Excellent coaching requires the coach to be consistently effective and aware of their own developmental needs as well as those of the client. One way of meeting these needs is through supervision. Linda Aspey looks at this often under-appreciated form of development.
Despite having its profile raised recently, many coaches still don’t see the need for supervsion, or they misunderstand its purpose, thinking it’s a directive process or policing/judging activity. It’s not the former but it does provide a safety net for the work, however, that’s not the whole picture.
Supervision is a reflective process that offers learning and support for the coach - to discuss ideas or approaches, plan out strategies, share concerns, and juggle the varied, complex and demanding aspects of the work. Whether the coach is internal or external to an organisation, having supervision, 1:1 or group, is essential to maintaining best practise. I wouldn’t work as a coach without it, and the people I supervise say the same, because the role carries significant responsibilities, for example to:
• Be really clear around the contract, goals and coaching task even when there is pressure from other areas to work to different agendas.
• To understand the client and their world – inner and outer, individual and systemic, conscious and unconscious.
• Work with the client’s subtle signals and metaphors, sensitively and constructively and be confident enough to address the unsaid.
• Help the client move forward without the coach pressing their own solutions on them or becoming too personally affected by the issues under discussion.
• Manage the expectations of the coaching from a variety of stakeholders’ perspectives in both the client and the coach’s worlds - client, coach, sponsor, manager, peers, subordinates, coach’s peers, coach’s own employer.
• Use the right coaching tools at the right time for the right reasons in the right way, being mindful of their potential impact if used without due care (eg 360).
• Keep their knowledge of practise, theory and tools current and relevant, and regularly review those used to assess their ongoing validity.
• Ensure professional boundaries are maintained, including managing dual relationships with the client or sponsor or organisation.
• Know when they have reached the limits of their competence, professionally manage an exit if needed, and ensure that the client has access to appropriate alternatives.
Several online coaching forums illustrate the type of issues with which coaches regularly grapple: “Fred’s 360 review contains very negative comments - I’m dreading giving him feedback”; “The CEO keeps pushing me to discuss one of his team that I coach”; “My client wants me to coach her husband who works in the same company, what should I do?” “My client wants to stop the coaching but we are only half way through our 12 sessions”.
Sometimes we don’t have enough confidence in our gut feelings to acknowledge when something’s wrong, or are unsure in handling tricky situations like these. The coaching relationship can sometimes be quite intense and the role fairly isolated, so having a trusted colleague or close group with whom one can work confidentially and collaboratively is essential – after all most HR professionals have done this for years!
If you haven’t yet tried supervision, I’d really encourage you to do so before you write it off as the latest fad (it’s not, I’ve had it for 20 years). Most coaches find supervision stretching, supportive and containing, not critical or punitive, and many are amazed at how much their coaching practise improves when they have proper supervision - growing more confident, deepening their insight and knowledge, and giving real benefit to the client for the client’s own journey.
* Linda Aspey is an APECS Accredited Executive Coach and a BACP Accredited Psychotherapist.