Coach Maturity Research Project 2023

An inquiry into mature coaches’ transitions into their later decades – The Cliff Project 2023

This enterprise was inspired by a recent session on ‘coach identity,’ convened by the Association for Coaching Research Special Interest Group, which led to several us sharing our personal and professional ‘cliffs’ in the form of writing and in conversation. 

The themes emerging from these dialogues chimed strongly with the 2021 CCG conference on ‘coaching at a later age,’ based around my radio play ‘Re-Attiring.’ There was appetite at the time to take this inquiry within the CCG further, which, after a pause, we pursue now. Sometimes projects on maturity take a while in maturation, to compost. 

I am aware of a profound connection between this nascent inquiry and the well-developed ‘on the becoming of a coach’ study concerning ‘coach maturity,’ led by Bob Garvey, the understanding of which we at CCG will explore in depth with Bob during 2023 during in-the-room sessions.  

What I feel we have stumbled across here is a high potential action research project concerning coach maturity, which falls into a number of phases. 

  1. Creation of personal ‘cliff’ narratives. These creations can be assisted by the posing of an over-arching research question, and associated prompts relating to the development and maturation process. 
  2. I have now completed my own ‘cliff’ narrative which I share as an exemplar 
  3. Sharing of narratives in pairs – individuals may be involved in a number of pairings 
  4. Coming together as a group virtually, and in person, to reflect on themes and patterns that emerge with regard to coach development at later career stage – coach maturity 
  5. This could then provide a basis to think about how our findings might best play for the creation of mature coach offerings and developmental pathways. 

The methodology. 

This methodology has been naturalistically driven, and emergent to date. At its heart lies an action research / narrative inquiry / writing-as-inquiry /  action learning approach. In spirit it shares common cause of with the ‘on the becoming of a coach’ project in being philosophically based in Phenomenology and Hermeneutics as it concerns an inquiry into lived experience, and the process of sense making from the same inquiry. 

Project management

Daniel takes leadership of most aspects of this project during its earlier stages, as form emerges 

  • it will be based on individuals lived experiences, rather than chosen on institutional cohorts; though invites may be extended to institutions such as AC of HEIs once the shape and findings are more fully formed.
  • Daniel will do most of the negotiation of selecting of candidates in the early stages – clearly recommendations of possible participants from those already inside the circle will welcome
  • the extent of the take up will be known soon enough – want it contained at this stage to say numbering at twenty. 
  • invitees will be drawn primarily from CCG, AC, survivors of AC Crafting your Coaching Narrative Programme 2021; though I can see argument for wider engagement with Art of Management conference, SW writers group, song writers and choir leaders. 
  • if this sounds over controlling, then it driven by an acknowledgment that sensitive material is being worked with here – and often in writing, so we need to be cautious of our boundaries around vulnerability and disclosure. 
  • Daniel will provide guidelines and prompts for production of personal ‘products.’ these may well be represented in writing, but not everyone is disposed to prose,  so other media – including simply verbalising will work also.
  • in the early stages, individuals will work in pairs to explore edges and dilemmas – this is not interviewing in the classical sense but co-development
  • The work itself will be a mix of individual reflection (written and other) together with CCG in-person groups in Bristol, London, Sheffield, Devon meetings in first half 2023; and online pairs work and group work. 
  • I am not really wanting to predict how meaning-making and products from this eventually emerge, but anticipate that it result in themes to work with.
  • It is anticipated that considerable personal and professional development will accrue from participation in this project – and that bonds and networks will be deepened and strengthened. 

Prompt question: 

‘how would you describe a pivotal / seminal passage in your passage towards coaching maturity?’

Emergent themes 

The themes that might emerge from these accounts include, but are not restricted to 

  • Personal interior experience of ageing 
  • Others’ external perceptions of one’s physical and cognitive ageing 
  • Memory loss, relative cognitive decline 
  • Gains to be had from declining memory
  • Letting go – including of models, tools techniques 
  • Challenging the promotion of new offerings of tools or concepts  
  • Accretion of wisdom – external experience and valuing of the same 
  • Wisdom – interior sense of this – or discounting of the same
  • Relationship between wisdom and maturity
  • Physical slowing – illness, medical interventions and their effects and attendant fears – including death of contemporaries, and foreshadowing of death itself 
  • performativity v authenticity tensions
  • letting go – letting come balance
  • Impact of ‘life events’ illness, losses on coaching or development practice 
  • Mapping one’s path beyond retirement – retreat to castle or stay out in battlefield
  • Paid work and volunteering – what drives need for paid work still? 
  • Does relaxing of payment transaction lead to greater authenticity? 
  • Professional volunteering and social volunteering 
  • Continued activism? Channelling cynicism – or getting out of the way
  • Challenging the status quo, whistleblowing – or leave that to next generation 
  • Support groups, development groups beyond retirement, work related and beyond – art groups, walking, yoga, choirs, etc 
  • Tension between boomers and next generation radicals and thinkers   
  • Impacts of Covid Interruptions and aftermath from the same
  • Living online – loss of personal connection and the analogue life 
  • Dealing with transactional bias in coaching over relational 
  • Benefits of writing it all down – journaling alone – and collaborative writing
  • Emergent reflective practice approaches beyond writing  

Should you be of an age where you stand at a personal or professional cliff – how might these themes play for you?  Which would be top of mind and which would not apply? Which do you anticipate coming into play in the future 

the loss of David Megginson

As many of you know, we lost David Megginson to a long-term illness last month. Here is what members of the CCG had to say about the impact of David upon our lives and practice.


