What does supervision in coaching and mentoring mean to you and your clients? Here are some options:
- Development; effective practice; integrity; challenge and innovation.
- Client-focused; a fresh perspective; creative and enabling.
- A valued time out; a safe space for fine-tuning; increased confidence.
- Policing; nice to have but nonessential; a tick box; expensive; time-consuming; uncomfortable; of little value; boring; shaming.
In music, most people appreciate a live concert. With lip syncing, while enjoying the sound, we can feel short-changed. Creating the appearance of live singing has become an art form, with crews of technicians and IT wizardry that will make the sound better than it actually is.
This begs the question: what parallels are there here in how coaching, mentoring and supervision is being delivered or presented?
Where are you?
Are you proactively engaged in useful, energising and meaningful supervision (‘Live’), or paying lip service (‘Lip Syncing’)? Do you see supervision as something you have to evidence occasionally, while being more concerned with reluctant compliance over substance? Do you take the easy option with peers when necessary for tenders? Are you critical or resistant to the concept of supervision? Or are you regularly engaged in a wide range of highcalibre CPD activities, just not taking part in supervision right now?
Where am I?
These are the influences on my supervision, which I share as a way of inviting you to reflect on the influences that are shaping your pathway in coach-mentoring.
- When I managed specialised HR corporate accounts for outplacement, work based counselling and critical incident, supervision was an essential, valued and protected ‘time out’ in the service of challenging work.
- During professional development as coach-mentor and coach-mentor supervisor, I have been inspired by The OCM and Eric Parsloe’s passion for rigorous ongoing learning in the service of the individual and organisations. Always energetic and pragmatic, Eric steered through the sirens and the fads that lure business and coaching communities with his philosophy ‘success comes most surely from doing simple things consistently’ and ‘trust the process.’ (Parsloe & Leedham, 2009)
- After struggling during the global banking crisis, I then unexpectedly began managing quality and supervision for a ground-breaking ‘whole life coaching’ programme for 600 people living in extreme deprivation. My determination to ensure these ‘clients’ had the best possible coaching experience is the main reason I trained in supervision.
Learning from experience
Supervision is ‘safe space’ with the client at the centre and a focus on the practitioner’s beliefs, behaviour and self-awareness. The purpose is continuous improvement, reflection on practice, challenging perspectives, and shared responsibility for professional scrutiny and learning.
Supervision developed in other disciplines is a wisdom pool for coaching and mentoring to draw from. Conversely, norms in preestablished
formats may be constricting innovation of ‘supervision process’ in coaching, mentoring, leadership and OD. A preoccupation with individual well-being and expectation of dysfunction in the ‘oppressive’ organisation can cloud sight of alternative systemic perspectives and consideration for the wider stakeholder group. Exceptional Clients Coaches and mentors are preoccupied with different things at different times in their development, blocking line of sight to clients and personal insight. Supervision rejuvenates client connection, grounding practitioners in their values and intention to make a real difference: to tap into and enable the potential in everyone; and to change, flourish and prosper, including the collective that is the organisation.
The OCM stance
The OCM’s approach to Supervision & CPD is that both are integral to sustaining effective coaching and mentoring for the benefit of individuals, teams and organisations.
OCM Alumni begin the process of greater self-awareness, systemic awareness and meaningful reflective practice as they hone coaching and mentoring skills through robust, supervised experiential development programmes.
Proactive engagement in supervision or purposeful CPD is an indicator of a coach or mentor’s professional commitment to be the best they can be for their clients. In the early stages of practice, supervision using a blend of individual and group experiences contributes to increased confidence and adds to coaching credibility. For the more experienced, supervision is a place to challenge and be challenged on
assumptions, notice patterns, blind spots and to ‘wake up’.
“Supervision is the forum par excellence to learn from practice. It is a reflective practitioner’s oasis.” (Carroll, 2014)
A safe space is essential for these benefits to be delivered. Safety and trust is built on equality in relationship, respect for differences and
joint responsibility. Peer supervision, if purposeful and carefully contracted for, can support this process but may fall short, dropping into lip sync. “You supervise me and I’ll supervise you”, squeezed in here and there, is a poor substitute for a coach or mentor fully owning and actively participating in supervision as part of their CPD.
With organisations who wish to guard their investment in coaching and mentoring, The OCM has noticed a growing interest in integrated supervision services, either delivered by trained and qualified internal supervisors or blended with external provision. Corporate clients who have committed time and resources to invest in supervision report renewed focus and alignment with business purpose.
Resistance to Supervision
The coaching industry has been discussing the value and benefit of supervision for over 15 years. Running in tandem has been the narrative of resistance – to the word ‘supervision’ and to absorbing supervision practices developed in different contexts. Coach comments presented at the 2015 Coaching at Work Conference (Bachkirova, 2015) are recognisable phrases. Some are fear-based, and some mirror archaic but still prevalent transactional attitudes to people, which like oil in water rise to the surface during turbulence in the markets.
