What is meant by Reflective Leadership Supervision?


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Dr Peter Hawkins and Gil Schwenk, of the Bath Consultancy Group. CIPD report 2007 Coaching Supervision – Maximising the Potential of Coaching

“for coaches, (leaders, managers and mentors) effective supervision is an essential part of their continuous professional development. It’s the pivotal link between theory and coaching practice. For those who organise coaching (and mentoring) services, it’s the key to effective quality assurance, to managing the risks that can be inherent in coaching, and to drawing learning from the coaching conversations that take place in the organisation. It can help to increase the return on an investment in coaching (and mentoring) and can even help to provide evidence of that return.” Author’s italics.

The kind of supervision that is the most effective is without doubt the reflective and highly sought after transpersonal style of supervision. As both internal and external coaches and supervisors we have learnt a great deal from the counselling profession in this regard. All counsellors have supervision as a matter of course. Now supervision is also a requirement by the major coaching and mentoring institutions for heads of departments, managers and leaders acting as coaches or mentors. As many leaders are required to ‘coach’ or ‘mentor’ their staff, the need for effective and skilled supervision has never been greater. Not only is this a protection for the leader it also ensures safety for members of staff in supervision, and indeed for the whole organisation.

How? What does coaching supervision offer that other support lacks? How can we ensure that supervision is effective and really supports the growth and learning of supervisors and supervisees?



Encouraging resilience in others


One of the characteristics of resilient behaviour is to ability to hold paradoxical thinking and cope with uncertainty. Strengthening our ability to be comfortable with uncertainty builds resilience to cope with an increasingly complex and diverse workforce.

Leaders exploring the benefits of coaching, or transitioning from a directive style to a more coaching approach, may face cultural and relationship challenges.  A leader as coach recently told me that one of the most helpful aspects of supervision is that it allows her to see how effective she can be in her role, particularly as she ventures in to new areas of coaching where considerable uncertainties exist for her. Improving her resilience through supervision has helped her to be comfortable with that uncertainty and be more effective in her work.

Resilience Undermined by Unconscious Processes

Sir John Whitmore, a pre-eminent thinker in coaching, leadership and organisational change, emphasises the need to be aware of unconscious processes. Whitmore says, “I am able to control only that which I am aware of. That which I am unaware of controls me. Awareness empowers me.”

When we become more self-aware we improve our ability to cultivate resilient behaviours. Supervision creates that safe learning space for mindfulness and self-reflection, so that we can understand what might sap our resilience and confuse our work.  As Jung says, that which we do not understand in ourselves we do not understand in another.

Supervisors trained in meta skills such as systemic awareness, psychodynamic principles, energetics and mindfulness will be able to address the energy management aspect of resilience development.

Two Models of Supervision

To understand why this is important in a coaching relationship, it will be useful to refer to two well-respected models of supervision, the 7-Eyed Model of Supervision and the Full Spectrum Model.

The 7-Eyed Model (Bath Consultancy Group): The model provides seven “eyes” or lenses for supervisor and coach to explore the coach’s work in the context of relationships and systems. Within this, Parallel Process is a component of the fifth eye. Briefly explained, if a client has been withdrawn and uncooperative with the leader as coach, then this leader may display similar behaviour with their supervisor. The supervisor will have their “antenna” trained to pick up any nuances to explore with the supervisee. The phenomenon of Parallel Process provides us with an explanation of how a leader may play out dynamics and energies they have absorbed quite unconsciously from their coaching relationships.

There exists underlying transference of attitudes, unresolved issues and emotional energies in relationships; a well-recognised phenomenon to which leaders are no less immune. Supervision helps leaders become aware of their “drivers” and unconscious processes within these relationships, helping to correct any inappropriate boundaries or responses. Furthermore, as we have said, by developing the awareness and resilience of the leader as coach, these qualities are transmitted within their relationships with others in the organisation.

