Best Practice: Taking Charge of your Professional Development

by Billy Byrne

Whether you are just starting on your coaching or mentoring journey, or you’ve been coaching for several years, on-going professional development should be part of your practice. Billy Byrne is the EMCC Accreditation Manager for Ireland and sets out the best approach for coaches and mentors as they develop personally and professionally.

“It’s a good idea to look six months to a year ahead when planning your development and to identify development areas to be addressed.”

Accreditation and professional development – development in a nutshell

I think it’s important for me to say at the outset that becoming an accredited coach is not just a badge to be earned. Because it requires your on-going commitment to your professional development and application of best practice, it gives your clients and their organisations the assurance that you work to rigorous standards, provides assurance of your competency and is evidence of your continuous professional development.

Accreditation is also a wonderful motivator for long-term professional growth. EMCC has four accreditation levels, beginning with Foundation level and progressing to Master Practitioner. In essence, this provides a roadmap for any coach who wishes to develop professionally in a structured manner that is recognised and benchmarked.

Elements of Professional Development

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is not just about attending more development programmes. While skills development is important, it is just one area of development and one that can be enhanced and leveraged through further development activities. A more holistic approach to CPD would include all of the following elements:

  1. Regular Supervision
  2. Maintaining client records
  3. Capability-building CPD
  4. Reflection on practice

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Supervision – your personal development and growth

Supervision provides a valuable opportunity for you to reflect on your practice, to learn from your experience and to further develop as a coach. It provides a supportive space for you to step back from your coaching on a regular basis and to process the experiences that you have had with your clients. Supervision allows you to explore issues such quality, standards and ethics. Your supervisor can also help you to identify development areas by reflecting on your practice. In this regard, supervision can dramatically improve the quality of your reflection and learning.

Supervision should be part of a regular scheduler and reflect the amount of coaching that you are doing. As a minimum, you should schedule an hour of supervision every quarter, but this should be increased if your coaching hours are increasing.  Preparing for, reflecting upon, and keeping good records of your supervision sessions are all important elements of supervision. A good tip is to maintain a “Supervision Notebook”, either in hardcopy or softcopy, which you can use to track your supervision topics, reflections and actions.

Maintaining client records – much more than book-keeping

While maintaining client records is important from a pure record-keeping point of view, client records also provide rich material for reflection on your practice. It is useful to regularly review your client records to reflect on the scope and variability of your coaching practice.  Working with a wide variety of clients serves to broaden your outlook and perspectives. Seeing the world through many different sets of eyes is a great learning opportunity and helps to build empathy, curiosity and listening skills. Working with clients from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, different organisational levels, different ages etc. will help you to develop your capabilities beyond what is possible if you limit yourself to a narrow range of clients.

When reflecting on your client records, here are some questions that you might ask yourself:

  1. Am I working with a wide diversity of clients?
  2. Are there any patterns emerging? For example, am I working more with certain issues or types of client?
  3. If I’m an internal coach, can I identify opportunities to work with any external clients?
  4. Do I have any opportunity to mentor?
  5. Have I any pro-bono clients in my practice? What do I find different when working with these clients?
  6. In view of the coaching issues that I work with, what areas of competence would benefit from further development?

Client records provide a really valuable source of information for you as a coach. Using client identifiers instead of names is also good practice – a very simple coding system is to use the date that you began coaching with the client along with client initials – for example 20180709AB indicates a client you began coaching on July 9th, 2018 and whose initials are AB.

Building skills and competence though CPD

Adding to your skill-set is a valuable part of your professional development. If you’ve completed a formal coaching programme then you will already have a good “took-kit” that allows you to work effectively as a coach. Invariably though you will find that you want to increase your competence in a particular facet of coaching once you have a better sense of your own coaching style. Or, you might find that the market in which you are working has certain requirements, for example a psychometric tool that you need to add. As previously described, your coaching records can also provide useful insights into what skills and competence areas would most benefit your development.

Formal development programmes are a real investment of your time and money so be careful that you invest wisely. Having an overall development plan that informs your development decisions is far better than just opportunistically coming across a programme that you may find interesting. It’s a good idea to look six months to a year ahead when planning your development and to identify development areas to be addressed. Introducing some variety in the types of development solutions you pursue can add to your development.

Some questions that will help to prompt your thinking are:

  1. From my client records, what areas stand out for me and would benefit from adding new skills?
  2. Reflecting on my supervision sessions, what areas of my coaching require strengthening through further development?
  3. What types of development activities work best for me (formal programme, webinar, reading, peer learning etc.)?
  4. Looking at a coach competency framework, what areas would benefit from development? Are there any areas that I am neglecting?
  5. Reflecting on my development activities over the last twelve months, what activities made the greatest impact on my practice?

Needless to say, this reflection provides a great opportunity to discuss your plans with your supervisor.

Reflective practice – the cornerstone of development

In the same manner by which we help our clients to reflect on their experiences, we develop our own coaching skills through good reflective practice.  As you will have already noticed in this article, reflection plays a key role in all areas of development. Reflection provides us with the opportunity to think about how we are growing as coaches and to set our future direction.

A very simple reflective model that I find useful is Rolfe’s Minimal Model, which has three simple steps.

  • What? What happened, what was my experience?
  • So What? What could this mean, how do I understand this?
  • Now What? How do I put this into practice; what do I need to do?

Reflective practice can be applied to client work, supervision, formal training or other CPD activities such as listening to podcasts, reading articles or attending events such as breakfast briefings or conferences.

Getting the most from your Professional Development activities

In summary, here are the four steps that will help you to get the most from your professional development.

  1. Identify key areas for your CPD plan for the next 12 months
  2. Implement your CPD plan on a quarterly basis, identifying action items against each development area
  3. Reflect on all of your CPD outcomes and experiences
  4. Embed the learning into new behaviours and practices

Your professional development is an exciting journey that has no final destination. Good luck on the journey!

Billy Byrne

Billy Byrne is an EMCC Accredited Coach, an Individual Accreditation assessor and is currently the EMCC Accreditation Manager for Ireland. If you have any queries about EMCC membership or accreditation he can be contacted at: [email protected]

EMCC strives to set the highest quality standards in Mentoring and Coaching. The Council is responsible for EMCC strategy and steering the organisation.  It is made up of delegates from each of the following affiliated EMCCs – Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and United Kingdom.