We need coaches to talk more about THEIR coaching. Recognising the importance of ‘informal coaching’ by Jeremy Ridge


I have found it quite a challenge to reconcile how I learn, and develop my coaching practice, compared with the current bureaucracy of systems promoted by the various Coaching Authorities/Coaching Bodies, that (I assume) is supposed to assist me to make this happen.

Coaching is a movement which passionately promotes the virtues of formal Coaching for their clients’ development, but how little actual Coaching itself seems to figure in the way either of these Authorities/Bodies support professional development. Even Coaches themselves are seen to support the current model of Formal Coaching for themselves, as they are required to comply with to maintain their membership with the Authorities that typically prescribe what is appropriate development (CPD).

I consider Coaches, as well as myself, are strongly interested and driven in pursuing their own continued learning and development that meets their needs and practice. I believe that they can make important use of Coaching; but the way that this sort of coaching happens may be much more informal than the current Coaching organisational systems recognise.

I refer to this as ‘informal coaching’.

I have to consider how, for me, a great deal of Coaching really happens on a more ‘Informal’ basis than what is offered by the current system. That is why the formal Coaching Bodies still have plenty of room to grow in their recognition of coaching approaches to professional development

I will explore, here:

  • PART 1: How do the current Authorities in Coaching expect us to develop our Coaching Practices? Coaching for Coaches doesn’t seem to really figure in all this.

  • PART 2: Some consideration of how I believe Coaching has contributed to my Coaching Practice development – through a much more informal process.

  • Next steps: what the implications seem to be, going forwards, if we are to get the best out of what Coaching can deliver, going forwards.

PART 1       How do the current Authorities in Coaching expect Coaches to develop our Coaching Practices?

I find it surprising looking at the formalities of how the Industry, and its representatives, in all those Coaching bodies,  seem to hardly ever mention the use of Coaching by Coaches.  For example, in a survey carried out in 2014 by the ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study between 81-91% of coaches do not participate themselves in a formal professional business and/or life coaching process.

Instead the big words used are Training, Supervision, Mentoring and then the catch all of CPD (continuing professional development) and also certification/accreditation, of course.

In the ICF Global Coaching Study 2007 (format external references):

Respondents were also asked to provide their current annual spending on professional development as a coach.

Based on 5,014 responses, the average amount spent globally on professional development was $4,219. Assuming that there are around 30,000 coaches globally, we would estimate that the coaching profession’s global annual spending on professional development is $125 million.

  • The United States, with the largest presumed number of coaches, accounts for just under half of all global professional development dollars spent.

  • Regionally, European coaches spent the most on professional development as a coach; in the last year, the average spent was $5,303.

  • Respondents from Australia-New Zealand and North America spent the least per coach ($3,621 and $3,818, respectively).

1.1   Training

Training can take many forms –even including some coaching. Many bodies are now approving ‘training’ programmes as the ultimate way to learn about Coaching. I do find this strange in bodies that are supposed to be promoting Coaching as such a powerful way to learn! Support for this is seen in the lack of empirical validity of the core competences, and the conflict of interest between certifying coach training schools and accrediting its members, threatens its credibility (Maltbia et al. 2014; Griffiths & Campbell 2008). 

Meanwhile there are, also, many leading experts telling us the answers.

It is especially concerning as my practice, as well as my perception of Coaching generally, grew on the back of growing realisation about the limitations of expert, and simple training, models in the field of ‘development’. I thought Coaching was about individual and unique learning needs that were not simple; rather than treating people as all with identical learning needs, such as in the classic mode of Training. The expert is the Coachee who is doing the learning, here. They know their learning needs and processes better than anyone else.

However, training comes with a very tempting business model. Establish the alleged authority of something, and then put it across to large numbers of people at the same time.

Training can definitely be very efficient, especially when the links between input and output is well validated.  It would be useful if Training in Coaching moved beyond the input preoccupation, and validated itself more on the basis of the outputs it then created i.e. what were coaches able to evidence doing as a result of the simple solution presented in the training model?

In many of the most advanced Coach training programmes, again from my conversations with such participants, I often hear that the most valuable part of the programmes was the time spent with the other participants/peers on an informal, and personal, basis rather than the formal inputs.

There is an important early indication in this about how Coaches learn for themselves.

If the real learning takes place informally in training, what does this mean for Coaching?

1.2   Supervision

Despite all the forms of use of this phrase, Supervision in Coaching, and in other established professions, it clearly implies reference to external authority and evaluation of what needs to be done by a practitioner such as best practice that is a minimum requirement of professional standing.

Supervision is a worthy function. But it seems potentially problematic to then be both a supervisor and a coach without formal separation. A supervisor is a representative of standards for adhesion to proper practice. But then, development of the Coach involved is where the Coach sets the agenda, of their own, for their continued development.

My conversations, again, with many formal supervisors in the field often gets an admission that most of what they do is actually coaching.  But they prefer to call it supervision!

