Coaching Supervision

{Hawkins, 2010. In Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in Coaching: The Industry Guide. 2nd Ed.} 

Supervision in coaching is formal professional support to ensure continuing coach development and coaching practice effectiveness through interactive reflection, integrative evaluation, and the sharing of expertise.

Supervision provides a reflective container for the trainee to turn her competencies into capabilities and to develop her personal and coaching capacities; it helps the trainee link the theory and skills they learn on courses to the real-time experience of working with coachees.

Three-function model

  1. Coaching the coach on his coaching. Resourcing. Supportive. Restorative.
  2. Mentoring the coach on his development. Developmental. Educational. Formative.
  3. Providing an external perspective to ensure practice quality. Qualitative. Managerial. Normative. 

Main focus categories and corresponding Function categories

To provide a regular space for supervisees to reflect upon the content and process of their work. Developmental.

To develop understanding and skills within the work. Developmental.

To receive information and another perspective concerning one’s work. Developmental / Resourcing.

To receive content and process feedback. Developmental / Resourcing / Supportive.

To be validated and supported both as a person and as a worker. Resourcing.

To ensure that as a person and as a worker, one is not left to carry unnecessarily difficulties, problems, and projections alone. Resourcing.

To have space to explore and express personal distress, restimulation, transference, or countertransference that the work may bring up. Qualitative / Resourcing.

To plan and utilize their personal and professional resources better. Qualitative / Resourcing.

To be proactive rather than reactive. Qualitative / Resourcing.

To ensure work quality. Qualitative.

Practices to support the balanced cycle of action, reflection, new understanding, and new practice. Supervision provides a protected and disciplined space in which coaches reflect on particular coachee situations and relationships, the reactivity and patterns they invoke, and transform these patterns during supervision.

Stages in a Supervision Session

CLEAR coaching model: Contract, Listen, Explore, Action, Review

Start by contracting on both boundaries and focus of the work.

Listen to the issues the coach wishes to bring; listen to content, feelings, and ways of framing the story the coach uses. As a supervisor, let the coach know you have heard the story and get what it feels like to be in the coach’s situation. Only then move on to the next stage:

Explore with the coach what is happening in the dynamics of the coaching and the live supervisory relationship.

Then facilitate the coach to explore new action.

Finally, review the process and what has been agreed upon about the next steps.

Contracting for Supervision

All forms of supervision relationship need to begin with a clear contract, created and formed by both parties, reflecting the expectations of the organizations and professions involved.

Five key areas to be covered in contracting:

  1. Practicalities:

Be clear about practical arrangements: times, frequency, place, what might be allowed to interrupt or postpone the session, and any payment involved.

  1. Boundaries:

The boundary between coaching, counseling, therapy; confidentiality.

The basic boundary is: coaching always starts with exploring issues from work and ends with looking at where the coachee goes next with the work that has been explored. Personal material only comes into the session if it is directly affecting, or being affected by, the work discussed; or if it is affecting the coaching or supervision relationship.

If such an exploration uncovered more material than could be appropriately dealt with in the supervision, the supervisor may suggest the worker might want to get counseling or other forms of support in exploring these personal issues.

Confidentiality: some unexpected situations may arise where it is necessary to share material from the supervision beyond the boundaries of the session. In contracting, the supervisor should be clear about what sort of information either would need to take over the boundary of the relationship; in what circumstances; how he would do this; and to whom he would take the information.

  1. Working alliance:

How do we form a working alliance?

We start by sharing mutual expectations: what coaching style does the supervisee most want, and on which possible focus area do they wish to concentrate?

The supervisor clearly states his preferred mode of supervision and any expectations he has of the supervisee.

At the contracting phase, sharing conscious expectations, hopes, and fears is useful.

Complete sentences such as: ‘My image of successful supervision is …’; ‘What I fear happening in supervision is …’

Build the working alliance on trust, respect, and goodwill. The contract provides a holding frame in which the relationship develops.

Any lapses in fulfilling the contract are opportunities for reflection, learning, and relationship building rather than judgment and defense.

  1. Session format:

Ground the discussions in exploring what a typical session format might be like. Will all the time be spent on one situation? Does the supervisor expect the supervisee to bring written-up notes?

  1. Organizational and professional context:

Consider critical stakeholders; expectations of the organization in which the work is carried out; relevant policies or implicit expectations; what responsibilities the organization might expect the supervisor to take in ensuring quality work, and what report it requires on the supervision. Clarify professional and ethical codes of conduct that both may be parties to. All supervisors must be clear about the ethical boundaries of their supervision practice and can articulate these to their supervisees.

