So, I’m a qualified coaching supervisor! Now what? How do I plan for success?
All journeys of learning provoke questions and I had plenty! I started off asking myself things like:
What actually is supervision? Could I be a supervisor? Did I want to be a supervisor? Was I even capable of being a supervisor?
When my training ended, I felt the question I “should” ask was “How can I be an excellent supervisor?”
Looking back just a few weeks later, I began to see that it’s such a subjective outcome that it’s completely unhelpful to contemplate. Indeed, for me, that question only led to self-judgement and hopelessness (not really what you want off the back of a brilliant learning experience!).
I think a lot of new coaches and supervisors come from the perspective of “how can I be excellent at this” but there are so many different ways that you could rank performance based on the context that it is impossible to answer.
Obviously you could approach it as a checkbox exercise of ticking off the competencies of the professional bodies. You could look at the model of coaching maturity and assess yourself against that. And yes there were some other indicators that bubbled up through our study materials during the supervision diploma that one might be able to use to say that the supervision is “good” or “bad”.
But in reality, there’s nothing that categorically and unequivocally can be deemed as being an excellent supervisor.
So I set about asking the much more practical and useful question of “how I can set myself up for success as a newly qualified supervisor”.
In looking to answer that question, I broke down my potential answer into the various relevant areas I saw as critical in my ongoing development.
In no specific order, these were:
- Attend regular supervision myself
- Keep a reflective practice journal to capture my growing edges and take these to supervision
- Creating a booklet of key supervisory models and materials for reference before, during and after sessions
- Practise using different models and lenses
- Continue to build supervision hours
- Get clearer on who my ideal supervisee is
- Facilitate an ongoing relationship with my learning cohort
- Take meaningful part in both coaching and supervision networks
- Advocate for supervision in my coaching content
- Role model coaching professionalism in my coaching content
- Draw up, and continually review, my supervision contract
- Update my online presence to reflect that I am a supervisor
- Grow and maintain a good feel for the ICF, AC and EMCC core competencies
- Identify my personal definition of supervisory success!
Receiving Supervision & Journalling
As soon as I finished my training, I booked a set of five weekly supervision sessions to begin to untie the knots that my perfectionism had inflicted on my emerging supervision practice ( and I always thought I loved being a “learner” !)
It has been incredible to regularly experience the power of being held and supported as well as challenged as a coach. It has brought home even further to me (if that is possible) the value and importance of having a supported reflective space when your work is a supportive reflective practitioner.
I truly believe that I need to experience great supervision to be able to understand, reflect on and hone my own practice. As a result, in addition to getting a good initial supervision mind massage, I have now committed to ongoing bi-weekly supervision sessions as part of my professional development.
I also keep to hand a summarised list of some of the reflective questions I came across in the primary reading from one of the diploma sessions around the 7 eyed model, Clutterbuck’s 7 Conversations and the solution-focused approach. I use a lovely little gold notebook to capture my answers and this forms the basis of what I take to supervision so I can track my progress against my growing edges.
I also recognise that completing my supervision course (by submitting my essays and log) was part of me setting myself up for success because while I am prepared to recognise that you don’t have to be qualified to the teeth to actually be a good supervisor, I do believe that commitment to the full process is, for me at least, part of feeling successful and feeling a sense of achievement and completion. So I definitely knew that I needed to complete my actual course materials and qualify to feel successful in my field.
Completing the Certification & Building Resources
Another way in which I realised I needed to set myself up for success was to look at what suite of materials I might need in order to to successfully prepare for sessions, or refer to during sessions, so i could feel well equipped before, during and after. . To give myself a feeling of having been thorough and diligent, I plan to go back and review each of the sessions and their associated primary and secondary reading materials. I’d already been marking off where I thought my growing edges were, and I plan to review and outline these and take them one-by-one to my own supervision as they become relevant, or as something to bring if I don’t have any (obvious) client material.
I’ve started to pull together from the each of the various sessions any kind of copy or text where I think there is a useful nugget or explanation and I’ve started to create some baseline documentation of my own pulled from all of these different sources – a kind of amalgamation of different books – to create some summary materials that I think will be really useful for my supervisees.
In fact, I realised that a large part of setting myself up for supervision success is actually me setting things up with my supervisees’ success in mind. I’ve thought alot about what materials I can provide for them, how I can explain what supervision is, how I can give them useful examples, how I can share tools and different perspectives with them.
Practising Models and Growing My Experience
I’m very conscious that I have my own kind of go-to models that I use as a coach, and I’d like to have that same stable set that I can use for the different theoretical lenses we learned about in our supervision diploma. I’d like to be able to use those very easily and quickly and also have some lovely visual resources that I can share with my clients. I recognise as a very visual person myself how useful it is to cater to that modality.
In terms of building my experience and gaining more clarity on my supervision offering as well as my ideal clients, I’m committed to doing even more low-cost supervision outside of my course-based 25 hours. Alongside this, and as with my own reflective practice as a coach, I’ve been using supervision-specific reflective questions to reflect robustly after every single session, keeping a running track of where my growing edges might be as a supervisor and where I might need to do a bit more work on my own level of perception and reflection. I believe professional and personal self-awareness is absolutely key in me setting myself up for supervision success.
