By Samuel Magill
Coaching Without Easy Answers 2

Coaching Without Easy Answers 2



Good coaches have developed their coaching competencies to a high level. They have a large array of techniques and resources on which to draw as they encounter clients and their needs. And yet, even the most experienced coach can miss opportunities for great coaching.

Coaching supervision helps coaches move consistently from good to great coaching!     

Not familiar with coaching supervision – read on to understand:

Way back in 1933, Alford Korzibsky stated, “A map is not the territory it represents, but if correct, it has similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness”. In other words, we can look at a map, but when we encounter the territory it describes, we may experience something a little – or a lot – different. Applying this to coaching, we can see that the “mental map” we have of our clients and their situation may not correspond to what is actually happening.   

To illustrate the possible gap in a more concrete setting, years ago my wife and I were hiking on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. We were experienced at reading topographical maps and set out into the mountains with confidence. After a seemingly interminable time of going up and down steep slopes, we felt like we were getting nowhere – and we saw no progress on the map. Thinking we had made an error, we took a break and looked more carefully at the map.

I grew up in the US with USGS (US Geological Survey) maps which used 70-foot contours – those little lines that trace elevation changes. Unconsciously – from my mental map – I saw the one we were using as having those same 70-foot contours. Upon closer reading of the map in front of me, I discovered it used 500-foot contours! We could go up and down a lot of slopes without ever crossing a line. No wonder we were pooped and frustrated. The “map” in my brain did not represent the territory we were experiencing.

How often do we coaches miss subtle shifts, emotions or needs of our clients? Is the map we are following appropriate for the territory we are travelling with them? And, by the way, the client has his or her own set of maps and gaps! Are we using the same map?

More recently, author Richard Stone (Healing Art of Storytelling and other works) said in a private conversation, “We humans are story makers. While we interact, each person in a conversation is generating stories about what is happening.” I heard his comment as, “We make a map of the interaction in order to make sense of it.” – just as I had during the hike on Vancouver Island years ago.

In coaching, as in all human encounters, building that mental map allows us to track and make sense of the encounter. But, as Korzibsky notes, the map is not the actual territory. And the gaps between what we think is happening, what the client thinks is happening and what is actually happening are key doorways between good and great coaching.

This is why coaching does not always involve easy answers!

This is why I am an advocate for coaching supervision.

Coaching supervision is not focused on competencies per se. It is focused on discovering gaps of all kinds. We ask: what is going on here, where is it coming from, how could my story be distorted, how might the client and I be experiencing different things? The result is increased capacity to use my competencies!

We at the Coaching Supervision Academy are dedicated to training coaching supervisors who know what sorts of gaps exist and how to discover the ones operating in any given moment. Graduates report that even if they never develop a supervision business, their own coaching moves from good to great.  

 For more information, contact Sam Magill: [email protected].


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Samuel Magill

Accredited Coaching Supervisor

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