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Coaching Supervision: It’s Here (or is it?)

By Brian Underhill, PhD, CEO, CoachSource

Here is a time when I lost our company a potentially multimillion dollar coaching contract.

Yes, it was my fault.  The CEO of the company messed this one up personally.

It’s 5 am in California, 4 years ago.  Our web interview is underway with a major multinational who is considering us to manage all their executive coaching needs worldwide.  This work is our sweet spot, our bread and butter.  Despite my groggy brain, we were answering the standard questions eloquently and comprehensively. 

Until this question, from an HRBP in the UK:  “What is your company’s approach on coaching supervision?”

At the time, I’d known about the practice, and knew it was really just limited to the United Kingdom.  Since I was an “industry expert” on worldwide coaching practices, I’d thought I’d share my extensive knowledge of our field by offering, “Yes, coaching supervision at the moment is a trend limited to just the UK and is not present in the US or elsewhere that I have visited.  So, our company at the moment does not have any plans for a supervisory coaching practice.”

Wrong answer.

Weeks later, we were informed we did not win the contract.  The feedback?  We didn’t have enough focus on certification (since addressed, see here), and we did not take coaching supervision seriously.  Time for some deep reflection.


What is Coaching Supervision?

Coaching supervision is “the skillful and intentional reflection on our work,” according to Sam Magill, perhaps the “grandfather” of coaching supervision in the US. Widely accepted as originating in the United Kingdom, based on similar practice undertaken by mental health practitioners, “supervision is a learning partnership between a qualified supervisor and an executive coach” (from CoachSource coach Gloria Bader). “Supervision is about looking at what we don’t know, recharging our batteries, managing our emotions, and dealing with ethical dilemmas in coaching,” says Damian Goldvarg, past Global President of ICF.

From the EMCC, “the functions of supervision include: 

 - Developing the competence and capability of the coach / mentor.
 - Providing a supportive space for the coach / mentor to process the experiences they have had when working with clients.
 - Encouraging professional practice related to quality, standards and ethics.”

Sam Magill gave me an example of supervision in action: A super confident and capable MCC+BCC coach suddenly feels very deskilled as soon as he/she is with a particular client. A supervisor would explore what it is that triggers the coach in this way and how to overcome it. Now the coach is more effective, the client receives better quality coaching, and the coach improves for future engagements.

Coach members of the European Mentoring Coaching Council are required to work with a supervisor on a regular basis. ICF has a favorable point of view for the practice but does not require supervision (for now). ICF members can earn CCUs when working with a supervisor.

The UK is clearly leading the way in this field, Australia is also noted as a strong believer, along with parts of western Europe. There are early indications of the practice gaining popularity in the US, with a long way to go. The practice does not yet have wide-spread global reach: I checked with a few of our well-networked coaches in LATAM (Carlos Paulet and Olga Lucia Toro), Asia-Pacific (Jeff Hasenfratz and Donny Huang) and India (Ram Ramanthan) - all have said they see little to no supervisory activity in their respective regions thus far.


Supervisory Coach Training

The EMCC is the best-known body that offers a certification as a coach supervisor, with the Coaching Supervision Academy being the leading training organization. ICF does not offer a certification in coaching supervision.

Supervisor candidates must have significant training and experience in supervision, be mature practitioners with a minimum 5 years coaching experience, able to work with different learning styles, in touch with the latest developments of the field and more. Supervision training is very systemic (often following the Seven-eyed Model of Supervision by Hawkins and Shohet). Supervisory training takes advantage of executive coaching best practices while also paying more attention to psychological and clinical theories. Issues such as transference and counter-transference are dealt with, according to Magill.  

Typically, an individual coach hires a supervisor and pays for the service personally. The coach is expected to pay market rates for the supervisor, something more or less similar to what the coach might charge for their own services. Coaches indicate a ratio of one supervisory session for each 10 client coaching sessions they conduct.  EMCC suggests 1 hour of supervision for every 35 hours of coaching, with a minimum of once a quarter. Supervision can be done in-person, virtually, and even conducted more cost-effectively in a group setting.


Our Response

After the stinging RFP loss, I soon found myself in the UK on a business trip. I decided to ask every single UK coach I knew if they actually hired a supervisory coach. And to my surprise, every one of them did - and swore by it. “I can’t imagine not having regular coaching supervision, as it contributes to my own practice in so many ways,” says coach Julie Johnson in Holland. “I find it an inspiration and a relief to be able to freely explore my practice with another, and I believe that we owe this to our clients, to ourselves and to the profession.”

Not long after, CoachSource coach Gloria Bader completed her supervisory certification and graciously offered me a free session. I’d been coaching a “lukewarm leader” who seemed to keep me at arm’s length, and I brought this scenario to her. In only 1 session, I had my mind expanded so greatly on where I was struggling and could improve…and why I was struggling with this assignment (something about him was making me a bit reticent to challenge him). I returned to his engagement with new confidence to fill my rightful place as the role of the coach.

This month, CoachSource hosted our first ever coaching supervision certification in Los Angeles (open to our own coaches only), taught by Damian Goldvarg. The enthusiasm in the room was invigorating – coaches who had not heard of coaching supervision a year ago are now campaigning for every coach to have a supervisor – they can clearly see the merits for our development as coaches and professionalizing the field.

The vision of our Chief Coaching Officer, Kimcee McAnally, is to bring coaching supervision to the United States and eventually the globe. In the next few years, we hope to have at least 50 certified supervisory coaches amongst the 1,100 coaches in the CoachSource Coach Community. We are still working on how best to deploy coaching supervision, but we are playing with ideas ranging from “on call supervisors” for all coaches in our community to embedded supervisors within our major client implementations. 

As this profession of coaching continues to develop, could this be the next logical step in this field’s maturity?  What do you think of this trend?


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