Bob Garvey

We met first in 1991 when I was contemplating doing a PhD on mentoring. David was an obvious person to contact because of his pioneering work in mentoring and coaching. My first impression was of a very erudite person, full of charm, decency and generosity. We kept in touch and through the fledgling European Mentoring Centre worked together with others to develop the now EMCC. In 1999 and a PhD later, a job appeared at Sheffield Business School. I immediately contacted David. “Wow, if you come, we could start a Mentoring and Coaching Research Unit” he said – and we did with Paul Stokes.  The three of us worked together to create the MSc in Coaching and Mentoring (the 2ndsuch course in the world) and we delivered it together in Switzerland and the UK. As a team we were in the same office for 10 years.  Often, if one of us were struggling with something or was looking puzzled David would say “Coffee?  You look like you need a good listening to!” Lunch was always an occasion if we were all together. It involved going somewhere interesting to eat and we had both serious and fun conversations. There was often much banter and laughter. David was a masters of conversation.  Over the years we exchanged produce from our respective gardens and we discussed the delights of vegetable and fruit growing. David was a scholar, a scientist and artist, a poet, music lover and runner. He spoke truth to power with such elegance!  Over the years my first impressions of him were confirmed – erudite, charming, decent and generous. He lives on in his work.  His physical presence has left us but he lives in our hearts and minds. It was an honour and a privilege David! 

Katherine Long 

His joy and energy…

Memories of the EMCC Bilbao conference: A brilliant and energetic dancer who could boogie with the best of them at last night conference discos, a keen barefoot runner who I had the privilege of enjoying some early morning runs, a mutual fan of foraging and mycology where we had fun taking turns to remember the latin names of the funghi in the evening meal’s risotto, glorying in the wonders of the field maple which mingled in the hedges of his plot of wildness and weeds. 

His compassionate disruption…

Holding the coaching world to account, challenging it to look deeply into itself, not hide behind its sacred cows – I remember his playful session title ‘does contracting make us smaller?’ and have shared that quote many times, as well as ‘good mentors coach and good coaches mentor’. 

There was always a twinkle in his eye, a feeling of mischief just below the surface, the joyous bow ties. He shared briefly of early ventures into Esalen, his love of Mentor in Odysseus and the swallow as his spirit guide. Perhaps he now too has taken the form of a swallow, and  in the words of Homer, has flown up to perch on the roof beam of the smoke-darkened hall. 

It will take a long time to process – I trust there will be some amazing celebrations- he was a polymath, a rare creature to grace the coaching world, which would not have been born without him.

Keri Phillips 

I had the pleasure and privilege of being with David in many different settings, both formal and informal. He was always warm and  encouraging, whilst offering new, often challenging perspectives. 
I have many fond memories of our encounters in Bristol, Manchester, Sheffield and elsewhere. His legacy endures in my mind and heart . 
  Keri Phillips 

Reinhard Stelter 

I am very sad to hear that David passed away. I had a lovely relationship to him. Met him both in Copenhagen, where I invited him a number of years ago, I met him at Sheffield H. where I was invited to speak at a coaching research conference, and I met him at several conferences. He was British in the best version. And he was a fantastic inspirier for me and many others. 
I have heard that he was not doing well for some years. From that knowledge, it has not been a total surprise. But it is always sad to me a good colleague, a humanist, and friend.
I am with his family and all who will miss him
Warm regards

Mike Leigh  

Since that day when David was no longer able to join us at Arnos I often wondered how he was and thought how good it would be to see him again. When you asked me to speak yesterday, I mentioned his sharing; David always gave of himself and opened the way for you to do the same. 

This morning as I was waking, David came into my thoughts, and I remembered chatting with him one day about poetry when he asked if I knew of Elizabeth Bishop’s work. I didn’t and he suggested I start with her poem, ‘One Art’, which was about losing things. 

I was surprised that poem should come into my head because David only mentioned it in a passing comment, but it does seem strangely apt. At the start, the poem could seem quite light-hearted, but as we get into it we may feel the tension and the pain of loss. 

Sometimes we might feel special in the company of someone because of, say, the position they hold, their status or fame. David allowed you to feel special about yourself without having to draw attention to himself. He met you as an equal with something to share.  

Daniel Doherty 

David Megginson surfaced in my life in Sheffield in the mid-seventies as an educator working a modernising agenda within the Steel industry, where I was struggling to keep my head above water as a stripling OD and training practitioner, and felt immensely supported by him. At the same time, David was a strong voice in the CIPD locally and nationally. I gravitated towards  Sheffield Poly as a student sitting at the feet of both David and Mike Pedler, who were massively influential in shaping my practice, encouraging my instinctively disruptive tendencies while counterbalancing that with a degree of institutional caution.  

