Charlotte loved her coach training. Each of the topics she studied brought something new and significant to her life. Her daily commute became the highlight of her day as she devoured books recommended by her classmates and teachers. She was so proud of the results her practice clients were getting – she had a real gift for getting people to open up. She was overjoyed when she qualified and got her diploma.
The desire of making coaching a rewarding career was stronger than ever. Charlotte set the wheels in motion.
She hired someone to design a logo and a set of business cards. She created social media profiles. She wrote words for her brand spanking new website. She hesitated a bit at the paragraph for her home page promising a profound transformation, but she wrote it anyway. After all, that’s what everybody had on their websites.
Charlotte’s closest friends were proud of her and cheered her on, but many others didn’t quite get what coaching was, and why it was worth paying for. She realised that in her new business she would be selling an invisible product and having those new business cards and a website made it feel real and legitimate somehow.
Making coaching into a business had Charlotte’s full attention. She felt the pressure to start earning and she needed clients. The barrage of Facebook posts promising to make her into a 6-figure coach kept reminding her of that daily.
Pursuing coaching mastery took the back seat. She reflected on her sessions less and she tracked Instagram followers more.
Around the same time, Charlotte started to doubt herself, wondering if her coaching was powerful enough and if she was giving her clients what they paid for. That was a tough question to answer. Plus, nobody saw if she was doing a good job or not.
This feeling started to seep into her discovery calls. Unsure of her ability to bring the desired transformation, she sold herself short. The combination of self-doubt and pressure to start earning created a fertile ground for imposer feelings to emerge. Charlotte started feeling like a fraud.
I’m wondering if any of this sound familiar?
Coaching work comes with its challenges.
It can also feel lonely at times. What to do when you find yourself triggered by a challenging conversation?
Who do you ask when you’re unsure whether you are serving your client with impact, or when you’re stuck on what approach to take?
How can you feel confident in your style beyond what you learnt during your coach training?
How does supervision help coaches?
Coaching supervision is learning-in-relationship. It’s a safe environment for you to bring your successes and failures and to discuss them with a skilled thinking partner, your supervisor.
Michael Carroll writes about supervision being a shift from isolation and stasis to connectedness and development, and from individual to communal, through a process of continual reflection.
By engaging in this process on a regular basis, you become masterful in the way you work.
Supervision can take different forms including 1 to 1, group or a mixture of both. Research suggests that group and individual supervision can be similarly effective and rewarding (1). It’s up to you to choose if you prefer to have your supervisor’s undivided attention or rather be part of a supportive group of coaches who grow and learn together.
Here are 7 coach aspirations that lend themselves well to be achieved through supervision:
1. Develop your coaching style.
When we learn coaching skills, we catch glimpses of what coaching can be like. We observe our trainers, we search for demonstrations on YouTube (and cringe at some of what we find), we look for books with case studies and dialogue examples.
In that process, we may forget who we are and what we already know. Supervision is a place to develop your own style. Similar to a chemist mixing ingredients to create a compound with its unique properties, supervision is your experimentation lab where you integrate your life experience with you coaching skills to an approach that you can confidently call your own.
2. Stay emotionally balanced.
Working with our clients can affect our emotions in a myriad of ways. Their challenges may remind us of our own ghosts, some of them still not ready to face the daylight. Tough assignments in divided or angry organisations can leave us feeling conflicted or exhausted. Difficult ethical decisions can make us question ourselves and leave a residue of guilt. Our ideal client saying no to working together can affect how we show up.
Supervision is a place to put all that exposes us and hurts us on the table. The support of an experienced supervisor who has gone through similar experiences before can help us get perspective and put our challenges into context.
3. Expand your toolkit
At its heart, supervision is about learning. And although the ICF recognises supervision hours as CPD, it’s not about yet another certificate on your wall.
Supervision is a reflective space where learning happens. It’s where we experiment, broaden our vision, assess what works. We brainstorm new ways forward when we feel stuck on what route to take with a client.
And although we read the books and discuss a host of theories, we also learn to leave them outside to be fully present with our clients.
4. Work through ethical issues.
Supervision is a space where you can explore ethical issues in confidence. However dry it may sound, ethical dilemmas and conflicts of interest are an innate part of working as a coach.
Can I take on a coaching client who has a diagnosed mental illness?