In my pursuit of understanding what successful supervision looks like I came across the concept of coaching maturity, and watched a webinar by Peter Hawkins that offered me real food for thought. It came home to me even more clearly that part of me setting up for supervision success was identifying, or potentially being able to identify, where a coach might be sitting at any given moment in time in terms of their level of coaching maturity. I am very aware that gaining a good understanding of where I feel I am able to provide the most useful support is of benefit to myself as well as the supervisee.
Finding My Ideal Supervision Clients
I want to be working with people who I find interesting, and at times challenging. I’m also aware that it would be very easy for me to slip into teaching if I were working with people who are significantly less experienced coaches than I am. This is particularly so because I have a background in learning and development and I think there’s a real danger of me slipping into my comfort zone there.
I can see that some might say that it would be a good challenge for me to practise not doing that, but setting myself up for success also means not setting myself up to fail/get into bad habits straight off the bat! So I think part of setting myself up for success is in understanding who my ideal supervision clients are and working in line with that.
Of course, that will come from experience but I’ve noticed already, from my first 25 plus hours of supervision, that working with newer coaches brings brings many more questions around what coaching is and what the value and benefit of coaching is, as opposed to the the parts of supervision that I’m most interested in such the psychodynamic, systemic and relational dimensions, so I see myself leaning towards working with more mature coaches with whom I can more regularly dig into such nuances.
Peer Support and Networks
Immediately after the course I set up a peer-support Signal group and monthly meeting for my course cohort. We put together a schedule and a way of working together which means that we will be able to give ongoing peer-to-peer supervision and support. This group will allow us to experiment in fishbowl supervision sessions, raise questions and challenges and practise various lenses we have come across during our training. So it’s a way of embedding the learning, still in the group setting with a very trusted group of people in a very safe space. It feels very effective, practical, useful and supportive. I do think that staying connected as we each set sail on the sea of supervision will be a huge part of understanding that we are all on a journey, and it will help me set up for success in quite a different way – it will help me stay connected and grounded and safe in the knowledge that success is entirely personal.
I’m also active on the ICCS Supervisor’s Facebook group, and I realised that another element in setting myself up for supervision success is identifying the best and most useful spaces as a supervisor. I’ve selected a small number of very good coaching and supervision groups, and I interact there as much as I can.
Building Wider Awareness of Supervision
One of the things I’ve become aware of en route to becoming a coaching supervisor is how little understanding there is in general about supervision within the coaching world. So I think another part of setting myself up for supervision success is not just setting myself up but in some way contributing to setting up the world of coaching, to the extent that I can, to be ready for, interested in and see the value of supervision. To me this means creating compelling materials and sharing supervisory anecdotes and stories and raising the profile of supervision in the coaching profession.
I do think it’s a challenge, because the coaching industry is already awash with people who perhaps haven’t trained in the most professional capacity and may well not even know what supervision is never mind the value it brings. I do think that one thing that coaches recognise though is how lonely it can be as a coach, and I hope that, through using that kind of angle of conversation, supervision can be brought more to the forefront in the coaching arena.
Contracting and Competencies
In terms of successful practice, I have already created what I think is a solid supervision contract (getting that “right” was a big deal for me) and I’m going to continue to review that month on month, adding in anything that becomes relevant. I’ve also written a web page for my website which outlines what supervision is (from my perspective and from the more official perspective) and I have listed myself in the ICCS supervisor directory.
Along with looking at coaching maturity, I’ve been reading through the ICF and the EMCC competencies again as I feel having a thorough understanding of them is key to me feeling professionally “legit”. Of course, from a supervision perspective, the EMCC supervision competencies are also critical and although not a member of that body itself I do feel guided by them as a supervisor. I don’t see them as rigid and prescriptive, I think that to have a good understanding of the competencies means that if any questions around ethics or general practice come up, rather than giving a purely personal opinion (and taking it to supervision!)I have a framework to refer to and fall back on if needed.
In summary, I have answered a much better question than the one I started with (how to be excellent). And even better, as part of establishing how to set myself up for success, I was also able to answer another question – what is my definition of supervision success?
My Definition of Supervision Success
And to round this article off, here’s what that answer looks like.
My definition of supervision success is:
- To operate in alignment with my personal and professional values
- To make sure that I’m aware enough of the EMCC competencies to break them like an artist if need be (if I was a member I wouldn’t be saying that of course!)
- To be able to evidence that my clients experience each of the three legs of the supervision stool (they feel supported and refreshed through their experience with me, they recognise that somebody is holding them professionally accountable to certain standards of behaviour and professional excellence and they feel that they are being challenged and questioned and that they are learning and growing through the process of their reflection on their own practice.)
- To be in integrity – to have done everything that’s within my power that I think is reasonable and fair and is aligned with my values, that will give my supervisees the best possible experience and outcome that they can have with me.
- To be able to recognise where I sit within my own supervision maturity journey and be kind and compassionate to myself about where I am, where I’m going, and at what speed.
- Committing to mastering my understanding of the resources/tools/techniques/lenses that feel most naturally appealing to me and in flow with my coaching style
- To undertake regular and ongoing CPD
- To be part of and engaged in a professional network
- Attending supervision myself
Although this is my journey, I do believe that most new coaching supervisors will confront this same question. I hope that in sharing how I explored it, it will offer value to any new supervisors out there too.