is coaching supervision really so super?

16th November 2018

OK, I have to admit a vested interest here. I’m a coaching supervisor, so it’s pretty obvious what I’m going to conclude! But bear with me.

As a supervisor, I find the work I do with coaches fascinating, rewarding and enjoyable. And I believe that it’s immensely valuable, important and reassuring both for my supervisees and for their clients.

But why? And what is supervision in the first place?

Like so many words in this field (‘coach’, ‘trainer’, ‘counsellor’), the word ‘supervisor’ does little justice to the nature of the work that takes place, and the human connection that is formed. It does nothing to suggest the collaborative quality of the enquiry, the humility of the space, or the kindness and care that is the bedrock of change.

Supervision, in this context, is not about an authority-based position of superiority over another coach’s work. Rather, it’s about creating a reflective space for supervisor and coach to engage in a curious, collegial exploration of the practice-related issues confronting the coach.

Let’s face it: coaching can be a lonely profession and it can be easy to become stuck in a practice rut, doing the same things with the same clients in the same way without any channel to express the ideas, fears and tears that come from this. Coaches face not only their clients’ frustrations and challenges, but their own too. And often they have no place to release and explore this.

That’s where the supervisor comes in.

Checklists, assessments and stern looks over pince-nez is as far from coaching supervision as can be imagined!

As a supervisor, my role is not to know best but to offer a space for unknowing – a space for exploring possibilities and ideas and for surfacing unexpressed emotions, fears and worries around professional practice.

Far from being at the centre of enquiry, coaching skills or intervention is just one dimension that my coach-supervisee and I might explore. I’m interested in how my supervisee is feeling and managing themselves in their work. I’m interested in the impact that their sharing of their work has on me, and what that might be saying about their experience. I’m interested in how the client being coached is impacted, and how my supervisee and their client are relating. I’m interested in the whole field of interaction in the client–coach–supervisor context. Together, we engage in a rich, textured exploration of the coaching.

In other words, I help my supervisee to take a big step back from the minute-by-minute coaching process and explore what is going on systemically, contextually, emotionally, practically, interpersonally and intrapersonally. My job, in essence, is to create a space where all this can surface for the wellbeing and increasing competence and confidence of my coach-supervisee.

Coaching supervision is still a new field, and whereas supervision is commonplace, indeed essential, in disciplines such as psychotherapy, it is still a relative luxury in coaching. I believe it’s time for this to change. For anyone carrying out a reasonable amount of coaching, supervision is a hugely valuable contribution to their growth and development.

It is a cliché in the supervision world to talk of ‘super-vision’; however, while I find it a little twee, I can’t deny its aptness for describing what we do. It’s not that we’re ‘super’. It’s that we create a higher place from which to zone in, with our supervisee, on their practice, allowing us to notice the patterns, processes and things to be learnt, and to find a space for connecting to our purpose and passion in what we do.

To find out about the Animas Accredited Diploma in Coaching Supervision go here.

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