My philosophy of coach supervision can best be explained using the analogy of advanced driver training. Once we’ve obtained our driver’s license (we’ve taken lessons and passed the test), we can go many years without ever having our driving examined. That is, of course, unless we (knowingly or unknowingly) break the law. Advanced training allows drivers to improve, update and check in on how their driving is doing. It also allows them to answer the following questions:

  • Have I become a bit lazy?
  • Am I familiar with the latest highway code?
  • Do I know when I may be breaking the law?
  • When was the last time I drove to a familiar location and wondered ‘how did I get here?’
  • How can I best utilize the latest car technology?

We might ask similar questions of our coaching practice. Having been through training courses and obtaining a credential or certification, we may not feel the need to work with another coach professional to examine how and what we are actually doing in our coaching work.

Supervision is about working with a fellow professional, to have a “Super-Vision” or “Over-Sight” over our working practice in a safe reflective way. Through coach supervison, we can attempt to avoid getting lazy (driving without thinking) and inadvertently stepping over our ethical standards (breaking the law). We can also keep up-to-date with new concepts and learning (reading the latest highway code) and continuously move our coaching forward (understanding the latest technology).

Supervision is about taking a look at yourself through the lens of your professional practice, seeing what may positively or negatively impact you or your clients in your coaching work. Simply put—where the personal may intrude on the professional— just like how you drive may impact others on the road.

Our “maturity” in coaching will also influence and inform how we will want to use supervision. In 2007, Newton and Napper looked at the functions of supervision in terms of “roles” and “processes.”

(adapted from Functions within Supervision – Newton & Napper 2007)

As we can observe, there are many roles that a supervisor can hold with a coach. They can move from an advisor to an objective thinking partner, where both coach and supervisor can explore together what is happening for the coach in any given context.

Coach supervision is becoming a mainstream form of ongoing development for professional coaches and is becoming more widely understood, accepted, and applied for the continuous growth of the internal coach. With the growth of the internal coaching, there is arguably an even greater need for supervision within organisations. Internal coaches often have a greater challenge of remaining clean and objective with their clients, while ensuring the confidentiality of the relationship in a system with which they experience significant familiarity. As employees of the organisation, and often coming from the HR community, they may find themselves being pulled in different directions and may not always be able to provide an objective stance. So, where does an internal coach go to discuss their coaching without breaking confidentiality of either the client or the organisation? That’s where a coach supervisor (often external) can provide a safe and confidential space to explore together the world and work of the internal coach.

Finally, to answer the question, “Where does supervision fit into coaching?” From where I stand, it’s an important development tool to ensure we are current, fit for purpose and understand who we are as coaches so that we don’t get in the way of our clients’ growth and development. As Edna Murdoch says, “Who we are is how we coach.” My invitation is that we, as coaches, keep working on who we are so we can be at our best for our clients.

Hilary Oliver, MCC

Hilary Oliver is a Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor and Mentor Coach. Hilary trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an International Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Hilary also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. She has been the President of the UK ICF Chapter and is a Past Chair of the ICF Global Board.

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