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What is Mastery in Coaching?

Sneak peak into one of our latest titles, Mastery in Coaching: A Complete Psychological Toolkit for Advanced Coaching, by Jonathan Passmore.

The rise of coaching seems unstoppable. Over the past two decades coaching has continued to grow in popularity, application and understanding. There now may be as many as 100,000 coaches practising globally, with a growing number of this group having received some formal training. The application of coaching has spread from sports and business to health, wellbeing, driving, education and beyond, as managers, policy makers and educators recognize the contribution coaching can make to learning, personal development and performance. Further, coaching research since 2000 has exploded. While it was difficult in 2001 to support the assertion that ‘coaching works’, the evidence from a substantial and growing number of randomized control trials and, more recently, meta analysis papers is providing the scientific evidence to demonstrate coaching’s contribution in these areas. It is now possible to say that coaching is a positive tool in personal change and development.

The Association for Coaching (AC), along with other professional bodies such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), have played a significant role in the development and professionalization of coaching. In this sense coaching over the past decade has moved from a search for excellence to an understanding of what mastery looks like.

Mastery in Coaching (the Association for Coaching’s sixth book) is aimed at the advanced practitioner, meaning coaches who have hundreds of hours of experience. They are likely to have also completed post-graduate coach training and are now looking for their next step in their continued professional development (CPD).

This book offers advanced practitioners chapters by leading names in selected areas of practice. Each chapter provides an evidence-based platform, before offering insights into tools and techniques of practice, combined with a short case study to explore how experienced coaches apply their ideas.

Most advanced practitioners are familiar with more than one coaching model. Most will integrate two or three models into their practice. They often select the model to apply based on the client, the issue and their judgement of what will best help their client to move forward. They have read the key books relevant to the models they use, they are likely to have reviewed the research about their model and are skilled in the application of the tools and techniques of the approach.

However, we hope that even the most experienced practitioner will find new and useful insights from the wide range of chapters on offer in Mastery in Coaching. By offering an in-depth review of the model, supported by research and how such approaches can be applied, we hope advanced practitioners will be able to add to their knowledge. Further we are confident that almost all practitioners will find one or more models that they are less familiar with and thus can add to their knowledge, and repertoire of skills. In short we hope this title is CPD for advanced coaching practitioners on their journey of continual pursuit of coaching mastery.


The selection of the term ‘mastery’ reflects the view that coaching is a skill. While scientific knowledge underpins the skill, coaching is foremost about the application of the skill, in the same way that a chef or surgeon needs to understand the science of food or the science of the human body, as well as being able to master the use of their tools. However, what makes a master chef or consultant surgeon is the application of their knowledge to a specific plate of food or specific patient undergoing a specific procedure.

Coaching’s leading professional bodies have helped in this process through their development of competency frameworks to define and clarify what competence in coaching should look like. The reason why input measures remain the focus for accreditation is because they are easier to collect and assess than seeking to differentiate between levels of competence in coaches through assessing output measures. However, in my view output measures of performance must be the direction we continue to travel in, as assessed through peer review, in the same way consultant surgeons and master chefs are assessed by their peers. The use of diaries, transcripts and examinations are the way forward, along with more high quality research. To achieve this we need to work harder at understanding the key ingredients of coaching, and what makes the difference between good outcomes and outstanding outcomes.

Mastery in Coaching Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1. Being, doing and relating

A number of models of competence have been offered by various writers, as well as by professional bodies such as the Association for Coaching. The AC’s Executive Coaching Framework is summarized in Table 1.1, with a full copy of the competencies contained in Table 1.2. This is a scheme that was updated in 2012, to align more with the ways organizations select coaches.

Since 2005 a number of organizations have considered and developed competency frameworks for coaches. David Lane’s work for the British Psychological Society Special Interest Group in Coaching led to the development of a comprehensive model for coaching psychologists.

Other professional bodies, such as the International Coaching Federation, have also produced frameworks for practitioners. These have subsequently been incorporated into the assessment frameworks for membership grades, along with a requirement to complete a specified number of hours.

One of the simplest is Ben Renshaw and Graham Alexander’s ‘Being, doing and knowing’ model described in Supercoaching (Renshaw and Alexander, 2005). The model sets out the modes which the coach must master and while based on experience rather than primary research, the model combines both insight and simplicity.

While competencies have emerged over the past five years we need to do more work to refine these, making them more behaviourally based, so it’s possible to observe the behaviour during an assessed coaching session, as well as to underpin each aspect with evidence. This is difficult and the field of counselling is still struggling to fully achieve this after 50 years of attempts of codifying intervention methods.

Despite some challenges we now have methods for assessing levels of competence and thus mastery and an evidence base which supports our knowledge of whether coaching works, what coaching can positive impact upon and how it works.

As increasing numbers of coaches qualify through various commercial and academic institutions the new challenge is supporting these individuals to continue their personal development journey on to mastery.

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