By Samuel Magill
Coaching Without Easy Answers 1

Coaching Without Easy Answers 1

Coaching Without Easy Answers: Coaching Supervision Academy – North America

I became an advocate for coaching supervision because I saw too many coaches – including me – treating the challenges faced by clients as easy. If I could just find the right question, the right tool, assessment or technique, the client could rapidly change. But that turned out to be naïve.

Coaching supervision is one reliable way to support clients who face complex challenges by fine tuning the awareness and presence of the coach and to assure the coach does not assume life is easy for the client.

 A case for coaching supervision:

In his highly regarded book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, Harvard author Ronald Heifetz explores the complexities of leadership when the way forward is not clear, especially when something new is being created. Heifetz defines leadership as “mobilizing people to tackle tough problems”.

Isn’t this what we do in coaching?

When we use our skills to mobilize clients to tackle their problems, challenges and future opportunities, we provide a kind of leadership, while constantly handing or generating responsibility for action to our clients. If that was easy, clients wouldn’t need coaches!

Heifetz distinguishes between “technical” issues and their solutions and “adaptive” issues and their solutions. The former can be solved with known methods, standard procedures and repetition of past successful solutions. Adaptive challenges are completely different, so much so that using the once successful approaches actually makes things worse.

We see this in our coaching clients regularly when they can’t move forward doing things the way that brought them success in the past. Technical solutions don’t require much coaching! A great deal of coaching involves adaptive challenges – those that require new awareness and ways of working.

Learning about and practicing coaching supervision has helped me be more effective in mobilizing clients to tackle their complex challenges that competencies alone don’t satisfy and to help me avoid the easy way through.

Here are some examples:

  1. A good coach was frustrated with the client’s lack of progress. The technical solution was to use the tried and true approach the coach learned for generating a vision and action steps with the client. However, the frustration of the coach mirrored the client’s frustration. Through the reflection offered by supervision, the coach learned she was drawing from her own history and personal success without taking the time to understand how very different the client’s life had been. With renewed compassion for the client, the coach adapted her coaching process to meet the client where she was.
  2. A very experienced coach was savvy enough to notice that he may be caught between his direct client and the sponsoring manager. In supervision, we mapped the various relationships at work. The simple / technical solution was to end the relationship with the client (at the client’s request) and start coaching the sponsor (at the sponsor’s request). The complex and adaptive approach was to more effectively end work with the client and to initiate a new, distinct relationship with the sponsor without unconsciously transporting information and thoughts from one engagement to the next.
  3. A talented, well trained and credentialed coach noticed that a good, productive coaching relationship had suddenly gone sideways. By listening for what the real coaching challenge was, I began to imagine that the coach was slipping into an unconscious relationship with the client. I asked, “What role do you imagine you are playing with the client?” He responded immediately, “Oh, my gosh. I’m her father.” The coach shifted to be a protective father figure for a client who was hurt by harsh feedback from her CEO. Once the coach saw what was happening, he corrected the way he interacted, and the coaching proceeded. He avoided the simple response he unconsciously chose at first and dealt with the necessary complexity involved.

In each of these cases, the easy and rather automatic approach was disrupted through exploration between the coach and a supervisor trained to work with the complex conscious and unconscious systemic dynamics that were at play. Once revealed, the coaches could use their highly developed competencies.

If you are curious about avoiding easy answers in your coaching, consider learning about coaching supervision. Contact Sam Magill at [email protected] or Lynne DeLay  [email protected] to register for an introductory webinar on September 13 or October 8.

Our next cycle of training begins in January 2020!



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About the author
Samuel Magill

Accredited Coaching Supervisor

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