Supervision: ‘I have no idea what is going to happen, and I love it!’

Supervision: ‘I have no idea what is going to happen, and I love it!’

Group supervision session

22 June 2023

Kevin Cowley, an executive coach and coach supervisor, invites us into the room for his initial supervision session, and shares why the quality of the relationship between coach and supervisor is key for a coach’s personal and professional development.

When I first started coaching 15 years ago, I was privileged enough to work with some high profile and highly skilled supervisors as part of my coach development. The problem was I had absolutely no idea what supervision was, how I could use it, or even what kind of things to bring to supervision. The coach development programme I undertook did not mention supervision once. For me, supervision was something that therapists and counsellors had to undertake as part of their CPD, and even then I had no idea why.

I realise now that my initial supervision sessions were a completely missed opportunity. I was so in awe of the supervisor and their reputation that I felt compelled to bring the most interesting and thought-provoking personal coaching scenario to the session, so that I would not be judged or seen as a poor coach. The hour before the session, I was scrabbling around trying to think of an appropriate case, trying to remember what I had done and why I had done it. I was so desperate for validation from my supervisor that I probably embellished some of the aspects of my coaching session to make it seem more interesting. I was so focused on what I had prepared, and how I delivered it to my supervisor, that I lost all sense of what was happening between us, and just constantly looked for some form of positive reinforcement from this ‘coaching expert’.

Does this sound familiar?

Fast forward 15 years, and the world of coaching is a very different place. I realise now how beneficial to my development as a coach supervision can be. I have moved away from the idea that it is something that is done to me, to something that is done with me. It is a deep and profound experience that can touch me on so many different levels, if I am open to the experience and attend with an open mind and an open heart. Of course, I can still bring my interesting cases to supervision, but I no longer need to embellish, and I understand why I bring them. I realise that the most important thing I can bring to supervision is myself.

So, what is supervision and why is it so important to coach development?

Supervision is often described as a reflective activity where learning and evaluation of professional work can take place. Reflecting on who we are as a coach, and what we can bring to the coach client relationship, is all part of our developmental journey. Supervision gives us those rare commodities, time and space, to develop our reflective practice and deepen our levels of self-awareness. It helps us identify those issues and challenges that need the most attention and, with the help of an experienced peer, treat them with compassion and curiosity. I use the word ‘peer’ here because, for me, supervision is a peer-to-peer conversation, albeit with a more experienced peer.

The supervisor can take on many roles: mentor, teacher, adviser, and most importantly, friend. The quality of the relationship between the coach and supervisor, which the supervisor helps facilitate, is at the heart. As a supervisor, I aim to always meet my client with both an open heart and an open mind. Through developing a heart connection, the coach is encouraged to feel safe and to explore their reactions and emotions to any client or personal experience.

In my practice, I find coaches often bring experiences to supervision to examine and hopefully make sense of their reactions to them. They may start by bringing a specific case and having the initial aim of seeking validation of their actions. However, often, they are surprised at how genuinely interested I am in the coach themselves and their feelings and emotions, as opposed to those of the clients. What may start as an examination of a specific case can develop into something deeper and more meaningful for the coach, as they are encouraged to pay attention to what is happening for them in the moment when they reflect on the client and their relationship. This can often lead to considering different approaches and looking at events from different perspectives, to gain fresh insight into what is really happening for the coach and the client.

More frequently, a coach will come to me without a specific case to discuss, but instead will want to examine something about their practice or their way of being as a coach. Supervision can help them to do this in a gentle and always non-judgmental way. It can provide a practice space for seeing and being seen, a space to examine fear and to work with humility. When it is working well and there is a deep connection between the coach and the supervisor, there is no more mentor or guide, but a genuine merging of experiences and a connection at a more profound level.

This is why it is so important to find the right supervisor: someone with whom you feel a connection, someone with whom you feel safe to share what is really happening for you as a coach, someone who will challenge your way of thinking and seeing. I  always suggest that coaches should talk to several potential supervisors before deciding on the right one.

When I attend supervision now as a coach, I see it as a restorative process, a reflective space that has been specifically reserved for me to look at anything that is important to me, anything that might get in the way of being present and of service to my client. I can examine how I feel about coaching, my client, the organisation in which they work, and the various relationships and how they are intrinsically linked. But most importantly, I can simply be. I can explore my fears of not being good enough for the client, or feelings I have towards them that may prevent me from being in service to them.

In short, I have often no idea what is going to happen in the session and – you know what? – I love it! I trust in the relationship, and that it will create what it needs to support me as a coach.

So how do you see supervision now?

Kevin Cowley is an executive coach and coach supervisor. After a career as a senior leader in the UK civil service, he now works with individuals and teams, helping them understand themselves and their potential. Kevin has a humanistic approach, drawing on person-centred and Gestalt techniques, as well as being an NLP accredited coach. He is a senior practitioner with EMCC, as well as being an EMCC mentor, and holds an MA in Coaching and Mentoring from Oxford Brookes University. Kevin can be contacted at [email protected].

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