I have been involved in training coach supervisors internationally, for many years. In this article I will outline the key functions and benefits of coaching supervision, highlight some of the main features of supervision training, and indicate how to choose a coach supervisor. While coaching supervision uses some models from related disciplines, it is important to distinguish it from educational, clinical and managerial supervision. Coaching supervision is a distinct practice and has developed in consultation with many coaches; it continues to embrace new learning and methodology, and to be in dialogue with coaches, coach trainers and employers of coaches.
“Reflection is a crucial element in human learning.” Michael Carroll
What a Coach Supervisor does
‘When a supervisee comes to coach supervision, both people will be changed by the relationship and the conversation that happens between them……(supervision) is a place for everyone in the system to be thought about or held in mind. It is a place to have deep conversations; it is a place to think creatively with a joined heart/mind perspective.’ Joan Wilmot (1)
When I hire a coaching supervisor, I want someone who will walk with me, and create a reflective space in which I can become curious about all aspects of my work. One way of describing what coaching supervision does is to think of it as a process of Reflection, Insight and Support. Supervision enhances ‘seeing’ – the seeing into one’s practice, the illumination of subtle processes in coaching conversations and of blind spots in oneself and in one’s thinking. Super-vision is then something that I, the coach, take away with me – an enhanced view, a super-vision of my practice.’ ‘Reflection and Insight’ point to the range of learning which emerges as a result of sustained, supervisory focus on a piece of coaching or on a particular aspect of the coach’s current style. The ‘Support’ of coaching supervision is often overlooked; coaches in supervision regularly comment on the level of relief they experience because they have a safe, reflective space in which to explore their work.
A coaching supervisor develops coaches’ awareness of ‘the lens through which we look’ – so that interventions benefit from paying attention to all that may be going on inside us, as we work with our coachees. As a result, we learn more about the impact that individual coachees have on us and we can respond to them more intelligently. Supervision also brings into focus the effects of dynamics in the space between our coachees and ourselves and the key elements in the wider system of the coaching conversation; so we can begin to look beyond content to context – relational, organisational, economic contexts; these subtly and powerfully influence every coaching conversation. These new insights and skills bring elegance and impact to our work. B Critchley reminds us: ‘Change happens in the crucible of relationship”. (2) This level of relational awareness and understanding supports the coach to move from transactional, functional coaching to deep and transformative conversations that acknowledge the impact of the living, relational, systemic field of coaching.
Coaching Supervision – The Benefits
‘Supervision is a place where a living profession breathes and learns……supervision can be a very important part of taking care of oneself, staying open to new learning’ Hawkins and Shohet (3)
Through skilled dialogue, creative interventions and collaborative learning, coaches in supervision have a space in which to reflect on and deepen all areas of their practice. At the recent international coaching supervision conference at Oxford Brookes University, there were papers and presentations on: decision making, domains of knowledge in coaching, the relational field of supervision, protocols for group supervision, creative supervision, self deception, potency and vulnerability, use of self in coaching, systemic constellations, Clean Language approach to coaching supervision, deference and personal power in coaching supervision – a rich feast which highlights some of the benefits of having a coach supervisor.
In supervision sessions, for example, I may enable a coach to think through tough ethical dilemmas, boundary management, contractual issues or how to work better with ‘difficult’ coachees or resolve a ‘critical incident’ with a coachee. In other sessions, I might be attending to the coach’s personal development so as to deepen their work and extend their range – e.g. supporting them to be less entangled with coachees’ ‘games’ or to deal quickly and effectively with the impact of challenging behaviour. In all of this, supervision will be enabling the coach to become more self-aware (‘the lens through which they look’) and to learn how to use that awareness in service of their work. Key to this process, is supporting coaches to value and use their own Internal Supervisor – the ‘one’ who gets immediate cognitive, somatic and intuitive data and who, in my experience, is not noticed enough and is often unused. In supervision sessions I will offer creative experiments to enhance learning – e.g. using role-play, cards or Gestalt exercises to illuminate significant unconscious processes or systemic factors. Or perhaps we might look at new perspectives, interventions and skills.
How to Choose a Coach Supervisor
It is very important that we feel comfortable with our supervisor – comfortable and safe enough to have a conversation in which all areas of our work can be explored and in which we can develop, personally and professionally. Supervision will inevitably touch on the vulnerabilities of the supervisee and so supervisors are trained to challenge without threatening development or learning. As a rough guide, I would suggest that a coach supervisor needs to:
- Have a recognised qualification in coaching supervision
- Be in touch with developments the field of coaching
- Have knowledge of corporate life and organisational systems.
- Have significant level of psychological understanding
- Have sensitivity to the learner’s situation.
- Have ability to work with different coaching styles.
- Have minimum of 3 years practice as coach or coach mentor
- Demonstrate highest ethical and professional standards
- Demonstrate that their work has been professionally supervised over a number of years.
Supervision is an opportunity to bring someone back to their own mind, to show them how good they can be. Nancy Kline (4)
1. Joan Wilmot: Supervision as Transformation.
2. Prof Bill Critchley: Relation Coaching. EMCC Journal
3. Hawkins and Shohet: Supervision in the Helping Professions
4. Nancy Kline: Time to Think
Edna Murdoch 2012 www.coachingsupervisionacademy.com