While the professional membership bodies all encourage supervision, psychodynamic or counselling narratives have become more widespread, which has the potential to increase resistance to organisational coaching and mentoring.
For services which are solution and futurefocused, and at their best life-transforming, the time spent chewing over ‘supervision’, unable to move out of habitual behaviour, implies stasis in the industry, something stagnant or stuck, with only the few generating original ideas and approaches.
There is a paradox in coaching. Coachees and mentees are encouraged to challenge themselves, build on and draw on their strengths, openly disclose their anxieties and concerns and be honest with others about their behaviour. Warts and all disclosure is encouraged in order to become more effective, creative and innovative, to adapt and change for the better. However, their coach or mentor may be cruising along on auto pilot, falling well short in prioritising their own development: paying lip service to principles of professionalism; delivering on the words, but not the actions.
Supervision Live or Lip Sync –Winners and Losers The obvious losers are the clients or potential clients: caveat emptor – ‘let the buyer beware’.
There are a highlytalented silent majority within the coaching and mentoring field: professionals working for change in organisations which are not viewedas dysfunctional and in need of corporate therapy. Instead, these coaches see the workplace as a living, exciting, complex, and uncertain environment and the better for that. These are individuals who are capable of connecting organically with what is needed to have a lasting impact, who have chosen to set their own ‘professional’ bar high for supervision and CPD. Only ‘Live’ – or real – will do, even if it is challenging, scary and sometimes really hard. Supervision for them is a chance to review and improve their performance: simple as that. It is a process they are actively engaged in and are shaping to meet their needs.
Despite codes and guidelines, individual coaches and coach providers will choose to take the easy option – to lip sync. After all, it’s there and others are doing it, so why not? Corporate service buyers, however, are starting to notice the difference, especially in companies where governance, quality and ethical practices are paramount. A coach provider who said publicly during an open space ‘unconference’ in 2015 that he would not take coaches off income-generating work to take part in supervision sounded an alarm for the corporate clients in the room with him. As experienced coaches and internal supervisors themselves they are well aware of the challenges faced by organisational coaches. Finelytuned ears heard the hidden message: lip sync is good enough for clients.
Fortunately there are more positive signs that supervision is viewed as a “complex skill set, with significant value in terms of delivering
opportunity for reflective practice, insights and new perspectives, and for assuring the delivery of good-quality coaching.”
The first study to examine the views of Australian coaches on coaching supervision was reported in the International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, in an article by Anthony Grant (2012). It offers evidence of real interest in supervision for the benefit of coaches.
Why coaches seek supervision
19% as a sounding board
19% it develops coaches’ ability
17% it helps assure quality
15% for personal development and self-awareness
4% it is required by professional body
Perceived barriers to supervision
35% can’t find a good supervisor
32% too expensive
16% too time consuming
13% not required by clients
Towards Professional Mastery
What are the indicators of an individual’s commitment to live supervision and how does the client discover this? Turning to a different industry, we can find a clue to illuminate and answer this question.
A coach or organisation that has a real commitment to ‘Live’ supervision or CPD in coaching and mentoring is equivalent to the artisan or master baker. Finding no value or nutrition in mass-produced, packaged bread, however well-intentioned and convenient, the baker invests time and energy in something that is significantly different. Created through individuality, vision and passion for the product itself (bread), the baker sets about to revive nutritious, organic, high-value, wholesome bread using naturally occurring yeast in the environment. The artisan process uses a natural self-starter that makes it all happen.
But how do clients know who is and is not an equivalent artisan coach or mentor? Those who are actively committed to development and growth are able to provide clear and original evidence of their experimentation, learning, adaptive practice and outcomes from their Live
supervision and CPD.
Where are you now on Supervision?
Are you a coach who wants to thrive, adapt to changing contexts, and connect with your clients organically, co-creating the right conditions to deliver effective coaching and mentoring? Then now is the time to let your voice ‘sing live’ loud and clear.
Step up – reflect on what you have done or will do at different stages in your supervision. Discover what works best for you. In the meantime this might be useful. From Lip Sync to Live – before, during and after supervision/CPD
Before - warm up
- What do you want out of supervision, individual, group, or CPD?
- Reflect, decide and own your shared responsibility to make it happen.
- Carve out time and mental space to tune into who you are and what wants to be heard.
- Notice and welcome any sensation or emotion as you anticipate connection with others
During - relax
- Sense check regularly and notice any insight or subtle shifts in the moment.
- Offer and seek feedback.
- Remain open to difference in style and experience.
- Notice excitement or discomfort as you approach your learning edge and stay there.
- Hear when the client voice is silent – consciously bring client/s in and give them space.
- Be clear on exactly what learning you will take away.
After - appreciate
- Notice what came up as well as any new or different insights following the session.
- Prioritise, note and take action on what needs attention in your work or in yourself.
- Celebrate and take credit for connecting with your practice, client progress and highlights.
- Take your own metaphorical bow.
‘With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn’ Charlotte Joko Beck in Chodron (2001)
Angela Hill, Head of Supervision – Professional Coach-Mentor, The OCM