What is coaching supervision?

Coaching supervision is big news in the coaching profession.

Yet it wasn’t so long ago that coaches would have looked confused if asked whether they had a supervisor. Surely supervision is for the complex professions of therapy and counselling that work with difficult issues and with deep emotions.

Well, of course, it’s not that simple.

In its early days, coaching largely focused on goals, tasks and accountability and during this phase, supervision was barely on the radar; any more than it would have been in day-to-day management. But today, the growth of the coaching profession and the manner in which it has encroached on traditional issues formally the preserve of the older helping professions, has meant that coaches too have had to face the reality of dealing with the complex thing that is the human being. Boundaries have become less clear, zones of competence less distinct, and emotions and relational dynamics more challenging.

And so was born coaching supervision.

But what is coaching supervision? What happens during it and what is the nature of the professional relationship? Teacher/student? Mentor/apprentice? Peer/peer? Listening ear? Guide? Guardian of the profession?

Like many questions in coaching, it is easier to start with what supervision isn’t than what it is. So let’s begin there.

What coaching supervision isn’t

Coaching supervision isn’t being told what to do by someone with more experience.

Nor is it teaching coaching theory and skills.

Nor is it measuring the coach against some external litmus test of competence and effectiveness.

Nor is it a cozy chat to grumble about the diificulties of practice.

Nor is it a business conversation to help a coach grow their practice.

It is none of these though elements of each might show up.

How we define coaching supervision

At Animas, we define coaching supervision this way:

Coaching supervision is a collaborative, developmental conversation focused on the professional work of a coach for the benefit of the coach, the client and the client’s system.

Although peer supervision, in which coaches support one another, is a growing phenomenon, most supervision is done in a professional relationship with a qualified coaching supervisor. The coaching supervisor is typically more experienced and trained in the particular skills of supervision. To help make sense of the aims of coaching supervision it is often broken down in to three main functions – although in practice, they are rarely dealt with in isolation.

The Three Coaching Supervision Functions

The formative – how might the coach improve and develop in their practice?

The restorative – what support does the coach need for their own wellbeing and their relationship to their work?

The normative – how well is the coach observing the ethics, norms and best practices of their profession?

The quality of a coaching supervision relationship, although typically not equal in level of experience, is one of equality of exploration in which the coaching supervisor and coach go on a journey together to examine, unpick and play with the issues arising from the coach’s practice.

The nature of coaching supervision is also more purposefully systemic than coaching because the coaching supervisor has a responsibility to address the interests and needs of the whole coaching relationship including the needs of the coach, the client and, very often, the sponsoring organisation. For instance, a coaching supervisor working with a coach who admits that he and his client are working on issues that are clearly out of contract with the organisation who is paying for it, would naturally address this with the coach and there would likely be a normative conversation in which the coaching supervisor explores the ethical dimension of ignoring the needs of the organisation.

The systemic work in coaching supervision also shows itself in how the system (the organisation in which the coaching is taking place, for instance) is impacting the client who in turn is impacting the coach who in turn is impacting the coaching supervisor. This complex chain of interactions presents a fascinating, and often challenging, opportunity for the supervisor and coach to take a step back and notice what’s going on throughout the system and explore ways to bring attention to it or, if appropriate, interrupt it.

Like coaching, coaching supervision is, at heart, a conversation. It is not a process, a checklist or an audit. It is a conversation in which the needs of the whole coaching system are explored. To facilitate this, a number of coaching supervision models have been created or repurposed from earlier supervision approaches.

The Seven-Eyed Model of Coaching Supervision

One of the most well-known is the seven-eyed model of supervision. This structure allows a flowing, natural conversation whilst giving clarity to the coaching supervisor on areas for potential exploration. In working this way, the conversation might address:

Eye 1 – The client – who they are, their presenting issue, their manner, emotional state, and so on.

Eye 2 – The coaching approaches used – what models, style, techniques, approaches did the coach adopt?

Eye 3 – The quality of the relationship between coach and client – how does it feel, what happens between them?

Eye 4 – The coach – their thoughts, feelings, sense-making, experience of the coaching.

Eye 5 – The relationship between the coach and the supervisor – what is being played out in the supervision that might be indicative of issues in the wider field of the coaching and system?

Eye 6 – The supervisor – their felt-sense, emotional response, sense-making, thoughts, etc

Eye 7 – The wider system – what’s out there and how is it affecting the client, the coach and the supervisor.

The seven-eyed model is a well-rounded and infinitely adaptable approach to supervision but there are many more models that can be used in its place or alongside. With the burgeoning supply of coaching supervision books, there’s certainly no shortage of models and each offers additional lenses and ways to work.

In the end though, as with coaching itself, the supervisory relationship remains the bedrock of effective work. The coaching supervisor’s role is first and foremost to build and sustain a relationship with the coach that enables a learning conversation to be had. It doesn’t matter how insightful the supervisor’s comments and ideas are if the coach resists them.

Ultimately, coaching supervision is about supporting the growth and development of coaches to be more effective and happier in their work as coaches. With the massive growth of the coaching profession across the world, coaching supervision is set to become as important a profession as it is rewarding.

EMCC Accredited Diploma in Coaching Supervision

To find out more about the Animas Accredited Diploma in Coaching Supervision, head along to our course page.