It’s that time of year when people set out their aspirations and plans for the coming year.
Personal development blogs will creak and groan under the weight of articles advising on how to make, and stick to, New Year’s resolutions. Millions of people will resolve to lose weight, get out of debt, get fit, find a partner and much more besides.
But how often do we set intentions for our professional skills and capabilities for the year ahead?
Of course, just as with any other New Year’s resolution, you can decide to improve an aspect of your professional skills at any time. But, let’s face it, there’s something psychologically and emotionally satisfying about having a clear and unambiguous start date for a new intention and a new set of goals.
In this spirit, I want to suggest five areas where you can be more deliberate, strategic and focused as a coaching supervisor for 2021.
Now, of course, how you use this article is down to you. Perhaps none of these suggestions will resonate with you but the idea of finding an area of determined focus will. Or perhaps you’ll find something to take from all five ideas, or just one! It really doesn’t matter.
What does matter, I believe, is that you become more conscious and deliberate in how you’re growing professionally.
After all, there’s no point in doing 10,000 hours of something if you’re simply repeating the same one hour over and over!
So let’s take a look at these five areas.
1 – Don’t be a commodity! Get clear on Who You Are as a Coaching Supervisor
A challenge within coaching supervision, and related practices such as coaching, is the risk of commoditisation.
To be clear, a commodity is any good that is essentially the same no matter who sells it – table salt is table salt no matter what logo is on the shaker!
Two elements become important in the economics of commodities: price and convenience.
You really don’t want people contracting with you as a supervisor due to price or convenience, so how do you avoid being a commodity?
The reality is that no coaching supervisor is a commodity.
Every single coach and every single coaching supervisor is different. They are, by definition, not a commodity.
And yet, very few coaching supervisors take the time to communicate how they are unique and so they become simply one of many seemingly exact-same alternatives.
You are the unique combination of everything that makes you who you are. And it takes time and effort to figure this out.
So here are a few areas of exploration you can consider as you enter 2021 to better understand, and voice, your uniqueness.
Your theoretical and philosophical stance as a supervisor
Take time to consider what underpins your work.
Perhaps you draw from particular underlying perspectives such as existentialism, positive psychology, solution-focus, appreciative inquiry, gestalt, personal construct theory, ACT, transactional analysis or any number of other approaches
Maybe you integrate these in some way? What is your unique psychological and theoretical flavour?
A great example of this is Fredrike Bannink’s book The Handbook of Positive Supervision. You can’t read that book and mistake Fredrike for a commodity supervisor. She is clear and unapologetic about her stance.
Your Preferred Client/Supervisee Type
Do you have a supervisee type that you’re best suited to work with or to somehow be able to make an impact on?
Perhaps you work with executive coaches, life coaches or integrative practitioners.
Perhaps you work with coaches who are just starting out, or coaches who are extremely experienced and need a different kind of supervision.
Perhaps you work with coaches facing particular emotional challenges such as burn out, self-doubt or ennui.
This doesn’t mean that you only work with this supervisee type but rather that you can share where you have particular strengths or experiences that make you a particularly good fit.
Your Signature Working Style
People in the helping professions often find themselves at the mercy of the demands of their clients. We give them what they ask for rather than setting out our stall of how we work.
However, in my experience, coaches and coaching supervisors often have a preferred way of working and even a conviction of the importance of that way of working.
If you do too, then why not make that part of your signature as a coaching supervisor.
If you believe coaches should be supervised once a month regardless of how much coaching they have done, or you believe that using recorded sessions is vital, or that supervision should be conducted over two-hour sessions or 20-minute laser sessions, or you have any other unique belief and practice for how you work, then consider committing to it rather than flexing to the expectations and norms of the supervision market.
Develop an attitude of “this is who I am, this is how I work, and this is why it matters.”
Research in the field of psychotherapy showed that the specific methodology of the therapist was far less important than their commitment and belief in it.
So why not get clear on what you believe and commit to it.
What You’d Like to Help Solve
As coaching supervisors, we often develop “pet peeves”, wishing that if we could only solve xyz issue for coaches, many would be much happier and more successful.
For me, that pet peeve has always been how coaches hold themselves back for fear of breaking the rules. This has led me to create coaching and supervisory schools that challenge the assumption of one way of doing things and which encourage people to find themselves as practitioners.
But what might it be for you?
Perhaps you’d love to help coaches feel more confident, overcome impostor syndrome, be more truthful and confronting, go deeper, or something else.
Again, it doesn’t have to be all you do but you can certainly give voice to your aspiration to make a difference in this way. That alone will set you apart.
Take some time to list the areas where you’d like to make a difference and whittle it down to three major areas you can focus your message around.
Your Relational Style
One of the biggest risks for commoditisation in supervision is the homogenisation of the relational style.
That’s a bit of a mouthful, but put simply, many supervisors sound and act the same!
It’s almost as though when someone trains as a coach and then a coaching supervisor, they are given a personality transplant.
