I was working with a group of student coaches the other day, explaining the role of supervision in improving our coaching practice. At the end of the session there was a Q&A and one student asked when I am working with a supervisee “if I ever couldn’t find a solution?”. It was an interesting question. And I wondered how he expected me to answer. Was he expecting me to be super-confident and say that I always helped the coach find an answer. Was he expecting me to be super-humble and say it wasn’t me that found the solution, it was the coach.
I remember pausing, weighing up how I could best respond. Then it dawned on me that there was a large assumption in his question – namely that supervision was about finding solutions. When I am working with coaching clients I often use the analogy of an iceberg. I say something like, a good coaching outcome often depends on understanding what lies beneath the surface. If we only work on issues that form the tip of the iceberg, we will end up working on a number of similar problems. If we do not resolve the root cause of the issues, different manifestations of the issue will continue to emerge. I therefore encourage them to look beyond what is happening and consider why it might be happening to them.
And so, my answer to the student was this. My belief is that the role of supervision is not to find a solution, it is to explore what caused the question.
My proposition is that in supervision, value emerges not by considering what comes next, but by exploring more deeply what is already known. Inevitably, some of what is known, lies just beyond conscious thought. Therefore the supervisor’s role is to help the supervisee examine their experience more fully thereby increasing their understanding about what was happening in the room at the time. When we focus attention on the existing experience, it serves to heighten awareness and a sense of resolution emerges naturally, rather than deliberately engineering a solution. My aim is to open up the dialogue with a greater curiosity to understand what impacts on what. There is a similarity with the “magic eye” pictures when, if you can manage to look just beyond your natural field of vision, suddenly everything jumps into view. When this happens in supervision, typically the coach lets go of technique and of worrying what to do next. The coach becomes grounded again and a greater certainty emerges that upon walking into the next coaching session, his or her “whole self” will show up for work.
So for me, the goal for supervision is to engage in an exploration of “what lies beneath” – as we grapple with that, we provoke a better understanding of the heart of the matter, not the solution itself. This is about future proofing. It serves us well, not just for the matter in hand, but many others that would have been borne from the same cause. Of course, should a “solution” appear along the way, it is a very welcome by-product.
What’s your experience of good supervision outcomes? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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