What can Supervision in Coaching Really Do?

We coaches work in isolation: who knows what we get up to when no one is looking except the client? Coaching is unregulated and looks likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future since no one ‘ in authority’, whatever that means, cares enough about coaching to provide the money to make statutory control a reality.

So something called ‘supervision’, and note the lower case ‘s’, has crept in as the preferred alternative. Now, to get work as a coach in a corporate environment you may have to state that you have a supervisor and name them, saying how many times you meet.

All of these are benign developments, but before we get on to more of what those might be, some aspects of it trouble me. First, claims are made that supervision is part of quality control. Please, someone explain to me how this could be true. Unless the coaching conversation was recorded, what supervision means is one person talking about work they did when the other person was not present. Self-delusion, inexperience, or deliberate concealment could all be at work on either side.

I find that many absurd and unrealistic statements are made about how often coach and supervisor should meet – for instance someone very senior and academic at the EMCC once suggested one hour of supervision for every eight hours of coaching. I have never met a practising coach who was willing to submit to this or thought it necessary – or to pay for it. In fact when coaches have to pay for themselves rather than some benign employer forking out, they are very careful and thrifty about how often their supervision happens. Then there is the notable absence of evidence that supervision makes a difference. This absence does not mean that it doesn’t, but has anyone established that coaches who have frequent and regular supervision do better work and are more commercially successful than coaches who do not?

My own approach is that supervision for coaches is essential as a safe place for the rigorous self reflection which results in increased self awareness and prudent confidence. When done well it challenges, it supports, it develops. By doing this it widens your choices and increases competence. Essentially it is a process for examining the coach-client relationship. I see supervision as having three purposes, all of them overlapping:

Spotting our patterns as coaches. Since as coaches we work in isolation, it is all too easy to develop blind spots which prevent us understanding what is happening in the relationship, hearing what the client is saying, or seeing how we are contributing to any triumphs and difficulties ourselves. Indirectly, therefore, supervision can improve the quality of coaching

Deepening understanding of coach-client dynamics. The newer you are to coaching, the more likely you are to want an endlessly variable supply of ‘tools and techniques’. Supervision can indeed help to do this, but the real work is to look at what is happening in the coach-client relationship, to raise self-awareness about our own responses to clients and to explore alternatives

Emotional support. Coaching is ‘emotional labour’ and like any such work it can be exhausting, troubling, exhilarating. Coaching also raises many ethical dilemmas which are difficult to discuss with people who are not fellow-coaching professionals. Supervision may be the one place where you can explore this material without fear of being judged or told what to do.

The respected consultancy ConsultEast is running a training in supervision in which I will be involved. The dates are March 10-14, 2014 and there are still places. To find out more email Rachel@ConsultEast.co.uk