“Supervision is just another form of coaching, isn’t it?!”
“Coaching and supervision…don’t they pretty much do the same?”
These questions, and others like them, are understandable. Despite being separate professions, they co-exist in a space that shares many similarities and it is often assumed that being a supervisor is simply the next step for an experienced coach to “coach the coach”.
My experience with both coaching and supervision has shown me that, at times, there are indeed more similarities than differences in the relationships created during these two types of work. But, like many new supervisors, I have also had to confront the differences between them and learn new skills to help me supervise effectively.
As part of International Coaching Week, I’d like to add my piece to the puzzle and ask, “Is being a good coach enough to become a supervisor, and if so, what characteristics make the difference? What makes a good coach supervisor?”
To tackle this, I will be comparing the industry definitions between the two, followed by an academic discussion of what goes into supervision and how it is used. Hopefully, the first approach will offer some hints to their scope and the elements that need to be present. The second approach will help us figure out the differentiation between the two.
So if you’re a coach, then keep reading, which might help you decide whether or not to take a plunge into supervision. Let’s begin!
Coach vs. Coaching Supervisor
|“A collaborative solution-focused, results orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self directed learning and personal growth of the coachee.”
Association for Coaching (UK)
|“The process by which a coach, with the help of a supervisor, can attend to understanding better both the client system and themselves
as part of the client–coach system, and by so doing transform their work and develop their craft.”
Hawkins and Smith 2006
|“A partnering with clients in a thought provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
|“Coaching supervision is a formal process of professional support, which ensures continuing development of the coach and effectiveness of
his/her coaching practice through interactive reflection, interpretative evaluation and the sharing of expertise.”
Bachkirova, Stevens and Willis 2005
|“Supervision is the interaction that occurs when a mentor or coach brings their coaching or mentoring work experiences to a supervisor in order to be supported and to engage in reflective dialogue and collaborative learning for the development and benefit of the mentor or coach, their clients and their organisations.”
We can start by agreeing with these definitions. While supervision is a growing industry and does not summarize all possible views, they are reputable sources and widely accepted as valid views.
We can see similarities that both coaches and supervisors know are all too familiar:
Partnership and Collaboration
A collaborative relationship is required in both cases, referring to chemistry and relationship-building elements as essential in work.
Developmental and Supportive Angle
Both have an expected outcome that is something better than the starting point. There is an underlying principle of supporting the other party.
There is a processual element to both subjects that is acknowledge in the definitions.
The process requires a conversational format which requires good listening to occur at a meaningful level.
Now, let’s look at how they differ.
What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Coaching Supervision?
In coaching, the client is both the beneficiary and the ‘object’ of the work.
In supervision, it is acknowledged there seems to be a much stronger systemic approach linked to the client, their organisation, and the systems within.
How does the client-coach relationship work? Is the coach doing their part?
The expression “being under the supervision of” is quite telling. There seems to be an imbalance of power between supervisee and supervisor. But, it is noted that in the literature, there is some debate as to whether supervision should be called supervision or something else. The fact is that the word is commonly used and implies a particular type of relationship.
In Hawkins’ definition, he uses the expression “collaborative learning,” and Bachkirova et al. use the phrase “interactive reflection and interpretative evaluation.” Unlike what happens in coaching where the coach remains detached and distant from active judgemental reflection, there seems to be a suggestion that in supervision, both parties are contributing actively to the reflections occurring in the space.
Lastly, the definition of supervision suggests there is active sharing of expertise and knowledge from the supervisor to the supervisee. This also has an active contribution to expand the supervisees pool of knowledge drawn from the supervisor’s experience and knowledge.
This is all well and true, but we can further explore these differences by comparing the ICF Coaching Core competencies to the EMCC Supervision Competencies and map them as seen below:
|ICF Coaching Core Competencies
|EMCC Supervision Competencies
|Demonstrates Ethical Practice
|Promotes Professional Standards
|Establishes and Maintains Agreements Cultivates Trust and Safety
|Manages the Supervision Contract and Process
|Facilitates Client Growth
Embodies a Coaching Mindset
Based on this, we can conclude that in order to be a supervisor, one precisely needs the broader perspective of viewing the systems involved in coaching than a coach. This is with the exception of systemic coaching though it is not as widely used yet.
To add to this, a supervisor knows how to share and impart knowledge that requires a slightly higher power position in relation to the coach (or supposed supervisee).
Now the question is, how do you become a good one?
The Ideal Coaching Supervisor
A study by Grant (2012) on Australia’s Supervision market of topics supervisees brought up in conversation revealed that, 95% of the respondents talk about coaching intervention. 49% talk about the coach’s experience of self while 18% talk about the coach and client relationship.
