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Someone to watch over me


How many coaches have supervisors, and of those that do, are they truly benefiting from it? Alan Ward argues that supervision, done properly, is in the best interests of the coach and the coachee.

Many coaches do not discuss their coaching interventions regularly with an experienced and competent third party. Some are reluctant to justify themselves and their actions, while others don’t see the need or are simply unwilling to incur the expense.

Supervision for coaches is not a requirement, in the same way that it is for psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors. Talking to a client about how they manage their team is not the same as dealing with deeply personal trauma.

Photo of ALAN WARD" We are rapidly reaching the point where clients are demanding that coaches are qualified. No doubt we’ll soon reach the stage where coaches will have to prove that they have a qualified supervisor."

Coaches don’t need full-blown psychological support but I would argue that supervision can help a coach to grow by providing feedback and a sounding board to help him/her move forward. It also gives confidence to the coachee that an external quality assurance is in place.

Supervision in this context refers to a confidential arrangement which enables coaches to discuss their coaching regularly with one or more people who have an understanding of coaching and coaching supervision. Its purpose is to ensure the efficacy of the coach/ client relationship. The European Mentoring & Coaching Council, which aims to drive best practice in the coaching community, shares this view. The EMCC’s code of ethics states that a coach should maintain a relationship with a suitably-qualified supervisor, who will regularly assess their competence and support their development.

It seems this is the way the market is moving, as some organisations are now asking coaches to provide evidence of their supervision. However, the exact nature of what constitutes ‘supervision’ is under question.

Three levels
In common practice, there are three levels of engagement with supervision. The first involves ‘co-coaching’ or ‘buddy-coaching’, where two coaches get together on an informal basis to discuss their client interventions. This is becoming more popular, possibly because it costs little or nothing.

However, there’s a danger here that the two coaches may not be entirely honest with each other. Each may worry what the other will think of his/her coaching. As a result, they may not challenge each other sufficiently because one doesn’t want to appear to be critical of the other’s coaching style. So, instead, the relationship may become one of mutual back-slapping - which provides little benefit.

The second level is group supervision, where up to six coaches work with a qualified supervisor in a formal, facilitated network with an agreed schedule. This reduces the cost-per-coach and enables each person to bounce ideas off - and reflect with - the other coaches in the group, as well as the supervisor. This offers the big benefit of being able to listen to how others have dealt with similar or different issues.

The downside is that each coach may still be reticent about sharing, as the process involves a huge element of trust and openness. Also, the individuals within the group are compromising on the time they personally get to spend with the supervisor.

The third level of supervision is one-to-one with a qualified supervisor. Here, the supervisor can provide an effective balance of advice and support whilst challenging the coach’s rationale, behaviour and awareness of what’s going on in his/her coaching interventions.

Qualified to supervise?
A good supervisor should be able to help spot issues that the coach may have missed. These may include dependency - where the coachee is becoming dependent on the support of the coach - or when the coachee is ‘playing the victim’. If the coach has a strong supportive streak, it can be very easy for him/her to get sucked into the drama without necessarily recognising it as such.

A supervisor can also challenge the relevance and reasoning behind a coach’s approach. For example, if a member of the coachee’s family is self-harming, it may be tempting for the coach to offer advice. In this situation, the supervisor should challenge the coach’s intentions and qualifications for offering such advice. Generally speaking, this type of ‘cry for help’ should be steered towards a trained counsellor. The boundaries between coaching, therapy and counselling are sometimes blurred. If you are approaching a boundary, it is helpful to talk the issues through with a third party, who can make sure that you’re not overstepping the mark.

In counselling and psychotherapy, a strict code of practice is laid down for supervisors by the British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP). The coaching profession is moving along similar lines but we need a new model, one that’s specifically suited to coaching.

A step in the right direction - which recognises that the role of a supervisor involves a different set of skills to those required in coaching - is the growing market for supervision qualifications. We are rapidly reaching the point where clients are demanding that coaches are qualified. No doubt we’ll soon reach the stage where coaches will have to prove that they have a qualified supervisor.

For me, the right person is a highly-qualified coach who has taken the next step to become a qualified supervisor. That is an individual who will fully understand the issues that you are facing as a coach and who is qualified to suitably challenge and support you.

Finding such a person could add a quality control check to your coaching, mark you out as a coaching professional and help you to provide a better service to your coachees.

Alan Ward is director of Coach Education at Performance Consultants, which has been running accredited qualification programmes in coaching and development since 2003. These modular, part-time programmes are awarded by the University of Portsmouth and accredited by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. The firm is introducing a supervision service for the Alumni of its postgraduate certificate, postgraduate diploma and MSc.


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