Five Big Gains from Coaching and OD Supervision
I am often asked what coaches and OD (Organisation Development) Consultants can really gain from supervision. Those who haven't experienced it may have heard that it's important for “good practice”, yet are unsure about what they will personally get from supervision.
The outcomes vary of course according to what the practitioner wants and brings and what we agree to work on in each session or over a period of time. However there are 5 themes that I have noticed in my years as a professional supervisor.
Most gain confidence from deepening their understanding of the work and from realising that their dilemmas are in fact quite normal. Most practitioners have moments of self doubt – as a result of supervision the less experienced ones tend to be more forgiving of themselves and the more experienced ones are reminded that they do know what they are doing! Several have reported beginning to think of themselves as “proper” coaches / consultants rather than "imposters", as a result of supervision.
2. Greater psychological mindedness
They all gain a much greater understanding of the psychological makeup of organisations and groups. Of the anxieties, the dynamics, the “politics”. Some OD consultants and coaches are employed, others are self employed. Perhaps for those who have chosen the latter it offers them a way out of being fully part of an organisation. (I include myself in that!) They can work with the organisation rather than for or in it. This can make it too easy to lose touch with how very tricky it can be to fully experience being immersed in an organisation – power struggles, hierarchies, turf wars, difficult relationships, and more - on a daily basis. They don’t get to feel it themselves so their coaching and consultancy can become more of an intellectual exercise than one in touch with the emotions of it. And for those who are employed, I think it offers them a way to step back from these power struggles etc, and see the dynamics through fresh eyes. Through supervision we can explore their clients’ / colleagues emotional worlds in relation to their organisation so that the practitioner can be much more emotionally aware and empathetic.
My supervision is integrative, significantly informed by the Time to Think approach (see http://coachingforleaders.co.uk/time-to-think/) and psychodynamic thinking. Some practitioners have not encountered psychodynamics before and are profoundly and positively impacted on a professional and often personal level when we consider ideas such as “defence processes”. Recently a supervisee wanted to prepare for giving a talk to a group of senior managers about the benefits that coaching could bring to their organisation. He was very nervous. So I asked if what knew about defence processes and he said very little, and asked for some input from me. We talked about projection and projective identification and it helped him to understand his and their (potential) fears and also to prepare himself for containing others’ anxieties in groups. He reported back that he was calmer, more grounded, and, he felt, more credible than he’d been in similar situations before. He won a wonderful piece of team coaching work from this session.
3. Dynamic learning
Often supervisees will, having experienced “generative attention” (a component of the Thinking Environment ™), become significantly better as listeners with their clients, frequently their biggest struggle – “how do I know when to intervene and when to be quiet?” Most of us experience being interrupted - when you're not it's quite astonishing how much you can achieve in your thinking because of the positive dynamic of the practitioner / supervisor relationship.
Some practitioners work in a kind of "semi-internal" way, for example, working in business schools as self-employed retained coaches or mentors on a number of programmes. Through supervision they learn to think much more about parallel processes such as how their own experience of the business school is similar to that of their own coaching / mentoring clients in their employing organisations. This leads to both greater empathy and greater skill in staying with their clients’ worlds.
4. Liberation from untrue, limiting assumptions that are holding them back
People in supervision with me learn to consider the impact of their own and their clients’ assumptions (which play a fairly starring role in most of our lives). When we explore these in detail, they realise that many of their assumptions are limiting them yet simply aren’t true – so they learn how to replace them with true, liberating assumptions. For example, one coach wanted to coach leaders in digital hi-growth companies as they fascinated her, but assumed that she should already have experience if she was going to be useful. When we explored that assumption, she recalled that she’d often coached in settings that she’d never encountered before, and yet the clients had said the coaching was transformational. So her assumption was untrue and when we replaced it with one that in her own words said “I can be of real use even when I don’t know the sector” she was liberated. And she then decided she’d start networking in places where digital hi-growth company leaders hang out.
All of these nourish courage. When practitioners feel confident, are more psychologically minded, have experienced real learning for themselves, and when their untrue limiting assumptions have been liberated they start to widen the scope of their work into new and sometimes quite challenging or formerly “scary” areas. For example, working with senior leaders when their experience so far had been with middle managers, or with teams when they used to be terrified at the idea. Working with vastly different cultures and being able to not know it all, and to ask the clients in that culture what works for them - without losing credibility.
Many of them feel more able to challenge the status quo, hold fast to their values, and walk away from work that doesn't resonate with them. and instead seek out work that does. Many report feeling significantly more able to actually ask organisational clients for the sort of the work they would like to do, rather than accepting only what is offered. And many feel more confident and courageous in charging professional rates for a professional job.
These are just some of the gains that coaches and OD practitioners can get from supervision.