In this new series of blog posts, we share 50 common themes, topics and challenges that come up in coaching supervision conversations.
These have been taken from our book, “Picturing Coach Supervision: An Illustrated Guide to Common Issues and Challenges.“
“Am I following the rules?”
One of the most common themes in coaching supervision, particularly, though not exclusively, with newer coaches, is an anxiety that they are not “following the rules”.
Indeed, a challenging aspect of this is that a new coaching supervisor can equally get locked into the same question, both for themselves and the coach/supervisee, especially if they have been a coach in a highly regulated setting.
Whose coaching rules rule?
But one has to ask the question: whose rules?
I remember supervising a supervisor (yes, it’s a bit Inception like, isn’t it!) and he described how he was struggling to supervise a coach because he felt that she was behaving unethically by not following the ICF core competencies. She had occasionally offered advice and shared her own ideas.
The problem was, she wasn’t an ICF coach!
These weren’t her guiding competencies – her “rules’.
We explored why it is important that when we take a normative approach in supervision we first have to get on the same page of which norms and whose norms: The coach’s? The professional association’s? The supervisor’s? Or just some abstract sense of what is right or wrong?
Even if we accept that there are “rules” in coaching (which is highly questionable in the first place), we must at least be sure that we are talking about the same ones.
The problem with rules
Personally, I don’t think there are rules in coaching. I think it’s an unhelpful term that stultifies, constrains and inhibits coaches from being their true self.
Indeed, for me, the greatest gift a supervisor can help a coach uncover is the flourishing of their true self as a coach.
Martin Buber, the existential philosopher and theologian, talked of I/It and I/Thou relationships. Where an I/Thou is a true encounter between people in which their true selfs can meet, an I/It relationship is functional. The It, the Other, is an object for the I and achieves something for it.
When we follow “rules of coaching”, we are, by default, being something for someone.
We really wish we could do, say, ask, share, offer or provide something but we dare not for fear of breaking the rules.
This can become crippling and demoralising to a coach (as well as predictable and dull for the client) and supervision often provides a space to find oneself as a coach and begin to drop the idea that there are rules.
So if there aren’t rules, what are there?
Rules are not helpful for coaching. And yet coaching is something. It’s not merely random, nor is it a meaningless signifier for something that can’t be grasped.
When I used to teach coaching, course participants would often say things like:
“I really wanted to give advice, but I didn’t!”
I would invariably respond:
“Why didn’t you?”
They would typically look at me in surprise, annoyance or some mixture of the two and reply something like:
“Because Animas told us not to!”
“That’s the wrong reason not to do it.”
They were following a rule. Their behaviour was not governed by a true belief in what they were doing.
I believe in the principles of coaching not the rules.
I truly believe in the importance and the usefulness of the principles of coaching.
I believe that someone is better off digging deep to think for themselves and so that’s what I aim to encourage.
I believe that any advice I have, whilst possibly useful, is almost certainly not actually right which is why I naturally and without having to think about it only ever offer to share an idea or something I have seen work, rather than give advice.
Coaching is not about rules, it’s about principles that find their way into the world as behaviours and we are truly coaching when we have embodied them rather than doing them merely because we are meant to or have been told to.
Supervision conversations around rules
Supervision conversations around rules then are not about investigating the rule-breaking thereby reinforcing the coach’s own fears and beliefs.
Rather they are about loosening the rigidity of the thinking around rules and exploring the coach’s experience of coaching and their understanding of the principles and agreed competencies that flow from them.
Such a conversation provides a rich and endless landscape of exploration beyond either confirming or refuting the idea of rules.
- What does the supervisee take to be the principles?
- What are the supervisee’s true feelings and thoughts about coaching principles?
- What would they really have liked to have done?
- What were their fears around this?
- What do they think are the consequences of breaking “rules”?
- How might that perceived “rule” be a worthy principle?
- Who are they as a coach without rules?
- What rules would they find useful, if any, and why?
- What is the deeper relationship to rules, competencies, agreed practices and shared principles?
- And, if you are going to discuss rules, whose and why?
I believe that supervision, at its best, is about enabling a coach to find their truest self.
A coach operating from their truest self doesn’t needs rules to do so. They need to know and connect to their values, their core beliefs, their skills and their principles.
And that’s one powerful journey of supervision.