By Paul Heardman
"101 Coaching Supervision Techniques, Approaches, Enquiries and Experiments”

"101 Coaching Supervision Techniques, Approaches, Enquiries and Experiments”

This new compendium on coaching supervision can be read at many levels.

The 101 techniques and approaches it sets out – while aimed at coaching supervisors – are actually useful from five different perspectives:

  • As a supervisor: they extend the breadth and depth of both what we do and how we are with our coaching supervisees. There is something new for any supervisor to discover here;
  • For our own internal supervisor: there are many great tools for enhancing solo reflective practice;
  • As a supervisee: we find lots of inspiration for what we might use with our supervisor;
  • For peer group supervision: there are excellent ideas for refreshing group practice;
  • For coaching: and some, though not all, tools can be easily adapted for use with coaching clients.

The book also demonstrates how coaching supervision is maturing.  A work of this scope could not have been written 5 years ago.  It shows we are moving beyond the ‘borrowed clothes’ of a supervision rooted in consultancy, social work or psychotherapy.  And implicitly, it also shows where we can develop further, to be more systemic, more inclusive.

“Constructive disruption”

The book is easy to navigate.  The 10 chapters each explore a different philosophical approach and are introduced by master practitioners.  These chapter overviews are a real strength, demonstrating great editing by Michelle Lucas. 

A key premise is ‘constructive disruption’ – how being deliberative in experimenting with new approaches can take us beyond the cosy and familiar, in service of our own and our clients’ growth.  But equally we are encouraged to anchor experimentation in a clear understanding of psychological or philosophical provenance, to support ethical practice. 

Two approaches I found particularly captivating:

  • Systemic constellations. This methodology is notoriously hard to describe, given its deeply experiential nature.  But Maren Donata Urschel’s summary of the underlying principles is excellent.  Even if you don’t use constellations explicitly in your practice, deepening our systemic consciousness is perhaps the paradigm shift the profession is called to make in response to today’s global challenges;
  • Transpersonal. The book’s final chapter offers maybe the biggest potential for any coaching supervisor or coach to embrace a transformative way of working.  If you have not come across psychosynthesis before, this chapter is a great introduction.   As Hetty Einzig explains, these models can be deeply powerful. 

The raft of creative tools peppered throughout the book echo Carl Jung’s message to us on the deep importance of play.  Clare Norman’s “working with the shadow”, Jackee Holder’s “tree perspectives”; and Damian Goldvarg’s “supervision with Lego” are ones I’ve added to my practice. 

“Managed eclecticism”

Much of the book is devoted to “eclectic” approaches – ones which don’t fit neatly elsewhere.  But this is more than just random pick-n-mix.  David Clutterbuck argues here for an integrative approach where we create our own individual synthesis - a 'managed eclecticism'.  This is where supervision of supervision – an as yet under-explored domain in coaching – can be so helpful. 

In truth, probably all supervisors and coaches have some eclecticism.  But Clutterbuck’s description of “system eclectic supervision” – where arguably the supervisor’s purpose is to hold the coach while the coach has the conversation they need to have with themselves – recalls an important paradox.  While we need to learn our tools well, we also then need to forget them in order to be fully with the person – what Wilfred Bion famously described as being “without memory, desire or understanding”.

Conclusion - “the tomorrow question”

The ‘tomorrow question’ is one of the tools in the chapter on solution-focussed supervision.  Inspired by this, I was left wondering what does this book – through its rich mapping of today’s current approaches - tell us about the coaching supervision of tomorrow?

Three questions emerged for me.

Technology.  David Clutterbuck offers a radical view on how AI will play an increasing role in supervision of the future.  This echoes the grim predictions of Yval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus.  It calls us to ask – is that a path we want to tread?  Is it inevitable?

Systems.  We rightly value the psychological-mindedness of today’s coaching supervision.  Many modalities originate in deep insights into human nature.  Is the shadow side of this perhaps a lingering bias towards the inter-personal at the expense of a wider systemic lens?  We sometimes talk about both “organisational client” and “individual client” as if they really are comparable – does this risk skipping over profound systemic truths which require deeper unpacking?  For all our theoretical awareness of the 7 eyed model, are we systemic enough yet?    

Diversity and inclusion.  Coaching supervision has been developed largely by white Westerners.  The book’s content, unsurprisingly, mirrors that.  What is the resulting systemic blindness of what we are not seeing?  Whose voices are not being heard?  And what does ethical practice now demand we do as a profession in response?

So, like any great supervision session, this book left me with some big questions to ponder. 

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