I’ve worked as a professional executive coach for over 20 years across a range of sectors. I’ve realised that regardless of sector, senior leaders have the same kind of meta issues – dealing with change and uncertainty, managing personal and organisational anxiety, doing more with less (money, resources, time) and maximising their own effectiveness and performance when it can often feel that they are wading through mud. This is symptomatic of the world we live in as it becomes increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and where there are no easy answers but greater Ambiguity (VUCA).
Over the last few years, these pressures have increased and more often now I find that individuals I coach (and individuals in teams I coach) are less able or willing to maintain a boundary between their work life and their personal life. Systemically these domains were never separate anyway and the distinction has always been artificial.
But this doesn’t mean that business coaching should now include life coaching and counselling issues as well. These boundaries must remain to maintain the clear intent and purpose of business performance coaching. It does mean however that the business coach must be ever more vigilant to maintain these clear personal and professional boundaries around their work with clients, often in the face of the client’s anxiety, anger or confusion.
From a systemic viewpoint, these emotions of the client will transfer to some degree to the coach. It’s almost impossible to work closely in a client system without becoming absorbed in it to some extent. The question then for the coach is how best to understand what is going on in the system for them and their client and how to best utilise this understanding for the benefit of the client. If a coach has a good appreciation of what is happening in the coach-client relationship, and what impact the wider systems are having on the client (professional, sectorial, personal etc) then they can maintain an objective and well-boundaried coaching relationship. This enhances coaching effectiveness and client value. On the other hand, if the coach gets submerged unconsciously in the client’s system, then they will be much less able to maintain appropriate boundaries, nor will they be able to offer objective insight into the situation because they are inside it. This will reduce coaching effectiveness, and the value to the client will significantly reduce.
So how should a coach maintain their professional and ethical practice to ensure that they are delivering best value to the client? How might the coach develop their insight into the systemic impact that the client/s are having on the coaching relationship? Are boundaries blurring and if so how and why? How might the coach use this understanding in service of the client? What learning can the coach gain that will serve their own professional development?
These very important questions can be addressed through the process of supervision, and this is why supervision is a critical part of any professional coach’s continuous professional development. The process of supervision allows the coach to:
Regular coaching supervision – as a very rough rule of thumb 4-6 times per year - will enable the coach to explore these areas and in so doing improve their coaching effectiveness and ensure best value for their clients. This is not a ‘nice-to-have’ option for the coach but an essential part of their ongoing learning and development. A coach who does not have supervision is in effect going backwards professionally. For this reason, the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) has a set of guidelines for ethical best practice with five key areas of focus:
Supervision can take different forms (1:1, peer, group or a mixture of two or more of these) and the coach should choose which approach works best for them. This will depend on several factors, such as:
Coaching supervisors can be found at the websites for the Association of Coaching Supervisors (AOCS), the Association for Coaching, and the Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision (APECS) as well as independent organisations who provide supervisory training.
When choosing a supervisor, it is worth bearing in mind that many professional supervisors draw their primary experience from the world of therapy rather than that of business or organisations. Therefore the commercial/results edge that is essential in coaching may not be clearly on the supervisory agenda for some supervisors. Choose a supervisor who has a clear focus on the business/organisational agenda and deliverables, and who has an appreciation that the client is the person paying the bill, not necessarily the coachee. A supervisor should themselves be receiving supervision, have a theoretical framework for their practice, and have a systemic approach to supervision and coaches should clarify this with any potential supervisor at a chemistry meeting.
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