New beginnings come with new challenges.
And becoming a coaching supervisor is no different.
Even though those who become coaching supervisors are highly experienced coaches, it can nonetheless leave them feeling like a beginner again with so much to learn, explore, and develop.
As a recently qualified coaching supervisor myself, I wanted to understand how other supervisors experienced this and what were the major challenges, either practical or emotional, that they encountered.
I was curious as to whether I was alone in experiencing this (I assumed I wasn’t) and whether the areas of challenge matched mine in some way.
To explore this, I interviewed 15 newly qualified coaching supervisors from the International Centre for Coaching Supervision, each of whom was a successful, long-standing and impactful coach, trainer and coaching mentor.
The power of a shared challenge is a great catalyst for self-acceptance, which in turn is a catalyst for self-love, confidence and growth into who you truly are. My aim in writing this piece was to help all newly qualified coaching supervisors on this journey but also to help myself!
I hope this article may help to give you confidence in your transitioning phase and also focus a lens on some solutions that may have come up.
What Do Newly Qualified Coaching Supervisors Find Challenging?
Out of the 15 Supervisors asked, there were around 4 who reported that they didn’t experience any significant challenge transitioning from coach to coaching supervisor and 4 who felt it was too early to say what those challenges might be..
The remaining 7 supervisors shared similar feelings to my own. Had I written this article without interviewing them, I would likely have mentioned all of these challenges but what would have been lost was the knowledge that these are such commonly shared experiences.
In particular, two significant challenges were present in all of our experiences. I want to jump straight to these as they were mentioned by every interviewee.
The Two Most Common Challenges
The first of these challenges is the question: “Am I coaching or am I supervising?”
The second is the transition from a non-advisory role, to one in which our experience, ideas and advice was not only possible but expected.”
In coaching, we are trained to be non-directive. We work a lot on refraining from giving advice or on taking up the client’s space.
This becomes a very valuable muscle, enabling us to fully and actively listen, become aware of what’s going on for us, remain unbiased, and gain full trust through the coaching conversation. The client becomes the catalyst for their own transformation in their lives by taking full charge and full responsibility for their inner and outer world.
It is empowering for the client to experience how they can indeed listen to their own inner voice, rather than be dependent on the guidance and words of someone else. It frees them from dependence and being on the effect side of things rather than the cause.
The lesson here is the client has all the answers within them. And as a coach, we facilitate that inner wisdom to shine through, by being an active, listening mirror and companion on their journey.
We as the coach help them notice things they may not have noticed before. But, the role we play as coaches in coaching is not advising or directing nor is it about the wisdom of the coach; it is about the client.
In coaching supervision, the same core belief in the individual remains present but there is permission to bring more of ourselves into the work and to inhabit the authoritative position when needed.
After many years of being a coach, this can feel like a challenge at first.
In his book, Helping the Client, the therapist John Heron shares six categories of intervention – essentially approaches to helping someone in conversation – ‘a set of analytic and behavioural tools to shape his or her own method of practice’. The categories are split into two overarching types: Authoritative and Facilitative.
The Authoritative Interventions are prescriptive, informative and confronting, and the Facilitative Interventions are cathartic, catalytic and supportive.
He also explains how they can overlap and have different connections..
The first three I call authoritative because they are rather more hierarchical: the practitioner is taking responsibility for and on behalf of the client – guiding his or her behaviour, giving instruction, raising consciousness.
The second set of three I call facilitative because they are rather less hierarchical: the practitioner is seeking to enable clients to become more autonomous and take more responsibility for themselves – by helping to release the emotional pain that blocks their personal power, by eliciting their self-directed learning, by unfolding their spiritual potential, by affirming their worth as a unique being.”
He also mentions that neither the authoritative nor the facilitative interventions are more or less useful and valuable because it all depends on the particular needs of the client and their content that determines the focus of the intervention.
With that in mind, we can draw that there is indeed an importance of having the tools to be more prescriptive, confronting or informative when needed.
It is only with friction, resistance and the meeting of genuine raw honesty that a person can truly get to their ability to shine. In supervision, we not only have the supervisee as our client, but their clients too (who are not in the actual conversation in supervision), which leads to that extra layer of responsibility to step up when needed, if a genuine place inside asks us to.
I can very much relate to the findings of the answers of the supervisors I asked, that transitioning over from the space of coaching to supervision.
Thoughts from the Coaching Supervisors
I noticed how I asked myself questions as to whether I was being directive enough or too directive, and whether I was in coaching mode and not allowing myself to step into being a supervisor yet.
Supervision can be formative (coaching ability), restorative (enabling a coach to feel better about themselves in some way) or normative (the standards and ethics of coaching).
I remember our course trainer saying that he noticed the one function that a lot of supervisors shy away from in his experience was that normative function due the authoritative stance it can require.
And I get it. The normative function can necessitate directing the behaviour of the client, informative i.e imparting knowledge and information to the client, and also confronting, challenging the client’s consciousness and seeking to raise it.
I guess the question to ask oneself is:
“If I am noticing myself not ever going into a more authoritative space, what am I fearing and challenge oneself to be more authoritative, as well as when noticing, I am taking up a lot of space and being too authoritative, to question oneself am I serving the client or am I using the time as an excuse to share my knowledge?”