Thus fortified by these intensive formative infusions of David, it was not until around 2004 that he re-merged in my life as a contributor to my doctorate into creative OD practice, when I learned of his foundational leadership in the field of coaching and mentoring. When I expressed critical doubts as to the commercialisation of coaching and its appropriation, he immediately responded not with the discouragement  you might expect from a founder but with vivid curiosity. He leapt at the opportunity to speak to Bristol University Management School where I was teaching, secure in the knowledge that his imprimatur would do much to solidify the emergence of a critical coaching voice in a geography beyond Sheffield Hallam, where critically and reflexivity were firmly embedded within the Coaching and Mentoring Unit which was shaped in his image and likeness. 

From that point on, David became an unwavering contributor to the Critical Coaching Group (CCG) for ten years, until he could no longer travel. That the CCG has continued beyond his direct presence is a tribute to the generosity of soul that he gifted us, leaving us buoyed by the deep moral purpose that he ushered into our lives

Caroline Taplin 

I know you had a great relationship with David both academically and as a dear friend. My thoughts are with you. I hope all the words written are helping you us snd if course his family. 

I loved Katherines swallow image and the freedom That evokes. 

Here are my thoughts for David 

My heartfelt thoughts to David’s family . David was renowned internationally for his contribution to the Coaching and Mentoring world and we were immensely  privileged to have David as part of our Critical Coaching Group. 

On a personal level he was an Inspiration to me in changing my career  to a  Coaching and Mentoring focus through his training and writings. 

David had that unique gift that made you feel you mattered , always giving time to listen and ignite my thinking.

And David always had a sense of fun , he will be sadly missed as CCG not least for his sense of humour and penchant for natty Socks 🧦 🧦

Ginny Baillie 

I know David more by his presence at CCG than personally.   I once shared a train with David home from one of the CCG meetings.   He unwrapped his apples from his garden very carefully and ate them as we chatted.  I was very struck by how calm and peaceful he was and he shared his Quaker practices with me.   I’ve taken a lot of train journeys in my time, all over the world and had a lot of conversations, this one stands out as having the most impact and I often come back to it when I need a moment, a sense of peace and an idea of what’s waiting for me when I can let go of the busy-ness and ego of life.  He was an extraordinary man in this. 

Steve Linstead 

I first met Dave in Dyson House, Sheffield, in 1978. He was in his running gear and for a year or so that was how we tended to meet – I was usually on my way to the weight room across the road – and I could recognise him more easily by his legs than the rest of him. Communication was mostly via sweaty grunts. When we did get a chance to chat, at a party, I was struck by how much we had in common and how imaginatively he responded to the everyday, and how much I wished I wasn’t about to leave Sheffield and people like him. As my career developed elsewhere and I began to explore training and development more deeply, Dave’s contributions were everywhere, always thoughtful, keen eyed and eared, original and human,  keeping me in touch with a lot of intangibles that he understood so well that were nevertheless grounded in the grit of the city we had in common. They were the ones I chose to shape my work with managers – even in my spells in Hong Kong and Australia, because he asked better questions and was open to a more generous possibility of responses. As I became more active internationally, especially the US, it was a delight to realise that his was one of the names that would be frequently brought up in presentations and discussions as T & D struggled to find new identities in HRD and beyond and the new fields of mentoring and coaching took shape – by people from much more celebrated institutions than Sheffield City Poly/Hallam. And in England, working across boundaries with major companies and universities on corporate initiatives, I was always asked whether I knew him. I was delighted to be able to say yes, I’d learned a lot from him – but today I’m sad that it was far more than he’ll now ever know.

Geoff Pye 

The word “Dignity” came to my mind when remembering David. A dictionary
definition of Dignity is “Nobleness or elevation of mind” which, for me,
captures a key aspect of the man.

Creative Writing for Coaches of all persuasions

I am delighted to announce that, following the successful pilot of the programme ‘Crafting my Coaching Story,’ that the Association for Coaching has agreed to host a second rendition of the same, beginning on 10th September 2021. The full details are as below.

The faculty for this programme is drawn almost exclusively from CCG members, including Daniel Doherty, Jen Gash, Chris Mabey, and Pippa Warin, supporting the estimable Julia Forster. The pilot was enjoyed by two of our number, who speak well of it. Please let me know if you know of anyone who might be interested in this by email at, or if you simply want to know more about this.

The impetus behind this is to promote creative literacy among coaches. Sometimes the text that comes from our keyboards is all very worthy, and sometimes it reads as if drawn from a random buzzword generator. Let’s liven things up. There is little financial gain in this for the faculty; the rewards are rich, and largely non-monetary, including the learning gained from working together.

the uplifting news on this programme is that four of the original attendees on the pilot programme are returning for more of the same on this return programme. We must be doing something right here.