Supervision or SUPER-vision?

I’m happy to admit that back in 2014 when I was first credentialed I really didn’t really know the difference between mentor coaching and supervision. Even after I read the ICF article that outlined the key differences…! And I’m happy to admit this, because I’m pretty sure there are still a significant number of coaches who have no idea.

What’s the difference between mentoring & supervision?

Now it’s 2020 and I’m a PCC who has studied supervision at Oxford Brookes University – so here’s my [perhaps over-simplified] way of explaining it:

Coaching Supervision is a place for you, as the coach, to reflect on the work you are undertaking.

While Mentor Coaching is when you, as the coach, are being coached on your coaching skills.

By way of a formal definition, according to the Association for Coaching Coaching Supervision is:

“a formal and protected time for facilitating in-depth reflection for coaches to discuss their work with someone who is experienced as a Coach. Supervision offers a confidential framework within a collaborative working relationship in which the practice, tasks, process and challenges of the coaching work can be explored.”

As coaches, we know how valuable regular reflection and questioning of our work can be. Many coaches work to the point of exhaustion… which isn’t good for anyone (not for you, or for your clients). As a new coach you might be very keen to establish yourself, which leads to taking on too much and trying to please everyone. Or as a more experienced coach, you might feel ‘worn out’ from years of compassion, caring and commitment.

Why should I invest in coaching supervision?

As a coach, access to feedback is limited and infrequent. We might collect regular feedback from our clients, but it’s not the same as specialist feedback.

In an environment of complexity and uncertainty, it’s important to take a step back and take a broader view of your coaching practice. To uncover the blind spots and see what you cannot already see in your own work. This deeper level of reflection is what helps you to develop your practice.

Further, the coaching profession may still be young, but it has matured to the point that buyers of coaching services need ways to compare and differentiate between coaches. And having regular coaching supervision – individual and group – is a clear indication of quality.

I’ve read a lot of great articles on coaching supervision in the past year or two and one of my favourites was written by Simon Popley*, an Executive Coach based in Sydney. Simon writes about how we, as coaches, work with our clients to raise awareness of limiting patterns of thinking and behaviour. When we create insight for our clients they often say things like ‘how did I not see that before?’ and it’s that same “not knowing” that gets in the way for us as coaches – Simon beautifully describes this as driving with only one headlight working. The insights we gain in coaching supervision help us to become better coaches and help us to ensure both headlights are working.

Research shows that coaching supervision benefits:

  • you, as the coach (the person receiving supervision);
  • your coaching clients;
  • the sponsor, where the organisation is paying for coaching; and
  • the Coaching Profession (by developing standards, quality control, and ethical practice).

As a great coach, you are the instrument. And because you’re human you’re not a perfect instrument – none of us are. Coaching Supervision is a space where you can be imperfect. A place where you can ‘service’ the instrument, which is a bit like running an update on your PC! It’s a place where you can explore what you consider to be your mistakes or failures and share any ugly thoughts you might be having in safe environment.

Does supervision count toward my credential renewal?

The purpose of coaching supervision is to generate coach insights through guided reflective enquiry that will improve the quality of your coaching.  For this reason, the ICF allow you to count up to 10 hours of Coaching Supervision toward the 40 hours of Continuing Coach Education (CCE) you require for credential renewal.

How do I select the right supervisor?

Finding the ‘right’ supervisor is similar to the way a coachee finds the ‘right’ coach, in that the relationship is critical. Research suggests there are key capabilities of exceptional coaches – credibility, empathy, holding the professional self, insight, flexibility, working to the business context, personal responsibility and skilful challenging (Dagley, 2010) – and as a coach you should look for these same capabilities in an exceptional coaching supervisor.

Supervisors clearly need knowledge and skills over and above those of a coach. While it may be another decade before there is a rigorous accreditation process for supervisors, you should aim to select a supervisor who holds a credential and has completed a reputable supervision program.