Good coaches know that their craft requires supervision. In fact evidence suggests that the more mature and experienced a coach is, the more likely they are to seek regular supervision. Most accreditors require coaches to have regular supervision but many coaches still do not. This means of course, that many leaders are unknowingly being coached by coaches who are not supervised. All leaders should ask their coach about their supervision arrangements. Ask yours tomorrow!
Why does this matter?
Let’s start by defining what a supervisor is. Of course, I don’t mean supervisor in the ‘foreman’ or ‘team leader’ sense of the word. The term comes from the clinical world where it is normal for a psychotherapist, psychologist or counsellor to regularly meet with a supervisor to discuss their work.
A coach supervisor provides support in many ways:
- A sounding board and encouragement
- Building competence and skill
- Keeping coach and client safe
- Ensuring professional and ethical conduct
- Helping coaches manage boundaries
- Helping coaches to ‘see the system’ in the organisations that they support
- Helping coaches stay out of interpersonal or political drama and entanglement.
A supervisor will have deep experience as a coach but will also have specific training in supervision. They will know how to support deep reflection and to help a coach see things from many perspectives. They will know how to support a coach who has got hooked into a drama or entangled in a client relationship or system. They will be able to help a coach see what is unconscious or out of the coach’s awareness. Of course a good supervisor will also be supervised and may also be in therapy, so as to be highly aware of the ways in which their own mental models, ways of being and unconscious patterns play into their work. Topics that coaches may bring to their supervisor include:
- Feeling stuck, under-skilled or that their work is not progressing
- Feeling hooked or sucked into a drama by the client or client system
- Transference and counter-transference
- Ethical or boundary dilemmas
- Issues of mental health in their clients or themselves
- Negotiating power and politics
- Feeling like they are ‘going native’ in a client organisation they know very well.
The work of coaches is interpersonal and systemic. It opens a coach up to the very cultural and systemic forces that are acting upon their clients. Unless they can see this, they are likely to get hooked and become unhelpful to the client and the organisation. Here’s an example of what can happen when an unsupervised coach acts without awareness:
A coach is working with a CEO who is extremely frustrated by the performance of his team in a difficult phase of the business. The CEO is getting more dictatorial with his people as a result. Hooked by his client’s frustration, wanting earnestly to help and unconsciously believing himself to be heroic enough to ‘fix’ the team, the coach opts to advise the CEO exactly what he should do with each team member. In doing so the coach unconsciously falls into the same unhelpful pattern that the CEO is himself stuck in. What follows is a trust-damaging phase in the life of the Executive team.
If coaches are to be of use to their clients, they must be working on themselves. awake to their unconscious drivers, the forces that are acting up on them and the ways in which they end up colluding not helping. This means they must have supervisory support. Alone, none of us can see all that we need to see in order to do this job with skill.