What to do when my corporate client wants to use their session to plan their exit from the organisation?
How to uphold boundaries when working with different members of the same team?
Rather than give you “the right answer”, a good supervisor will help you develop your own ethical maturity. This is your ability to embrace complexity and make decisions that deal with respect and fairness to all parties involved.
5. “Know thyself”
Developing self-awareness is such a crucial part of coaching mastery. The ability to see what is happening for us clearly and objectively allows us to be present with the client, ask better questions and be more impactful overall.
Supervision can help you:
Understand where you tend to get hooked into your clients’ issues and where do you show up in your rational (adult) self.
Learn your emotional patterns so that you can distinguish emotions that are yours from those coming from the coachee and their system,
Be clear on your coaching strengths and growing edges.
What scripts might you have that unconsciously impact upon the way you coach.
A skilled supervisor will help you address aspects of your own behaviour that might get in the way of how effective you are as a coach.
6. Have a team behind you
Building a coaching practice can be lonely. Being the only person left in the room after a challenging client session can amplify any worries and doubts that might show up.
Is everyone else handling this better? Are you doing enough?
Perhaps you worked as part of a team before or were lucky enough to have had a decent boss. If so, you may have enjoyed brainstorming challenges together when work-life threw curveballs. Having an opportunity to vent about a difficult client.
Feeling validated. Yes, you are doing great. With a suggestion to tweak a thing here or there, but knowing that you’re on the right track.
Your supervisor becomes that person on your team to brainstorm with, challenge your beliefs and assumptions, and champion you when you need it.
Reduced feelings of isolation and a heightened sense of belonging are often cited as important benefits of supervision(2).
7. Develop your “internal supervisor”
During your training, you learn about the importance of reflecting on your sessions. In supervision, you are reflecting with someone who is truly present, engaging emotionally and intellectually in what you choose to present. They are on a journey with you, working through your challenges in as effective, honest and caring a relationship as is possible.
This in turn will help you strengthen your self-reflection muscle. You may find yourself reflecting more objectively during and after your client work. Rather than letting your inner critic take over, you may find yourself able to fully explore your experiences without judgement.
This is your “internal supervisor” that you can access when working with your clients.
Do all coaches really need supervision?
The simple answer is… no. Nobody needs it… no more than we need coaching or therapy. You may be a business coach or a performance coach who is very confident in their coaching, 100% satisfied with the results that you are getting and you don’t feel the need to challenge yourself. Or perhaps you’ve been doing this for years and not much emotional content comes up for you in your sessions.
If that’s you, that’s ok. You might not need supervision but my provocation for you is:
Can we ask our clients to take risks and challenge themselves out of their comfort zones but stay comfortable ourselves?
It’s a question of values so no right or wrong answers here.
Sheila Ryan, quoted in Michael Carroll’s Effective Supervision for the Helping Professions, says it so well:
Supervision interrupts practice. It wakes us up to what we are doing. When we are alive to what we are doing, we wake up to what it is, instead of falling asleep in the comfort stories of our clinical routines and daily practice…
But then there are also coaches like Charlotte.
Coaches who tend to work at a deeper level and because of this get exposed to a multitude of emotions and dynamics that may be tricky to manoeuvre.
Coaches who want to develop their authentic coaching style and need support with that.
Coaches who want to develop their mastery because they don’t want their coaching to become run-of-the-mill and formulaic.
If you are a newly qualified coach, you may think there is no point accessing coaching supervision until you have a full schedule of clients to bring to supervision. Nothing could be further from the truth. Establishing good coaching habits from the outset is far easier than trying to fix bad habits we picked on the way.
But experienced practitioners can find themselves drifting towards the zone of unconscious incompetence every now and again. When that happens, a good supervisor will make sure to hold the mirror up to our face, but do so without judgement. And perhaps they will even throw in some humour for good measure!
de Haan, E. (2017). Large-scale survey of trust and safety in coaching supervision: Some evidence that we are doing it right. International Coaching Psychology Review, 12(1), 37-48.
The body of academic research on coaching supervision keeps growing. The article in International Coaching Psychology Review, (Volume 12, No. 1, March 2017) identified key benefits for coaches who receive Coaching Supervision as:
Reduced feelings of isolation
Heightened sense of belonging