Confessions of a Supervisee

I was talking with a colleague the other day about why I had wanted to become a supervisor, which I did some years ago now.  The main reasons I recalled were to do with supporting the coach community I’d set up back then and finding a deeper way to develop that was not focussed on a particular “tool”.  Afterwards, though, the conversation left various echoes running and prompted me to revisit my journal of the sessions I’ve had with my own supervisor.

Things I’ve brought to supervision include:

  • Wondering where the curious nervousness and resentment I felt was coming from, when I was starting to work as an internal coach with a client more senior to me in the same organisation
  • Again as an internal coach, how to negotiate my way through the feeling I had that I was being used as a substitute for performance management
  • An unspoken irritation I had, which connected to unconscious assumptions I was making, about the value different clients seemed to attach to their coaching – and how this was influencing the way I engaged with a particular client over a series of sessions
  • The struggle I was having in working confidently with a client who seemed to have very low self-awareness
  • The whole “non-directive” thing: What does it actually mean in practice to be “non-directive” and how does this connect with such things “presence” and “holding the client to account”? Could I be non-directive with “an edge”?
  • What do I control, or what am I supposed to be in control of, when running a coaching session – and is control the same as needing or wanting to change the client?  And what’s the difference between control and responsibility?
  • Does the nature of this control need to be different according to the particular coaching agenda, e.g. is there a different boundary to be put around working with a director on strategy, say, in comparison to working with a neuro-diverse client who wants to overcome work-place challenges?
  • And how do any or all the above fit with the wider system of which the client is a part?

The conversations I’ve had with my supervisor have been invaluable in working through these and many other things.  And it was the exploration of them, more so than any set answers or magical prescriptions from my supervisor (though I think he had one or two!), that made these conversations so telling and so useful.  As a supervisee I’ve learned to accept that being a coach, and developing as a coach and as a person, is very much a work in progress – and I know as a supervisor how hard finding that self-acceptance can be for a coach wanting to do the right thing, wanting to do good work.

The mirror to this is that becoming a supervisor myself has, I think, made me a “better” supervisee.  It’s enabled me to reflect more deeply on what is happening in my client sessions.  It’s given me an ability to acknowledge the stuck places in my practice and the associated anxieties; a kind of psychological mindedness, as Peter Bluckert calls it.

So, both as a coach and a supervisor, it’s a little like having my own tiny supervisor sitting on my shoulder – a small blackbird of wisdom singing softly in my ear; though I still check in with my real supervisor from time to time to keep the blackbird fed!

Ref: Bluckert, P (2006): Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching – Open University Press

Executive Coach & Coach Supervisor Ken Smith supports people to find meaning in their work and a richer and more productive sense of their own excellence.

Read more blogs from Ken: Alone Together in Time