This is consistent with a global study led by McAnally and Asmus (2018). With 1280 participants, it was concluded that 77% of the supervision session was about coaching intervention. The majority of respondents noted that the most helpful supervision interventions related to content rather than process. They emphasized that the most helpful moment was when the supervisor offered their own perspective or experience on the matter. This helped coaches expand their thinking.
This is big. This not only tells us that coaches find supervision useful in the growth of their craft, but it also tells us what coaches look for in a good supervisor. Based on the responses, a good supervisor is able to draw from knowledge and experience and share that with their client. This is clearly different from what is expected in a coaching relationship (based on the ICF definition).
While coaches can find beneficial insights from a supervisor, it is essential also to understand what might undermine the supervision relationship. In a paper by Sheppard (2017) titled “How Coaching Supervisees Help and Hinder Their Supervision,” Sheppard identified three mechanisms in which supervisees (coaches) might undermine supervision. These are fear, power relations, and the drive for learning. These are concerns that are up to the supervisor to address, mitigate or leverage them. Let’s explore these.
Fear in the relationship can take the form of anxiety and inability to be vulnerable, shame (as described by Cohen (2014) and De Haan (2016)) or a feeling of not being good enough compared to the supervisor.
When a supervisor is not as experienced as the coach, power relations can become a concern. Suppose the supervisor does not have higher levels of knowledge and experience. This can result in supervisees becoming more anxious and taking less responsibility for the outcomes within the supervisory relationship.
Drive for Learning
A desire to maximise their learning reduces a supervisees’ tendency to get in their own way and inhibit their supervision and allows the supervisor to define what and how the learning might occur. This is similar to growth mindset as seen in coaching.
Just by looking at these three mechanisms, it becomes clear how the supervisor needs to be much more aware of the power imbalances that might occur in the relationship than a coach does. In fact, the whole premise of treating coaching clients as whole—creatively and resourcefully—means they should be seen as peers on level terms. It seems like in supervision, that might not be necessarily true. There’s often something the supervisor might have that the supervisee doesn’t—expertise, experience or knowledge. This can create a dynamic where the parties don’t see each others as peers.
In the case of supervision, the supervisee is exposing their craft and approach in a way that can become comparable to the supervisor’s. Equally, the supervisor takes much more of a leading role than a coach does, by being able to direct the learning that takes place. While the supervision relationship—like the coaching relationship—should be judgment free, the fact is it can be easy to make comparisons between the parties that can create unhealthy dynamics in the relationship.
To summarise, a good supervisor is able to balance the ability to draw from their rich knowledge and expertise, while doing so in a way that doesn’t drive anxiety for the coach. Good supervisors are aware of mechanisms like fear, power dynamics, and pedagogy. They are aware of how these could affect a the coach-supervisor relationship.
So, is Being a Good Coach Enough to Become a Supervisor?
This exploration have me concluding otherwise. A good supervisor needs to have all the qualities of a good coach, but these are not enough.
Beyond being a good coach, a good supervisor requires elements that can be classed into two distinct categories:
The Hard Side
A good supervisor needs a wealth of experience, knowledge, and information to be able to fully support their client. One must include the ability to see beyond the client and think systemically. This category can be acted upon clearly—more experience is built over time of practice. More knowledge and information is built with investments in advanced training, education, reading and discussions.
The Soft Side
Beyond good listening skills, presence and tact, a good supervisor also needs to have a high level of emotional intelligence. A good supervisor also needs to be able to impart knowledge and supplement development while being able to mitigate the effects that their expert power can have in the relationship.You also need to be able to evaluate and offer support, suggestions and alternatives through the formative functions. This is an aspect that coaches aren’t required to be doing. In fact, it is discouraged by the ICF’s standards.
Clearly, there are certain skills a supervisor is required to have that coaches don’t. Being a supervisor is more nuanced and potentially has more layers. We can definitely say that the transition from coach to supervisor requires more training.
The Biggest Thing I Learned
I learned a lot from this personal exploration. I won’t be a good supervisor only if I’m a good coach trained as a supervisor. If the literature proves true, there are mechanisms I’ll need to include in my sessions to ensure I’m a good supervisor.
Consequently, I realised that knowledge and expertise is something that coaches (supervisees) look for in a coaching supervisor. Although this can naturally occur with experience, this can be fast tracked by narrowing down the scope of my practice.
In other words, I need a niche.
While there is a never-ending debate in coaching (to niche or not to niche), this exploration has led me to an interesting result:
In my coaching, I am a generalist and took the conscious decision not to narrow down my scope. Therefore I have clients from different walks of life and with different objectives.
However, as a supervisor, the need for tangible expertise has convinced me I need to niche in an area where I believe I have superior knowledge. In my particular case, that is corporate coaching. I have both the experience of having worked there for many years and being coached while there, and the knowledge and skill of coaching clients that currently operate in that space.
A surprising result from this exercise is this simple conclusion: I am a generalist coach, but I am a niche supervisor.