Establishing authority through adopting a stance of being a somehow superior Supervisor seems to make the process easier, however.  A Supervisor can then sometimes hold the agenda by insisting on looking for errors and omissions.

The telling issue is about who sets the agenda in supervision.

Recent practice that involves supervision is also calling into question the one stop shop, where a single supervisor does everything. For example there is a range of methods evolving in how Supervision happens. This shows interesting trends towards more informality in the process. For example:

  • Paid for 1-2-1 supervision

  • Peer to Peer / Co-Supervision (1-2-1 or triad work)

  • Self supervision / Reflective journaling

  • Paid for group supervision

  • Action Learning Sets

  • And many variations even among these general descriptions

Again, there are some important indicators, here, about how coaches use Coaching …. It seems to venture into methods which are highly diverse, and flexible, and hence informal rather than a single formula works for all.


Keeping ‘up to date’ as well as keeping one’s practice healthy, and in line with established standards of a baseline of effective practice, is an accepted mechanism in many professions – lest the profession be brought into disrepute by a poor practitioner. It also becomes a condition of continued status of membership of the professional body.

The clear message is that CPD has become in reality more like ‘CONTINUED PROFESSIONAL COMPLIANCE’.

But is this approach to ‘development’ fit - in the sense of - what Coaching aims to bring? Coaching, again, I thought was based on servicing the needs and interests of the other person rather than telling them what they need to be doing. When does focussing on the needs of the individual become usurped by the collective, and are we really there yet?

Ease of administration drives the system however. For example, when people have to accumulate ‘points’ for having been involved in various ‘approved’ learning activities. And evidence of inputs and outputs through coaching is still often less than well practiced.

CPD can happen through many mechanisms, but I would expect to see, among Coaching organisations, greater encouragement of Coaching, as an important mechanism for CPD, after all.

An example from the UK well illustrates the difficulties

Two recent publications by Auldeen Alsop offer a very good overview of CPD practices, generally.

  • Continuing Professional Development: A Guide for Therapists[1] (2000)


  • Continuing Professional Development in Health and Social Care[2] (2012)

In the 2000 publication, Auldeen puts together a picture of best practice CPD at the time – based on leading areas of related practice to Coaching (therapy). For example:

  • The emphasis on a Portfolio approach to practice development was clear.

  • The individual is expected to tell [their] progressive, and unique, story of their continued learning and development of their practice.

However, in the 2012 version, Auldeen then provides an update of how CPD Practices are evolving due to the administrative intervention, in the Health Professions Council – created to maintain standards across this field.   

the particular requirements of the UK regulatory body, The HCPC have been outlined with reference to audit of Health and social care professionals CPD. Readers have been advised to consult the HCPC website for current and specific directions with regard to audit …. “ (pg 33)

Health care then may still be being considered as solely an authority / expert lead process, of course, and different from Coaching because of that. Yet it clearly shows and demonstrates this shift towards compliance over-riding the true idea of development. The portfolio has to be developed in line with formal thinking about how professionals can be audited.

Coaching is not a regulated industry, despite this, Coaching doesn’t seem to be a recommended let alone required CPD experience for Coaches (especially those working in the Health Professions) because it’s hard to audit!

1.4       Certification / Accreditation

Can Accreditation / Certification be a ‘developmental’ experience … for Coaches?

Well I think so!

Dan Doherty also thinks so! He has made available a summary of the current experiences of coaches going through different forms of certification / accreditation. Its reputation is currently suffering from being a quite negative experience for many coaches.
(Available to download: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/uzugfw537jqds5r/AABh6grbzgXO1NoveMHhGG1Ka?dl=0#sthash.ib5yDNyH.dpuf)

In summary:

I ( Dan Doherty says ) explore, herethe various lived experiences of coaches who have elected to engage with the process of assessing then perhaps choosing to pursue a particular credentials pathway… the remembered experience and current world- view of seasoned practitioners as much as it reflects the views of new entrants to the market for credentials …

This research inquires into how coaches 'do' credentialing differently and the role they believe that credentials may play in enhancing client and fellow professionals' perceptions of individual’s identities.

No judgment is made at this stage on any ‘right way’ to do credentialing. Much of the survey feedback related to dissatisfaction with this fragmented state of affairs. The findings from this credentials survey speak to the profusion of available credentials and the inability to discriminate between them; together with a persistent sense that the credentials path they have chosen to follow does not live up to its many claims and promises made for it.

Overall, this, again,  summarises a great deal of my own uncertainty about the best ways to develop my practice- which feels in spite of, rather than with the help of,  what most of the ‘authorities’ are trying to put forward.

PART2      How do I use Coaching to shape my Practice?
2.1       Reviewing patterns in the my learning processes for developing my own Practice

Reviewing my own learning brings out a pattern that seems to differ considerably from the current recommended formal paths, as summarised in Part 1.

This does depend on that definition of coaching, so if Coaching is defined as:

All and any Events intentionally created by one person with the intention of creating insights by another person according to the stage they have reached in the learning possible in the area concerned ….”