I exaggerate, of course, but I suspect many readers will empathise with what I mean. So many coaches sound the same, share the same body language and use the same phraseology and idioms to express themselves.
Some years ago, an unconventional coach I know was asked to be on a reality TV programme to coach a participant. His style was confronting, challenging and humorous. He teased, cajoled and emotionally prodded the client to get a reaction that would break through limiting beliefs. It was fun to watch and I enjoyed it.
What fascinated me more though was the reaction of the coaching community who were aghast at his style.
That wasn’t coaching! That wasn’t client-led! That wasn’t respectful!
Their norms had been challenged.
Well, in 2021 as you start your new year, ask how authentic the supervisory relationships you create are.
If you are genuinely someone who evokes that more spacious, gentle kind of relationship then this is authentic and you might ask how you embrace this even further.
But if you find yourself holding yourself back for fear of not looking like a coaching supervisor, or of breaking the rules of engagement, I’d encourage you to challenge yourself to be more you!
Try it out in January. Be a bit more playful with expressing yourself and see what happens.
Other Areas of Difference
There plenty of other areas you might explore to find your difference including:
And no doubt many more.
My suggestion is that you take time to write everything about yourself as a supervisor across as many areas of practice as you can think of.
Then take time to make sense of it and draft it into a kind of manifesto. Who am I as a supervisor?
2 – Mindfully master the Seven Eyes
This one is particularly useful for newer coaching supervisors. Neophyte supervisors often have a preferred focus which dominates their supervision practice and typically this reflects their coaching style.
If they are client-centric as a coach then they often spend the majority of their time focused on the needs and feelings of the coach during the supervision. They transfer their client-centric approach to the supervisee.
By contrast, if they are more typically performance-focused as a coach, they often spend much of the supervision exploring the supervisee’s coaching interventions and its effectiveness in terms of outcomes.
Areas that are more frequently missed are the coaching client (as opposed to the coach), the quality of the relationship, the here-and-now experience of the supervision and the system in which the coaching is taking place. And that’s not surprising since these tend to be newer dimensions to consider for a coach transitioning to supervisor.
The Seven-Eyed Model of Coaching Supervision offers an exceptionally useful map to guide the supervisor’s attention to multiple parts of the supervision system but it’s only useful if it’s used!
So, my next suggestion for growth as a coaching supervisor is to be more deliberate in your exploration of all parts of the supervision system.
Here are a couple of ways you might do that.
3 – Identify Your Growing Edges and Grow Them
We all have growing edges in our practice. No matter how experienced you are.
In a recent interview with one of the founders of supervision, Robin Shohet, I asked where he continued to meet his growing edge and in his classic self-questioning style, he first challenged himself as to whether he’d become complacent before recognising that, no, he was still on his own journey through peer supervision.
For many of us, our growing edges are more sharply defined since we’re in our earlier stages of growth. But are we tackling them? Are we even fully aware of them?
Perhaps your contracting needs a bit of tender loving care! Or you find yourself stumped when confronted by a supervisee who doesn’t bring much to the session. Or maybe you’re squeamish of the normative function and tend to stay clear of ethical dilemmas that could feel uncomfortable.
We all have these growing edges. What’s yours and how are you going to work on them?
As part of our coaching supervision training we offer six months of free supervision-of-supervision after the course has ended. The aim is to create a constructive space for new supervisors to continue to sharpen their saw, to use Covey’s analogy.
But there are plenty of other ways too.
The literature around coaching supervision is growing by the year and there are now a wealth of books coaching supervisors can immerse themselves in to explore their growing edges. Ranging from the classics such as Hawkins and McMahon’s Supervision in the Helping Professions to more cutting edge treatments such as Birch and Welch’s Coaching Supervision: Advancing Practice, Changing Landscapes.
Equally peer supervision groups can be a great place to explore your growing edges. A group of 4 to 6 coaching supervisors getting together monthly or quarterly can provide a masterful space for exploration and reflection and, at the same time, develop their own skills of group facilitation and participation.
And, of course, you might consider professional supervision of your supervision. Whilst this is not yet an area that is commonly considered, there is a growing cadre of highly-experienced coaching supervisors who could offer exceptional one-to-one supervision of supervision if you were to ask.
However you prefer to learn, the key is to become deliberate in what you’re looking to improve.
My suggestion is that in January, you take a notepad and write down all the areas you would love to improve in your practice. This should not be an exercise in thinking of yourself as “not good enough” but rather a process of bringing a joyful awareness of, and commitment to, your ongoing improvement.
With your list complete, select one area per month to focus on.
You can even diarise the areas through the year, for instance, with contracting for January, use of self for February, confronting interventions for March and so on.
Or perhaps you can take one major theme for the whole year – for instance, 2021 as the Year of the Self as Instrument.
I believe this can be and should be fun, inspiring and pleasurable.
4 – Learn a New Approach and Expand Your Horizons
This next one is less about meeting the needs of a growing edge, and more about simply growing!
