Coaches are in a very powerful position, often working with the inner world of the coachee and having to manage the dynamics of a 1:1 working relationship (with much activity happening beneath the surface and out of conscious awareness). Done well, coaching can transform a coachee, the client organisation, and a coach’s professional practice. However, done badly, coaching can turn into a cosy chat, in which there is collusion with the coachee. Or, perhaps, an internal pressure from the coach to ‘prove their worth’ by showing what they know and not forming a strong working alliance from which to understand the coachee’s needs and how best to respond to them.
Looking at this area it is important to focus on what is meant by the term supervision in a coaching context. Hawkins & Smith (2006) defined supervision as:
‘The process by which a Coach with the help of a supervisor, can attend to understanding better both the Client system and themselves as part of the Client/Coach system, and by so doing transform their work and develop their craft’.
Although there are many coaches who practice without regular supervision, the three professional bodies in the UK coaching arena (Association for Coaching, International Coach Federation and European Mentoring and Coaching Council) all recognise the value of supervision to ensure continuing professional development and that coaches are working to the highest ethical and professional standards. As a coach, (and qualified psychotherapist), and someone who has recently completed a Level 6 Supervision Certificate, I have experienced and witnessed the benefits to be gained from coaching supervision and I offer my insights of the benefits of supervision in this blog as follows:
1. Proving a reflection space
In our busy worlds, we can sometimes lose sight of ourselves as coaches and operate on ‘automatic pilot’, using our tried and trusted coaching models. However, a different perspective, from a well-qualified and skilled supervisor, can breathe new life into our coaching practice as well as help us to learn how to tolerate and work with ‘not knowing the answer’ or being able to ‘fix’ a client. Transferred back into the coaching relationship, this also shows the client how to work through ambiguity in their lives. Reflection space provides a space to ‘pause’, to review, reflect and think about our professional practice and provide insights into what we do, in potentially new ways.
2. Learning tools, techniques and new ideas
When we have the space to think, we can often see ourselves and situations more clearly. Effective supervision facilitates a review of coaching practice and a widening of our perspectives and the options we have in our practice. The coach might even practice some new ways of working in the learning environment which good supervision provides.
3. Understanding self
We bring our whole ‘self’ into our coaching practice, and so it makes sense that we have a deep level of insight into our own patterns of thinking and how this then shapes the coaching relationship. From a professional development perspective, it is good to look closely at what influences our thinking, so that it does not unconsciously impact on work with a client. For example, when working with senior leaders, there can be a reluctance to challenge or identify a blind-spot in the leader and this can be identified, acknowledged and worked through, in supervision.
4. Exploring unconscious processes/dynamics within the coaching relationship
Neuroscientists tell us that over 90% of our behaviour comes from our unconscious processing. It is therefore in our best interests to know what influences our thinking. The supervisor can, for instance, use the dynamics present within the supervisory relationship to explore whether there are parallel processes in the coaching relationships.
5. Awareness of the wider system within which coaching take place, including ethical and legal considerations
We operate in a world where there are huge demands placed on workers which include a long-hours culture; always connected through technology; and job insecurity (particularly in the Gig economy). There are also very practical measures that need careful consideration by coaches like contracting, record-keeping and sharing of information. How personal information is managed was brought into sharp focus with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulations in May 2018. A good supervisor will understand changes in the law that impact on coaches and will proactively advise coaches and check whether their current practice meet any new standards.
Choosing a supervisor from limited information that appears on web-sites is often hard, and that is one of the reasons why I have chosen to write this blog to provide an insight into my own thinking about supervision. My current conceptualisation of supervision is one of ‘learning in action’. I see the supervision process covering a wide variety of theory, skills and practice and these include: reviewing work with clients, professional development, continuing professional education and personal support. Finally, the words of TS Eliot capture succinctly both the effort and the simplicity of good supervision:
‘We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know that place for the first time’.
Margaret Walsh works as a coaching and counselling supervisor and works both face-to-face and over Skype. She is also developing several CPD Workshops for coaches (both internal and external) to deepen self-awareness and sharpen coaching practice which involve working in nature in the beautiful grounds of Tofte Manor in Bedfordshire.
If you would like to discuss your requirements, then please contact Margaret directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn
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