Sacred Space: What is Coaching Super-vision?

There are times when, as a coach, I wonder what I could have done better in a session that did not go so well. Perhaps I was triggered by the client, or I became directive. And, there are other times when I want to reflect on a very successful coaching session to discover what I did well that I want to pay attention to going forward. And, sometimes, I just need to process something out loud, in a safe place, where there are no judgements. Such is the space of coaching super-vision.

Super-vision is an emerging field. I have learned that in Europe, there are a growing number of organizations who require coaches they hire to be working with a supervisor. Super-vision is quality assurance for these organizations. 

As I go through my journey to become a certified coach supervisor, I ponder what sets a supervisor apart from a coach, or a therapist, or a mentor coach. The terms and roles seem to, at times, be interchangeable. So far, the terms seem to sit on an overlapping continuum. Coach to mentor coach, to coach supervisor. To me, a therapist is not a part of the continuum; however, knowing some of the psychodynamic theories and models helps a supervisor recognize patterns that we have, as coaches. And, when awareness is raised, we can better choose what to do about them.

Super-vision is about working in partnership to clear the field of anything getting in the way of me bringing my best to my coaching. Some of the topics that Michele and I have taken to super-vision and/or had supervisees bring to us include:

  • Perceived breaches of confidentiality
  • The feeling of having plateaued in skillset and ability as a coach
  • Concerns around ethics as an internal coach who knows many people in the system and maintaining confidentiality under pressures to disclose
  • Wanting to be more challenging as a coach
  • Contracting with sponsors
  • Understanding the coach’s  self development within the context of leadership coaching
  • Practice innovative use of skills with the supervisor to expand coaching proficiencies
  • Fine tune one’s intuitive capacity to positively affect the coaching conversation/relationship
  • Identifying one’s blind spots and patterns of communications
  • Increasing and expanding perspectives when feeling stuck with the client
  • Exploring the role and contribution that coaching can make in the system 
  • Expanding one’s understanding of the importance  of relationship in creating success in coaching
  • Wanting to still the mind of “gremlins”
  • Having a difficult time coaching one gender in particular
  • Boundaries between being a coach and having direct influence/authority over the coach’s work
  • The struggle of defining the line between coaching and therapy
  • Insecurities around “not being enough” 
  • Wondering whether coaching is the right profession 
  • Feeling the need to protect a client from the organization or from another person
  • Feeling ashamed of being “hooked” or drawn into the client’s story

The role of the supervisor is to create the space for this important work to occur because even for me to admit any of these scenarios feels vulnerable. It feels like a very sacred space that needs to be co-created. A space where I can speak freely and feel no judgement; just empathy and curiosity from someone who is fully present and who will work as my thinking partner to help me figure out what is going on. So, what would be the elements that I need in order to open myself to being vulnerable? To me, the most important is relationship. I need to be able to trust my supervisor to hold my confidences and work with me; to probe gently and make observations and to also show his/her vulnerabilities.  And, I need space for quiet reflection. It almost feels like slowing things down so that I am able to take the time to reflect as needed.  It’s like someone holding up a mirror and being in slow motion.

While there are tools to learn, super-vision is not a prescribed process, nor does it work from a template. It feels like Tai Chi, a slow motion exercise between two people, bending and yielding, and stepping forward and back in synchronicity. There is an energy field that feels different and yet oddly familiar. And, there is total trust in my partner to bend and yield together with me. And, sometimes, it feels like the Cha-Cha, and, at other times, ballet in motion.

What is getting in your way as a coach? And are you willing to risk being vulnerable in order to increase your effectiveness as a coach? How do you clear your own field?

Lily and Michele