Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Co-Presencing ~Demystifying coaching supervision

We recently published an article entitled “Co-Presencing ~Demystifying coaching supervision written by PoYee Dorrian.

There are a couple of common questions I often hear from my experience in developing coach supervisors:

  • “What is the difference between coaching and supervision?”
  • “How do you define supervision?”

These questions are probably impossible to answer because the distinction between coaching and supervision is elastic and individualized. I have always wondered whether the wanting to find a definition at the onset of learning deters them from wondering and exploring. A few thought leaders and pioneers steeped in the field of coaching supervision shared their points of view as follows:

  • “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 a forum where supervisees (in this case coaches) review and reflect on their work in order to do it better … In a relationship of trust and transparency, supervisees talk about their work and through reflection and thoughtfulness learn from it and return to do it differently.” (Carrol, 2007)
  • “Supervision is the process by which a Coach/Mentor/Consultant with the help of a Supervisor, who is not working directly with the client, can attend to understanding better both the client system and themselves as part of the client-coach/mentor system, and transform their work.” (Hawkins and Smith, 2007)

While there are many definitions of coaching supervision – including those provided by coaching organizations such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) – they all encompass the elements of reflective practice. Supervision is a safe space that expands the capacity, development and resourcefulness of coaches and practitioners in their coaching practice for the benefit of their clients and stakeholders.

Remember the analogy of “learning to ride a bike” that we often hear coaches use to distinguish the difference between being a consultant, therapist, mentor and coach? I would introduce two hidden characters to the bicycle story: a mentor coach and a coach supervisor. They are coach educators who play the backstage, supporting role.

Specifically in the Americas, a mentor coach may focus primarily on upgrading the coach’s skills from a technical perspective. A coach supervisor, however, explores the various aspects of self-awareness, relational dynamics and systemic dimensions, to help uncover invisible influences that may hinder the quality of their coaching and expressions of those skills.

If the purpose of coaching is to support clients in making improvements and achieving goals, then the purpose of supervision is to widen coaches’ aperture to examine their paradigm and perceive the multifaceted relationships – the connections and the space within, without, and with the interweaving systems in which they operate.

Given the complexity of interlocking webs, reflection is the goal. Reflection is central to coaching supervision.

The general understanding of the term supervision implies a power structure in a restrictive and hierarchical relationship, which could elicit the feeling of being assessed and scrutinized.

On the contrary, supervision is a space for co-visioning and expansion. It offers coaches multitudinous approaches and lenses beyond models to facilitate their reflection on their coaching practice. Hence separating the word into two components, super-vision, depicts the most accurate and purist intention of the work.

Super-vision goes beyond the conventional mentoring approach – a functional, outside-in (Carroll, 2001) aspect of employing a technique for remedial intervention. Super-vision is an inside-out process where “What do you do in coaching supervision?” fades into the background. Instead, super-vision emerges from who the supervisor is, as with the expression “Who you are, is how you supervise.” (Murdoch, Arnold, 2013).

Super-vision is a continuously unfolding and evolving collaborative relationship of co-presencing, with shared learning at its heart. It is like having both the supervisor and the supervisee holding up their respective mirrors to each other to reveal the interplay of the unseen and the unspoken exist on the individual and collective levels across different overlapping systems.

The essence of super-vision is captured well by Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote, “Not every end is the goal. The end of a melody is not its goal, and yet if a melody has not reached its end, it has not reached its goal.”

My first super-vision experience left an indelible mark on me, which became the impetus for my own growth and transformation. The genesis of my path to super-vision dates back to my final year living in Asia, where I reconnected with a colleague in Seoul, Korea, at an APAC conference.

I respected and admired her as an exceptional leader and executive coach. When I saw her, it was instant that I sensed she was different. There was an aura of confidence, groundedness, ease, and grace, an effervescent quality to her that I had not seen in the years past.

When I inquired about the change in her life, without missing a beat, she shared her transformative growth both personally and professionally in super-vision, a term that was unfamiliar to me in the context of coaching. My interest was piqued.