I love the solutions that were raised by the supervisors I asked and here are some of the challenges and answers they shared:
Michele Kingston: Am I supervising or am I coaching at any given point?
Some of the questions I asked myself were: “Am I supervising or am I coaching at any given point?” I can now call myself out when I feel this may be the case, and I then focus on the 7 Eyed Model to bring myself back into a supervision space.
Next has been creating a balance of how I work within the supervision relationship to support the coaches growth. I am very aware of the space I’m taking up within my 70 min sessions.
I now agree with my supervisees at the start how they would like me to be, i.e. giving them the space to be more reflective, or me using what I’m observing and what I see as occurring in the space to support their development. On occasions, I feel that I’m just overthinking and need to get out of my own way!
Kristina Sheppard: How do you want me to be? – more explorative coaching or offering some guidance?
The solution to finding the right balance between coaching and supervision, ie. no advice-giving, and giving advice and the permission to bring in one’s own experience, is solid contracting and asking the simple question of ‘How do you want me to be? – more explorative coaching or offering some guidance?’
Kristina notices around an 80% facilitative space and 20% guidance.
Gilberto Nery: Change of hats from coaching to supervision
I think the biggest challenge for me was the change of hats from coaching to supervision. Putting aside the neutrality and non-directive essence of coaching and embracing the more active role in the session.
We develop so much of our listening skills and “parking” our opinions that putting them back into the conversation proved to be a challenge for me at the beginning.
It was relatively easy to overcome, though, as working with coaches is a delight. The awareness and reflective nature make the session advance fast and be highly productive.
Ken Kelling: Keeping it Simple
I think the main challenge in transitioning from coach to supervisor is keeping it simple!
Perhaps naively, I hadn’t really considered the depth and breadth of theories, approaches and models that apply to supervision as much as they do to coaching.
Sometimes it can feel like re-learning and absorbing a lot of information that could all be useful in Supervision practice. Choosing how to navigate all the options available to you can be a tough mental task.
As usual, the mantra of “hold it lightly” is always useful and usually provides an answer that comes from the wellspring of intuition instead. Trust yourself that all that data has gone into your mind and the right thing will come out at the right time!
We still all have a job to do as well in explaining what Supervision is and isn’t, what it can help with and what it may be less relevant for. Managing expectations about Supervision is as much part of the process as the Supervision itself.
Nisha Vyas: Do I have what it takes?
As I stepped into the supervision space, I found myself reflecting on the following:
Who am I serving? How will I serve? How much will I charge? How will I talk about my supervision offering and not conflict the messaging with my coaching practice and my biggest question was – Do I have what it takes?
Staying in action and supervising regardless of having answers to the above has been key for my growth as a supervisor, also keeping active in the supervision world through seminars, and the ICCS community is hugely beneficial.
My Personal Challenges
Am I Supervising or Coaching?
Marta Abramska and Beatrice Zornek are both highly sought after supervisors as well as trainers and hold frequent reflective supervision groups. They find that this question is equally present in that space: “Coaching vs advice and the question: am I supervising or coaching?”
Looking at all this data, one can notice how even if supervision brings in a more directive approach, contracting plays an important role in asking for permission and also realising or noticing when the session asks for a more authoritative approach. Prescriptive doesn’t mean it is always prescriptive, plus there is no right or wrong in having a session that feels very ‘coachy’ if it is serving the client.
One thing supervision asks of the supervisors is to own the space, to own who they are fully, and to use their wisdom when it is useful.
A supervisor can be authoritative from a place of serving or from the place of thinking they know better. I think that a good supervisor knows how to differentiate that difference and doesn’t hold back on their authoritative side when it’s from a genuine place of serving.
Personally, I notice myself having these same challenges. But, I have also noticed myself being more confident in the authoritative side than I thought I would be. In part, I think this was, because of my background in mentor coaching. I ask myself this question a lot: “am I serving the client to the highest potential?” Then, it always comes back down to asking the coach and contracting in the beginning.
Do I Have Enough Resources?
Other insecurities I have experienced in the supervision space derive from feeling I don’t have enough resources at hand when asked for reading lists or referencing other coaching professionals.
And so for me, it comes back to being OK with who I am as a supervisor and not comparing myself to other supervisors’ superpowers.
I’m also noticing where my area of development is, questioning myself to become more self-aware to serve my clients at the best possible and realising that, when the time comes, I gain more resources.
Before I close this article about the challenges of transitioning from coach to supervisor, I also want to mention the business challenges.
This mainly brings about the part of having two separate marketing channels and figuring out how to handle that.
For many, this can be overwhelming — a feeling of needing to split oneself and adding another area of work, which can sometimes be a reason for not wanting to spread yourself thin and focusing on one area of work at a time. This is a conversation for another article though!
I hope this has been an informative and perhaps even a motivating read for you, to either give you confidence as a supervisor transitioning that you are not alone in your challenges and to help you gain clarity on certain points that you may have questioned yourself in or anything else that has come up for you in reading this.