Seven-Eyed Coaching Supervision Model

  1. Coachee’s system:

Here, the focus is on the content of what happened with the coachee’s system, the problem the coachee system wants help with, and how the coachee is presenting the issues.

Mode 1 skill:

The supervisor’s skill in this mode is to help coaches accurately return to what actually happened with the coachee; what they saw, what they heard, and what they felt, and to try to separate this actual data from their preconceptions, assumptions, and interpretations.

Also, attend to what happened at the boundaries of their time with the coachee, their arrival and exit, for it is often at the boundaries that the richest unconscious material is most active.

  1. Coach’s interventions:

What interventions did the coach make, and what alternative choices might have been used? It might also focus on a situation the coach is about to intervene in and explore possible options and their likely impact.

Mode 2 skill:

The coach may have arrived at an impasse in facilitating the change process. They may present this as either-or: ‘Should I collude with this situation or confront the issue?’ The skill is to avoid the trap of debating the either-or options and instead enable coaches to realize how they are limiting their choices to two polarized possibilities and facilitate a shared brainstorming that frees up energy and creates new options. The benefits and difficulties of these options can be explored, and some possible interventions can be tried out in role-play.

  1. The relationship between coach and coachee:

The focus is on the relationship they are creating.

Mode 3 skill:

Facilitate the coach to stand outside the relationship and see it afresh from a new angle. Help the coach be a flying fish so he can see the water.

  1. The coach:

Help the coach look at themselves, what is being re-stimulated in them by the coachee’s material, and themselves as an instrument for registering what is happening beneath the surface of the coaching system.

Mode 4 skill:

Work through the coach’s feelings triggered by the work with this client. Explore how their feelings may be very useful data about the coachee system or how their blocks may prevent them from facilitating the coachee system to change.

  1. The parallel process:

The focus is on what the coach has absorbed unconsciously from the coachee system and how it may be played out in the relationship with the supervisor. The coach can, unaware, treat the supervisor the way his coachee treated them.

Mode 5 skill:

The supervisor attends to what is presented about the coaching system and what is happening in the relationship in the room; offers reflections on the impact of the presented material on the coaching relationship to illuminate the coaching dynamic. This bridges the gap between the coach’s conscious understanding of the coaching relationship and its emotional impact on them.

  1. The supervisor self-reflection:

The focus is on the supervisor’s here-and-now experience with the coach and what can be learned about the coach-coachee relationship from the supervisor’s response to the coach and the material presented.

Mode 6 skill:

As the supervisor attends to the material presented and its impact on the relationship in the room, his internal feelings, thoughts, and fantasies reveal possible unconscious material related to the coaching relationship. The supervisor comments on and makes available these observations in a non-judgmental and speculative way.

  1. The wider context:

The coaching takes place in an organizational, social, cultural, ethical, and contractual context. The client organization and its stakeholders, the coach’s organization and its stakeholders, and the organization or professional network of the supervisor all form the wider context.

Mode 7 skill:

To attend mode 7 requires a high level of transcultural competence to bring a whole-systems perspective. The systemic context of what is being presented affects the behavior, mindsets, emotional ground, and motivations of the coach, the coachee, and the supervisor. Attending to the needs of the critical stakeholders in the wider systems; to understand how the culture of the systemic context creates illusions, delusions, and collusions in the coach and supervisor themself.

Using all seven modes

Focusing on one aspect only leads to partial and limited perspectives.

Start with mode 1, talk about specific coaching situations;

move into modes 3 & 4 to explore what is happening in the coaching relationship and for the coach or supervisee. This may explore the here-and-now relationship in the room between the coach and the supervisor, modes 5 & 6, and, or bringing into awareness the wider context, mode 7.  Finally, having gained new insight and created a shift in the supervisory matrix, the attention may turn back to mode 2 to explore what interventions the coach might use in the next session to create the needed shift in the coaching matrix.

The coach might try out some of these interventions in a fast-forward rehearsal. A change that starts to happen live in the supervision is far more likely to happen back in the coaching.

Training as a coaching supervisor

At the heart of being a good coach or a good coaching supervisor is a constant dedication to developing one’s human capacity to be fully present for another, acting with ruthless compassion. The ruthless compassion we bring ultimately allows the fear and anxiety that pervades so many work situations to be overcome and for our coachees to find new strength to act courageously.