Guided by both of our spontaneous energy, she took me through a super-vision experience. At the end of that impromptu session, I felt renewed and enriched, as if a part of me was awakened. Intrigued and surprised by my feelings, I embarked on a journey and determined to know more about super-vision.

That inspiration led me to the adventure of becoming a trained supervisor, where I was immersed in a rigorous year-long diploma program. The profundity and inner transformation during that time have gifted me with a deeper knowing of myself. It was coming home to my own brilliance, as titled in my final reflection paper.

“Supervision interrupts practice. It wakes us up to what we are doing. When we are alive to what we are doing, we wake up to what is, instead of falling asleep in the comfort stories of our … routines and daily practice. The supervisory voice acts as an irritator interrupting repetitive stories (comfort stories) and facilitating the creation of new stories.” (S. Ryan, 2004)

Super-vision has been a key pillar to my learning and growth, and I have noticed its impact on coaches who engage in this practice regularly. They are more aware and attune to bringing the best of
themselves to work with their clients.

The benefits and value of super-vision spring from the core tenets of this practice. Having its roots traced back to the field of other helping professions such as counselling, psychotherapy, clinical
psychology, etc., super-vision adapted the three functions as the purpose:

  1. Normative or Qualitative – Quality-focused in nature, concerned with “coach as an ethical professional” practicing in alignment with coaching standards and codes of ethics);
  2. Formative or Developmental – Educative in nature, pertaining to “coach as a coach” growing and learning through skill development and knowledge application;
  3. Restorative or Resourcing – Supportive in nature, tending to “coach as a human being,” feeling nurtured and restored through a sense of belonging and emotional resourcefulness.

The nature of client situations explored in the sessions may vary, but they largely fall into those three functions. Below are samples of inquiries that have been brought to super-vision by coaches that may resonate with you:

  • “When I coach this client, I often feel I am put on a pedestal as the expert, and the truth is that I like it. What is going on with my relationship with that client?”
  • “I found out that my client is being bullied in a system. I am now siding with my client against the organization that is paying for this engagement as the common enemy!”
  • “I need the work, and I am good at what I do. But I feel un-inspired by clients who seem to lack self-awareness and look for tips and tricks for superficial improvements.”
  • “I struggle coaching clients who don’t seem to be engaged. It feels exhausting to work hard in order to pull things out of them!”
  • “My client is playing a victim role and only sees faults in others. I can’t seem to help them see beyond that narrative.”
  • “I feel uneasy and conflicted with the information shared by my client. What can I do next with what I know?”
  • “During the session, I find that I may have stepped into the space of therapy and may have used a therapeutic approach. Did I fall out of integrity in being a coach?

Regardless of the topics for reflection and the models, theories, philosophies or processes the supervisor choses to use, the depth and breadth of the conversation in super-vision is an essential feature. The quality of supervision comes not from the supervisor having a mental checklist on competencies, but rather, stillness that prepares a temenos of emptiness, openness and the possibility for an open mind, open heart and open will (Scharmer, 2009) to emerge.

This is fertile ground that enables us to gain multi-dimensional thinking through purposeful reflection and reflexivity where coaches can step up to become more expansive, spacious and available regarding all of their abilities. Such beauty of super-vision reminds me of a saying from a supervisor, “… We never arrive; we are always on a journey … and there are no directions, just how you approach the road you take.”


After practicing in the field of super-vision for nearly a decade and having gone through the phases of discovering, imagining, searching and defining what it is, I am arriving at a personal articulation that super-vision is the animation of consciousness and connectedness in a relationship through generative dialogues, moment-by-moment, and present in the space with the other.

To me, super-vision is spirituality and love in action:

  • Spirituality – embracing our interconnectedness and tapping into the knowing and bonding with the wider sphere.
  • Love – the unadulterated beauty of sitting with others with appreciative inquiry, void of othering and fear, only togetherness and seeing someone through the eyes of love.

Our creation reflects who we are. The quality of our coaching reflects our inner being. Thus, excellence at our work is an inside job; as leadership visionary Bob Anderson says, “the inner game drives the outer game.” Super-vision provides a unique container for coaches to dive into their inner game so they come out ready for creating excellence anew in the outer game.

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