We review how more professionals may benefit from the rigours and benefits of good supervision, rather than it being just for coaches.
I have a developing practice in supervising leaders and those who undertake leadership and organisational development, mostly in public-sector organisations. Some are executive officers leading functional teams. Others are internal and external coaches, consultants and change agents, or staff, interim and contractor HR and OD Business Partners. All are intent on supporting cultural and operational change.
For some, supervision provides an overview of their practice – the opportunity to step back from what they do to consider their role, their interventions and their effectiveness. For others, supervision offers a more reflective space to recall and re-present what happened to understand what may still be entangled in the system, or what can now be re-interpreted differently. For yet others, supervision offers an action inquiry and action learning opportunity to experiment, reflect, evaluate and adapt their practice to work towards change. For all, there is an opportunity to consider their experience of their leadership-as-practice.
Leadership-as-practice (Raelin, 2016) is relational leadership – leadership that emerges and unfolds through day-to-day experiences within and between people, how they are and what they do within their organisations. As such, leadership-as-practice is concerned with intersubjective understanding, interactive agency, and the dialogic patterns that sustain collective leadership. It privileges emergence and ambiguity over control and rationality as people sense and respond to their leadership as a continuous social flow.
I hold a space for my supervisees to notice how it is and how they are with how it is – how they feel, what they think, and what they are (not) doing about how it is, and what they want to do about that. As such, my supervision is about practitioner self-development.
By exploring the issues that present for themselves and their stakeholders, their colleagues and clients, their interventions in those systems, and the quality of relationship that enables or limits their effectiveness, supervision supports supervisees’ experience of themselves in their role, and enables greater clarity, competence, creativity and confidence in their practice. Without supervision, such experiential knowing often remains implicit, unsaid and unrealised.
I am particularly drawn to group supervision and the co-creation of a safe and generative space for discussion, a growing commitment to individual, shared and collective learning and development, and the benefits of the combined wisdom, experience and expertise in the group. It is important for us all to spend time to build the trust and the mutual respect that supports individual supervision in a group, participative supervision with other group members as co-supervisors, and cooperative supervision by each other as co-inquirers.
Such a relational way of working mitigates against having a fixed model of supervision, but favours emerging participative exploration of what unfolds within more generic containers and route-maps of what to talk about in supervision. As we work relationally with what supervisees bring and how they present, at times I may deepen our inquiry by asking questions to clarify happenings, experiences and the felt sense of their significance. And at times I may widen our inquiry by willingly sharing my own experience, and my understanding of the experiences and theories of others, if I consider them relevant and appropriate in developing supervisees’ capability and resilience.
I am aware of my own preference for an emergent contract that supports me and my supervisees to discover more about the work we do from the work itself as it unfolds. I am also aware that not every supervisee shares my emergent preference, and that I can sometimes over-adapt to a supervisee who has a greater preference for the destination rather than the journey. This is often what I take to my own supervisor.
Raelin, J. A. (Ed.) (2016). Leadership-as-practice: Theory and application. New York: Routledge.
Alastair Wyllie is a People and Organisational Developer, based in Fife. He holds a Pg. Dip. In Organisational Supervision and is an Ashridge-accredited Coach and Supervisor. He is currently completing the Ashridge Doctorate in Organisational Change. Alistair is also an AoCS member and Country Co Ordinator for Scotland.
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