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Understanding Developmental Coaching: Navigating the Journey of Personal Growth

October 4, 2023

Posted by BOLDLY

Developmental coaching is a specialised coaching approach that focuses on facilitating personal and professional growth in individuals by helping them navigate the complexities of their developmental journey. Rooted in coaching psychology and adult development theories, developmental coaching aims to unlock a person's potential, improve self-awareness, and foster sustainable change. In this article, we will explore the concept of development coaching, its connection to Kegan's stages of adult development, and the application of Bachkirova's model of “the elephant and the rider”. We will also provide a list of questions coaches can ask their coachees during developmental coaching sessions to foster growth and self-discovery.

Developmental Coaching: A Brief Overview

Developmental coaching is a dynamic and client-centered approach to personal coaching that recognises that individuals evolve over time. It is not merely about addressing specific issues or goals but rather focuses on helping coachees navigate the complexities of their developmental journeys. In essence, developmental coaching assists individuals in understanding and leveraging their evolving mindsets, beliefs, and behaviours to achieve personal and professional success.

Bachkirova's Model of the Elephant and the Rider

In developmental coaching, Bachkirova's model of the elephant and the rider provides a useful metaphor. According to this model, individuals consist of two essential components: the rational, analytical "rider" and the emotional, intuitive "elephant." The rider represents our conscious, logical mind, while the elephant symbolises our unconscious, emotional impulses. Personal development coaching recognises that both aspects must work in harmony for personal growth to occur. Coaches help individuals align their rider and elephant, encouraging self-awareness and balanced decision-making.

A coach checking on the work of a coachee

Coaches can use this model in their coaching meetings to help clients understand and manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours effectively. Here's how a coach can use this model:

Introduction and Explanation:

● Start the coaching session by introducing the model to your client. Explain that the "rider" represents their rational, logical, and conscious mind, while the "elephant" represents their emotional, instinctual, and subconscious mind.


● Begin by helping your client become aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Ask open-ended questions to encourage self-reflection. For example, you can ask, "What thoughts are going through your mind right now?" or "How are you feeling about the situation you're facing?"

Identify the Elephant:

● Help your client identify their emotional reactions and underlying beliefs. These are often the driving force behind their behaviours. Encourage them to explore their emotional responses and their origins. Questions like, "What emotions are you experiencing in this situation?" or "Can you recall any past experiences that might be influencing your feelings?" can be useful.

Engage the Rider:

● Once your client has identified their emotional responses, guide them in engaging their rational mind. Ask questions that stimulate critical thinking, problem-solving, and goal-setting. For example, "What are your long-term goals in this situation?" or "What are some alternative ways to approach this issue?"

Aligning the Rider and the Elephant:

● Encourage your client to find ways to align their rational and emotional aspects. Help them create a plan that acknowledges their emotional responses but also takes into account their rational goals and values. Discuss strategies to make their "rider" and "elephant" work together harmoniously.

Developing Strategies:

● Work with your client to develop specific strategies and action plans that address both their emotional and rational needs. Ensure that these strategies are realistic, measurable, and aligned with their overall objectives.

Monitoring and Feedback:

● Throughout the coaching relationship, regularly check in with your client to see how they are progressing. Discuss any challenges they may be facing and help them make adjustments as needed.


● The ultimate goal is to empower your client to become more self-aware and better able to manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours independently. Encourage them to practise self-coaching techniques to maintain their progress.

Evaluation and Reflection:

● Periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the coaching process and reflect on the changes and improvements your client has experienced. This can help refine the coaching approach as needed.

By using Bachkirova's Model of the Elephant and the Rider, coaches can help clients navigate their inner world, understand the interplay between emotions and rationality, and work toward achieving their personal and professional goals more effectively.

A coach teaching a new female employee about work

Connecting to Kegan's Stages of Adult Development:

Developmental coaching shares a strong connection with Robert Kegan's stages of adult development. Kegan's theory suggests that individuals progress through different stages of meaning-making and self-awareness as they age and gain experience. Developmental coaching recognises these stages and tailors its approach accordingly, helping coachees navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by their developmental stage. For example, individuals in Kegan's "Socialised Mind" stage may need support in becoming more independent thinkers, while those in the "Self-Authoring Mind" stage may focus on their values and purpose.

Questions for Developmental Coaching Sessions:

  • ● What are your current beliefs and assumptions about yourself and your abilities?
  • ● How do you handle challenges and setbacks?
  • ● Can you identify any recurring patterns in your decision-making?
  • ● What values are most important to you, and how do they influence your choices?
  • ● What aspects of your life or work do you feel the need to change or improve?
  • ● How comfortable are you with uncertainty and ambiguity?
  • ● Are there any specific goals or aspirations you'd like to explore during our coaching journey?
  • ● How do you envision your personal and professional growth over the next year or beyond?

Incorporating these questions into developmental coaching sessions can guide coachees in exploring their developmental challenges and opportunities.

Developmental coaching is a transformative approach that recognises the evolving nature of individuals throughout their lives. By integrating Bachkirova's model of the elephant and the rider, addressing Kegan's stages of adult development, and asking thoughtful questions, coaches can provide invaluable support to coachees on their journey of self-discovery and personal growth. In doing so, developmental coaching becomes a powerful tool for unlocking human potential and fostering lasting positive change.

If you're seeking a tailored developmental coaching program for your team, contact us at to find the perfect coach. In doing so, developmental coaching becomes a powerful tool for unlocking human potential and fostering lasting positive change.