Some of the patterns where this sort of ‘coaching’ happened were:

  • It is more linked to actual, ongoing real ‘events ‘ rather than separated out

  • It is more immediate and clearly linked to / tested in the real circumstances

  • By people who have studied and understand what I do in these real circumstances

  • And who are able to recognise where I am going with something and where I am up to with it

  • And construct words/experiences that are appropriate to my experience

  • Of course my own ability to self-coach relies on being able to also do this for myself

Typical informal Patterns in how Learning takes place, for me:   I can then think of many people have satisfied these conditions for me, but very seldom was it in a formal coaching contract / session.

2.2 The focus of how my Practice developed

My main focus of practice was what I called ‘Development centres’. ‘Development centre’ is best understood by contrast with the ‘assessment centre’. The assessment centre is designed to give an expert, external assessment of a person. Which is then also reported to other experts for their consideration. The development centre is the opposite. It is designed to help individual participants generate information for themselves, and their own consideration and use.

The development Centre typically uses powerful combinations of experience based methods – including diverse peer interaction where information and messages are better when calibrated from different sources, rather than just one – expert source. I often worked as a team with other Development Centre leaders as Peers.

This further focussed the opportunities for my practice development because of the experiences and opportunities for learning within the ‘events’ involved. A development centre is often more a workshop in its approach, where the agenda is led by the participants rather than the expert.

2.3 Typical types of ‘people processes’ that gave me many opportunities to benefit from this informal Coaching

  1. Clients! The bizarre thing here is how clients can be the best coaches! This is essentially learning by doing. Clients respond when something works for them. If you observe and track what is working for them, it is then possible to build on what works. I also believe most clients are tolerant to some extent about the process of helping you help them – or should I say informative about what is working with feedback. They are often more knowing than is suspected. We are dealing with healthy and effective people already, after all. The feedback is not intellectual, it is behavioural, immediate and in context.

  2. Observing others: especially the ways they established powerful ‘coaching’ style events for others.

  3. Self coaching! Taking the time to consciously, as well as intuitively, concentrate on oneself and how one operates best.

  4. ‘Informal’ dialogue: about events with others similarly interested. This is often the ultimate of informal type of event – a nod and a wink in the middle of something else can be really powerful in taking in some learning.

  5. ‘Diverse’ learning programmes: Learning can pop up at any time in any circumstances – even while shopping – so it is important to be ready and open to these experiences.

  6. Structured learning: the ability to build a progressive picture / understanding of the form of one’s own profile of effectiveness with people/situations.

  7. “Special People”: We all have had them - the special people - some people can be seen to have had more profound effect than others. They are not called coaches, but they can suddenly have a profound impact, without it being called Coaching.


My development includes a lot of informal coaching.
I am clear how important other people have been in my learning. The development of my own practice hinges greatly on these events and processes which seem to be off the current agenda in the way Coaching works formally, at present.

Although this was never called ‘Coaching’ it seems to have regularly involved what seems to be involved in Coaching – albeit in a more informal manner.

Other coaches see their development as really important but how does this happen.
I am confident that Coaches are themselves vitally involved in their own continued learning and development.

But it is still difficult to appreciate how this really happens.

Again, there may be a similar amount of informal development processes at work.

Informal does not mean a lack of rigour.
Rather a lack of reporting. A lack of planned formal structure does not make the events less significant. Sometimes real developments is a surprise and it’s the surprise that signals the potential learning. “I got it wrong. What did I miss? The aha moment!”

I suggest, here, that this may be because it is all happening below the radar – separate from the normal formal processes that Coaching as a field is keen to establish as what they do for others.

The term informal may carry too little weight. It sounds like it may be somehow superficial in some way. However much of the most powerful learning comes as unplanned. The surprise is the signal of learning, for example.

Is there too much of a rush to establish coaching as a formal service?
Maybe it is the desire to establish the commercial value where, in seeking to establish Coaching as a real service we hide too much of what is truly involved, and how it creates important results, as these surprises can be difficult to report on, as are the process involved. Assertion of oversimplified models may be a significant disservice to the ambition of coaching.

More work is needed!!!  
It would be good to see more attention to formal research of these informal coaching events and processes.

  • How much can you tell us how your development happens (by the way why not try writing a blog for ‘the good coach’?

  • What is the reality of how your practice happens?

  • How do you account for surprises?


References & Footnotes:

[1] Auldeen Alsop, Continuing Professional Development: A Guide for Therapists , Wiley-Blackwell, 2000
[2] Auldeen Alsop, Continuing Professional Development in Health and Social Care Wiley-Blackwell, 2012

Griffiths, K. & Campbell, M. a., 2008. Semantics or substance? Preliminary evidence in the debate between life coaching and counselling. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 1(2), pp.164–175.

ICF (2014) 2014 ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study

ICF (2007) 2007 ICF Global Coaching Study

Maltbia, T.E., Marsick, V.J. & Ghosh, R., 2014. Executive and Organizational Coaching: A Review of Insights Drawn From Literature to Inform HRD Practice. Advances in Developing Human Resources, pp.1–23.