Three days before I embarked on a five-day, 50-hour training in coaching supervision, a friend and fellow coach questioned my plans, stating that to him, the value proposition seemed dubious. Having paid in advance, I attended the training anyway, and discovered that coaching supervision is so valuable that every coach who is serious about their work will seek it.
Coaching Supervision Defined
Not to be confused with coaching (partnering with clients to develop awareness toward achieving a desired outcome) or mentor coaching (observing a coach’s work and providing feedback to help develop that coach’s practice of the ICF Core Competencies), coaching supervision (CS), according to the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), involves supporting a coach “to engage in reflective dialogue and collaborative learning for the development and benefit of the coach, their clients and their organizations.” CS involves developing a coach’s competence, providing a supportive space for coaches to process experiences with clients, and enhancing the quality, standards and ethics of a coach’s professional practice. As positive as this sounds, many coaches still do not understand CS or feel active resistance to using it. Why?
Overcoming supervision resistance
Three common reasons for disavowing coaching supervision are time, cost, and lack of need. Let's immediately toss the time excuse. On average, CS is a one hour per month activity. Everyone can make time for that.
Cost can be a legitimate barrier, since an hour of CS typically costs one hour of coaching fees, and without a decent number of clients, some coaches may not feel this investment is worthwhile. However, my accountant informs me this cost is tax deductible, and my supervisor reminds me that raising my coaching effectiveness helps me attract and retain more clients, creating positive ROI.
When coaches suggest they don't need supervision, I am bewildered. I like a confident, brilliant, and experienced coach as much as the next person, but if that same coach believes he is too wise and talented to benefit from supervision, then I start doubting his judgment.
Clinicians use supervision—why not coaches?
Few licensed mental health professionals would utter aloud, “I’m past the need for supervision.” Although not required to receive supervision once licensed, clinicians are drilled throughout their training and early careers that they can never stop learning, honing their craft, or expanding their awareness. Therefore, their professional culture builds the expectation of continued supervision—not counseling, but bona fide, professional supervision—regardless of cost or experience. What makes coaches different? Is our work not complex, interpersonally challenging, and demanding of self-awareness? If the coaching profession wants to be viewed as more valid and credible, then we need to follow the example of the mental health profession and assimilate career-long supervision into our professional culture.
Embracing the value of supervision
Now that you know you have time for coaching supervision, that it represents a wise investment, and that no one is too advanced to benefit from it, let’s consider some of its unique advantages.
First, CS leads to improved quality of service and professional satisfaction. Although empirical research on the efficacy of CS is scarce at this early stage, its effectiveness is self-evident. Without exception, every coach has blind spots. We need another set of eyes to help us see those blind spots, much like our clients rely on our coaching interventions to increase awareness and performance, only more so. As coaches, we have to take into account everything in our client’s world, as well as consider the impact of our coaching interventions, our relationship with that client, and the beliefs, values, and personality we bring to the interaction. Supervision helps coaches keep all of these systems in sight, work with greater awareness, increase confidence, and achieve better results. Supervisors also provide essential (and comforting) backup for ensuring a coach’s ethical practice. Don’t take my word for it. You will have to experience coaching supervision first-hand to fully appreciate how empowering and satisfying it is.
Besides the personal satisfaction and quality improvement benefits, supervision is starting to become a consumer-driven demand. Yes, you read that correctly: clients and corporate sponsors are starting to give preference to supervised coaches when they choose their providers or award contracts. North American clients and corporations are just catching on to the value of supervision. However, if you coach or plan to coach in Europe, clients will likely presume you will be supervised, as CS has been common there for some time, and their professional associations (especially EMCC, the second-largest worldwide) actually require their credentialed coaches to receive supervision. As more coaches and consumers recognize its value, it will only be a matter of time before coaching supervision becomes a global best practices standard.
Finally, receiving CS counts toward ICF Continuing Coach Education (CCE) requirements, in Core Competencies, hour for hour. Therefore, a monthly, one-hour supervision meeting over three years satisfies 10 of the 40 CCU’s required to renew an ICF credential.
If you are feeling more convinced that every coach needs supervision, that you will value the service, and that supervision will inevitably become part of the coaching professional culture and standard of practice, then you probably see a wide-open opportunity, especially in North America. If you are looking for a way to gain a competitive advantage in a sea of ambitious coaches, retaining coaching supervision is there for the taking.