaches at this level operate in a more relationship-based way, reflecting on their practice and helping their client to develop. This approach tends towards facilitation.

  • The final level is called ‘systemic eclectic’. This focuses on enabling the client. Coaches at this level have a wide range of tools and techniques at their disposal, and they understand how these tools fit into their broader philosophy. They also integrate them seamlessly into the discussion as and when necessary. The focus is completely on the client’s needs, and how best to meet those.

Coaching approach Style Critical questions
Models-based Control How do I take them where I think they need to go?
How do I adapt my technique or model to this circumstance?
Process-based Contain How do I give enough control to the client and still retain a purposeful conversation?
What’s the best way to apply my process in this instance?
Philosophy-based Facilitate What can I do to help the client do this for themselves?
How do I contextualise the client’s issue within the perspective of my philosophy or discipline?
Systemic eclectic Enable Are we both relaxed enough to allow the issue and the solution to emerge in whatever way they will?
Do I need to apply any techniques or processes at all? If I do, what does the client context tell me about how to select from the wide choice available to me?

Source: Clutterbuck, D. and Megginson, D. (2011). Coach maturity: an emerging concept. In L. Wildflower and D. Brennan (Eds.), The Handbook of Knowledge-Based Coaching: From theory to practice. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

What’s the point?

The point of the coaching maturity model is not necessarily to grow and develop until you reach the ‘systemic eclectic’ and then stop there.

Instead, the idea is to be able to operate at the most appropriate level for your client and for you as a coach. Your level must match your client’s needs—and their own level of maturity in the coaching process.

The model may therefore help coaches and organisations to match coaches to clients, and also to define what is required more clearly. The best coaches will also move up and down the levels of the model as necessary.

Developing Coaching Maturity

It is therefore possible to define and recognise when a coach is showing higher levels of coaching maturity. However, what can coaches do to develop their skills and become more mature?

Clutterbuck and Megginson noted that there were several areas where more mature coaches had put in a lot of work. These included:

  • Developing their personal philosophy of coaching, and particularly reflecting on and developing their thinking about the nature of their relationship with their clients, and how best they can help.

  • Developing a much stronger understanding of the context. This means that they are informed about their clients’ world and the constraints on them and their behaviour. This is not moving towards the ‘coach as expert’, but ensuring that the coach understands what is possible for the client and their organisation. This is especially important in sports coaching, where the coach may need to understand what is both safe and viable.

  • Moving away from the idea that the coach needed to talk or ask questions. More mature coaches tend to speak as little as possible, giving their client maximum time for reflection.

  • How they use coach supervision and mentoring. Many accreditation bodies require some form of coach support or mentoring, but, for many people, this is little more than a paper exercise. More mature coaches tend to use this approach more effectively to support their own learning and reflection. In particular, they are more likely to choose a peer mentor who will challenge their thinking.

  • Managing their own professional development and integrating their learning. More mature coaches tend to use a wider variety of ways to develop, including reading, working with peers, workshops and conferences. They also engage more with research and new approaches, and experiment with integrating these into their own practice.

  • How they identify and manage boundaries. Most coaches are not trained psychotherapists. However, they do need at least an awareness of potential issues around boundaries, such as dependency and projection—and how to avoid these. More mature coaches recognise these issues when they occur, and also take steps to avoid them.

  • Their personal journey as a coach. Self-awareness is crucial to developing maturity in anything, including coaching. More mature coaches are more aware of how they are developing, and how their thinking is changing—and they put more time into reflecting on it.

  • Knowing what kind of clients and situations they work best with. It is a myth that any coach can work with any individual. Coaches need to spend time thinking about where they work best, including the level of seniority of their clients, the skills that their clients wish to develop, the tools and techniques that they have at their disposal, and the client’s personal view of the world.

Experience Does Not Equal Maturity

Crucially, it seems that more mature coaches tend to have considerable experience of coaching. It is possible to be a ‘natural’ at coaching, but developing your philosophy and approach into maturity requires time and effort. What’s more, experience does not necessarily equate to maturity.

Developing maturity requires coaches to spend time reflecting on their learning, experimenting with new approaches, and adapting their practice to fit the situation. Interestingly, and very importantly, they also need to be comfortable with the concept that they will always be learning something more about coaching and their own practice. This, in itself, requires considerable personal maturity, and a strongly developed growth mindset (and for more about this, see our page on Mindsets).

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Coaching and Mentoring

The Skills You Need Guide to Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching and mentoring require some very specific skills, particularly focused on facilitating and enabling others, and building good relationships. This eBook is designed to help you to develop those skills, and become a successful coach or mentor.

This guide is chiefly aimed at those new to coaching, and who will be coaching as part of their work. However, it also contains information and ideas that may be useful to more established coaches, especially those looking to develop their thinking further, and move towards growing maturity in their coaching.