The Full Spectrum Model (Coaching Supervision Academy): This model has at its core “Coaching Presence”. It is an integral model utilising knowledge gained from traditional models of supervision as well as attending to the realms of body, mind and spirit. This perspective brings new understanding to all the relationships that lie at the centre of coaching. The model further clarifies how a leader can be affected not only by what is happening in the direct coaching relationship but also by the wider field of prevailing energies operating within the organisational culture and indeed beyond.   Amongst other benefits this supervisory approach will strengthen their resilience.

In my book ‘Coaching Supervision at its BEST’ Crown House, I use the following to describe being the B.E.S.T you can be for those you coach or supervise.

Coaching Supervision in the workplace is having a professional one to one conversation in order to enhance and Build the skills and self-awareness of your supervisee. Using specific deep listening and sensitive reflection techniques you are attending even more acutely to their language and worldview. They Engage better, reach deeper understanding and clarity around the issues that may arise. Knowing they have the full Support of their supervisor they are able to Trust their judgement and gain confidence in their own ways of working with others.

Using David Grove’s clean language in supervision (see book above) enables the supervisor to use deep listening, ‘clean’ questions and reflect back specific words used by those who bring their challenges and concerns to supervision. Exploring the metaphorical landscape in order to remove assumptions and bring greater clarity and understanding. Maintaining total presence in mind and body and focusing on the language and unique style of the leader as coach.

Coaching – Being non-judgemental, convinced of the skills and inner knowledge of the leader and allowing them to take ownership and responsibility for their professional development. Supporting them to reflect in their own way whilst building and encouraging potential.

Super – Being professional, ethical, mindful and transparent. Supporting others to develop a deeper awareness of self and others. Sharing expertise and coping strategies for those critical and/or emotional moments that often arise unexpectedly.

Vision – having a bird’s eye view of what is happening, spotting and reflecting on unhelpful patterns, celebrating success and helping leaders to see things form different perspectives.

A Supervision Case Study

Recently when attending a meeting as an observer I focused on the listening skills of the CEO who was chairing the meeting with his direct reports. As part of his supervision he had asked me to give him feedback on his leadership behaviours. He had invited me to this meeting for the express purpose of enhancing his listening and feedback skills when coaching and mentoring his staff. I noticed how this CEO tended to jump in, interrupting the speaker’s flow of thoughts. He made certain assumptions about what was said without using a few short (clean) questions to check understanding.

Take a look at this exchange:

DR = Direct report   C = CEO

DR –“ ………So I decided to take action on this and make sure that the checks were done again so that….”

C – (interrupting) “Yes I see, so what were the findings?”

DR – Well, the checks were done and we noticed there had been several errors.

C – Yes, so I guess that won’t happen again and this has been rectified for the future?

DR – Yes, I think so.

In this exchange it is clear that all the CEO is interested in is that the problem has been resolved. He makes assumptions that these errors will not occur again without hearing his DR out. He does not check to see what needs to happen for similar mistakes to be avoided in the future.

Another issue is that if the DR comes back at a later date with the same problem, the blame will, in all probability, fall on the shoulders of the DR.

Just mindful listening and a few simple questions would have greatly enhanced this exchange such as:

C – Yes I see , what kind of checks did you make?

C – Yes, what specifically went wrong?

C – Is there anything else you can do to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

Then by mindfully listening to the responses the CEO would have encouraged the DR to dig deeper into the causes and find his own solutions. The DR would feel pride in the fact that the CEO had taken an interest and feel more motivated to move forward. When staff are listened to they fell more involved and are willing to go the extra mile. This has a direct result on productivity as they become more resilient and take responsibility for their own tasks more readily when their confidence is Built, they feel Engaged, they are obviously Supported and then Trusted to take appropriate action. In addition, the chances of the DR returning with this problem again have been greatly reduced.

Using deep listening skills, clean language questions and specific reflective techniques we find new ways of effective communication. In this way organisations reduce risk and have a more effective quality assurance.

Surely this is the aim of all organisations as research proves that great communication, mindfulness and deeper reflection means enhanced productivity?

‘Coaching Supervision at its B E S T ‘  Pub: Crown House 2015  www.coach4executives.co/products  

New Edition ‘Coaching for Leaders in the Workplace’  Out August 2016