This blog is intended for coaches and trainee coaches looking to deepen their capability and confidence in coaching. Each month we take a question, examine why it is important in coaching, some challenges we may face answering it plus pragmatic ways to engage with it.
Last time we explored how best to support clients experiencing psychological distress. This month how supervision can support our coaching.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Even though we may spend much of our days speaking with others, as coaches we are there for our clients' stories, agendas and challenges. This can be emotionally and cognitively taxing and the duty of confidentiality may have us feel alone in this emotional labour. Increasingly, coaching bodies and institutions are recognising the need for coaches to have safe spaces to discuss their client work.
All major coaching associations such as the ICF, EMCC, AC and Institute of Coaching recommend regular supervision for coaches and require it as part of the path to being accredited as a coach. The growing number of academic institutions offering coaching degrees or diplomas usually include it as part of the coursework. Many coach training schools and academic institutions also offer Coaching Supervision trainings. A growing number of institutions which hire coaches require regular supervision as a condition of coaches being included in the pool of coaches they deploy.
WHAT GETS IN THE WAY?
Starting out as coaches, you may not be getting many clients and so may not feel the need for a supervisor or may be unwilling to spend on supervision until you have built more of a practice.
Or you may be concerned about looking incompetent in front of a supervisor or a supervision group.
You may also be unsure of what supervision usually covers and what you can and cannot discuss.
When initially contracting with your clients it is a good idea to include a caveat to any confidentiality clause for anonymised discussions with your supervisor to be exceptions to your duty of confidentiality.
WHAT ARE SOME USEFUL DISTINCTIONS?
When you are training as a coach or trying to achieve a credential with a coaching body such as the ICF , you will probably employ a Mentor Coach, someone who "provides professional assistance in achieving and demonstrating the levels of coaching competency and capability demanded by the desired credential level."
This fulfils what we might term the normative function of supervision whereby a supervisor helps coaches recognise and adhere to ethics and standards required by the body in relation to coachees. If the Mentor coach is aligned to a particular coach training school, part of their role may also be ensuring that the coach is correctly understanding and applying the school's principles and methods.
However supervision goes further that only normative work. Another function of supervision is formative: a supervisor helps us see our own developmental opportunities as coaches through the lens of our client work. Most often the challenges or impasses we face in client work have something to show us about where we can grow. If we are stuck and don't know what to do next with our client, a supervisor can help us understand where we may be impeding ourselves and how we might develop greater capacity.
Another role of supervision is restorative: supervision can be the safe harbour we know we can come back to when our client work is tricky or taxing. Sometimes, just knowing that I have my supervisor with whom to discuss something later gives me the courage to tackle something in coaching that I would otherwise find myself stuck on.
Confusingly, coaching supervision isn't supposed to provide you with a supervisor in the common-sense use of the word as someone who directs your actions and tells you what to do! They take more of a 'coach the coach' approach.
A HELPFUL METAPHOR?
I sometimes think of the role my supervisors have played in relation to my client work as 'grand-parenting'. Supervisors are themselves coaches and understand the challenges we sometimes face in getting traction, letting ourselves get in the way of the work or when we get into a tangle over confidentiality or ethics.
WHERE DOES INTEGRAL COACHING FIT IN?
Because Integral coaching is coaching the person not the problem, the coaching relationship and our way of being in it are of great importance. In this case, being in a supervision relationship is also a great practice of relational developmental work beyond the initial coach training period. I've pretty much always had a supervisor, supervision group or peer supervisor throughout my coaching career - and often several at the same time!
EXERCISES AND PRACTICES TO TAKE AWAY?
-Here's the ICF's take on supervision from the ICF website with some follow-on reading
-Here's the Association for Coaching on supervision, also with longer references.
- Join a supervision group or engage a supervisor to see how you might benefit. We are currently facilitating free coaching supervision groups for anyone coaching clients working on UN Sustainable Development Goals - contact us if you would like to join one!