Let’s face it, we can all get very good at doing the same thing but it can also be repetitive, limiting and dull!
We find ourselves asking the same old questions about the same old things or focusing on the same area in the same way, or just rinsing and repeating the things we notice.
On our coaching supervision training programme, we introduce participants to a number of new lenses including existential, solution-focused, psychodynamic and positive-psychology based supervision to name but a few.
The aim isn’t to create experts in this each field. This would be impossible given the time constraints of the course. Rather, the aim is simply to introduce new conceptual frameworks to coaching supervisors and to open the door for them to walk through.
What’s rewarding to see is how positively the participants grapple with ideas that sometimes sit outside their normal way of thinking and working. I vividly recall the manner in which some people made a 180-degree turn on how they thought about positive psychology from the start to the end of the 3 half hour session simply by playing with it and seeing how it added to their work.
Coaches across the world are increasingly drawing from specialised fields and theoretical disciplines and coaching supervisors need to be able to respond to this.
Equally, a coaching supervisor who wants to learn and grow will find new inspiration, new ways of working and habit-busting methods in these other disciplines.
So why not make 2021 a year in which you immerse yourself in a new discipline.
Better still, why not choose one which challenges your comfort zone?
If you’re someone who works cognitively and logically, how would it be to make 2021 a year of discovering gestalt? If you spend time working with mindfulness and meditative practices, why not explore provocative therapy as applied to coaching supervision?
Get playful and challenge your preconceptions
And this doesn’t have to mean paying for training – though that might be what you do. It could simply be that you buy every book you can find on the topic and leave no stone unturned in your exploration. It might be that you join an online group based around that way of working or even start your own. You might undertake to be supervised or coached by someone who works in that field.
There are so many ways to immerse yourself and learn about a chosen discipline and the only barrier is your imagination. Don’t let it be. Let it run wild and have fun like a spring hare in a wild meadow of ideas!
5 – Do more Coaching Supervision!
In training coaching supervisors, one of the things that I noticed very quickly was how different participants were able to create more or fewer opportunities to supervise people.
This tells me one very important thing:
It’s not the market that dictates how much supervision you do.
One supervisor who started training with us in May 2020 had completed over 60 hours of paid supervision by the end of the year, whilst another was struggling to achieve the hours needed to qualify. And neither were in what might be considered an obvious location of plentiful supervision. This wasn’t a case of one person fishing by the sea and the other being in a desert!
The truth is that you get better, more confident and more flexible as a coaching supervisor, the more you do it.
And that means getting supervision clients.
Ever since I started my first business in 2000, one thing I’ve been hot on is setting a clear, realistic and meaningful forecast for the year ahead.
The longer I’ve been in business, the more useful and relevant this forecast has become because it’s based on real historic performance. But it’s never too early to start.
As a coach, you already know this. Plans might not be guaranteed but they’re much more likely to happen if you have one than if you don’t!
So, my next suggestion for 2021, is to plan what you want to achieve in terms of the amount of supervision you want to do, how many people you want to work with and how much you want to make financially from it – yes, it’s OK to think about this dimension too!
The key to this though is not just plucking random numbers that look exciting but rather to create a plan that you believe in and that you can execute.
And think, too, about what needs to happen for the outcomes to take place. There’s no point saying you’re going to get ten new clients in January if you have just one client right now and you have no marketing, no appointments, no new strategies.
Instead, ensure that every new client on your forecast can be tracked to actions you take some time earlier.
I don’t have space in this blog post to describe a full marketing plan, but you should at least be considering:
This might all feel a little bit mechanical but if you want to succeed as a coaching supervisor in any kind of consistent way, then you need to figure out your client acquisition strategy.
Now, I know that there will be readers of this post who simply want to do supervision when it presents itself. Perhaps you don’t want to do this business stuff and you don’t want to have to think about client acquisition. In other words, supervision will be a small part of your work; an additional service when, for whatever reason, someone asks for it.
I get it. You didn’t train as a coaching supervisor to be a marketer!
But my challenge to you is whether that’s really what you want or just something you’re settling for.
Think about why you trained as a coaching supervisor. Presumably, it was because you enjoyed doing that work, you wanted to support coaches and you wanted to make a difference.
Well, that only happens when you’re doing it!
So think carefully and commit to a plan of action for 2021 that you can believe in and follow.
Then do more coaching supervision!
Now it’s over to you
I hope that these five suggestions have been useful. In many ways, they are very obvious. Yet my challenge to you is whether you are being deliberate about them.
Are you making choices? Are you being strategic? Are you being clear?
What do you want to improve in your coaching supervision in 2021? Perhaps some of my ideas will help and perhaps not. The key though is that you know what you need to do or what you want to achieve and go do it!
Happy New Year and I wish you a fabulous year of supervision ahead.
Nick Bolton is the founder and CEO of the Centre for Coaching Supervision and Animas Centre for Coaching. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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