Super-Vision: An Introduction and Invitation

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Several years ago, when I was starting to ramp up my coaching practice, a colleague asked if I would be interested in being supervised by her. She was completing a program in Coaching Supervision and needed volunteers for her practicum hours. Not one to turn down anything that will support my development, I said “sure.” I had no idea what to expect. What was this thing called Supervision? How would it compare to the Mentor programs I’d participated in to become an accredited coach?

What I didn’t know is that Supervision is an established practice in Europe–a requirement for Coaches in the UK who wish to maintain their accreditation. I also did not know that it’s not what it initially sounds like–that Super-Vision is a better way to think of the practice than the “sterner” sounding Supervision.

Michelle Bastock and I met–and I was able to experience a type of support that I had not known existed. Unlike mentoring, where I would dig into the skills demonstrated (or not) in a specific coaching conversation, with a clear focus on building mastery of those core coaching competencies, this was a different experience. Michelle created a space for powerful reflection that helped me access new ways of being as a coach. I was able to speak openly about where I was struggling and celebrate the ways in which I was thriving. I was able to identify what was happening under the surface of a coaching conversation and zoom out to the larger picture of me, my client and my client’s world.

Michelle partnered with me in reflection, artfully asking just the right question to help me see more clearly. I was immensely grateful. Our sessions were critical to my ability to believe in myself as a coach at a moment when that was particularly important.

Fast-forward about two years. My practice was picking up steam. I was feeling overwhelmed by the number of clients I was meeting with (and I wasn’t yet at full capacity!) and concerned that I wasn’t making the space for deeper reflection, which, intuitively, I knew was exactly what I needed most. I also knew that I couldn’t do it alone. Despite my good intentions, I was not making the time to think deeply about my work–and, even when I did, I knew I was limited without a skilled partner. So, I called Michelle. We now meet about once a month–and our calls enable me to take time and step above the day-to-day–to reflect on my coaching. We often start with a client situation that was challenging–perhaps a situation in which I didn’t feel I showed up fully, couldn’t stay fully present, or was challenged by an ethical dilemma that arose out of the complexity of the client situation. I can be open, vulnerable, say what is most true. Invariably our conversation leads to insights about the specific situation and ones that apply more broadly to my work as a coach.

Knowing that Michelle is a part of my system allows me to feel more comfortable when I am challenged in my coaching. I can take on new clients with greater ease, trust in myself as a coach, and know that when I hit challenges or hard situations, I have support. I intend to always have a Supervisor–I can’t imagine being a Coach without that support.

Peter Hawkins, one of the pioneers in the field of Coaching Supervision, and one of the people I most admire in the coaching field, speaks of three primary aspects of Supervision

  • Qualitative—ensuring that you are able to maintain the quality of your coaching
  • Developmental—getting even better through new insights and realizations
  • Resourcing—retaining one’s capacity to be fully present as a coach

Hawkins describes the following functions of supervision–each of which I’ve fully experienced:

  • Supervision helps keep the coach honest and courageous, attending to what they are not seeing, not hearing, not allowing themselves to feel, or not saying
  • Supervision helps the coach to develop their internal supervisor and become a better reflective practitioner
  • Supervision is a key part of continuous professional development and action learning of the coach
  • Supervision provides a supportive space for the coach to process what  they have absorbed from their clients and their clients’  system

Soon after I began to meet with Michelle, I learned about a Coach Supervision Training program run by Damian Goldvarg. I decided to go for it. I didn’t quite realize what I was signing on for! It was a wonderful year of deep learning and reflection and tons of practice. In addition to Michelle, I had the opportunity to work with Nancy Tylim*, and see a differently and equally powerful way of supervising. The program was a mix of theory, models, practice and watching some of the best in the field conduct demonstrations. The more I learned, the more I recognized what Supervision could offer.

I felt proud of the work I’d done when I graduated in June–and fully ready to add Supervision to the portfolio of services I offer. Which brings me to the Invitation. If what I’ve shared here is intriguing and speaks to your experience and needs as a coach, consider Supervision. I’d love to work with you! I offer both one-on-one and group options*. I would love to have an initial conversation/trial session and work with you to craft a package of sessions that would best meet your needs. (As an added benefit, supervision is recognized by the ICF for core competency Continuing Coach Education hours.)

To schedule a time to talk, you can access my calendar here. I look forward to speaking with you soon!

*Nancy Tylim and I are planning to offer a group supervision series in the near future—we’ll be sharing more information soon!

A Tribute to My Teacher

PBLIn the spring of 2013, Amazon suggested that I read The Mindful Coach by Doug Silsbee. I did–on a 15 hour plane ride to Hong Kong. I was so excited by what I read that the first thing I did upon arriving in my hotel room was to go online and find out if Doug taught in person. He did. And, the program he ran, Presence-Based Coaching, sounded wonderful.

Doug’s work combined many of the things I was already exploring (mindfulness, neuroscience. adult development) with other domains I’d never heard of (somatic work, polarity management, and more ) in a way that was both fresh and familiar. I would be able to deepen areas I wanted to work on and gain new ways of putting it all together.

So began five years of study–in person at a beautiful retreat center near Asheville, North Carolina and through a variety of online courses. Throughout that time, Doug kept building, adding, growing and expanding his understanding of leadership, coaching, our place as humans on this planet. He was generous enough to include us in his journey. And I was fortunate enough to be his student.

The most important distinctions and insights that I’ve gained in recent years came from my work with Doug, and his partner Bebe Hansen. (Bebe has recently taken the reins at Presence-Based Coaching–meaning that the work is in great hands.) Doug introduced me to polarity thinking, which is central to my work as a coach, facilitator and human being on this fragile planet. When, on the last day of one of our retreats, Doug offered up the polarity of humility AND confidence to replace the dichotomy of confidence OR arrogance, I felt a shift and sense of possibility in that moment. Doug is one of those coaches who, with just a few words or an incisive question, delivered with compassion and humility, helps you see what was previously invisible.

Doug’s newest book, Presence-Based Leadership:Complexity Practices for Clarity, Resilience, and Results That Matter, was published in March. The book builds on Doug’s interest and exploration of complexity. The essential idea is that complexity –which is more and more a part of our reality–requires work with our bodies, hearts and minds, together, to be more fully present. Developing our capacity for presence, writes Doug is “possibly the most fundamental life and leadership competency.” Doug describes presence as the “conscious, intentional awareness that connects our deepest heartfelt essence to the furthest reaches of societal contribution.”

Unlike Doug’s previous books, which were written for coaches, this one is written for all leaders–which, in Doug’s definition, is all of us. The book is simultaneously practical and profound. It’s built around a model for cultivating presence, which he calls the nine-panes model, and supported by a myriad of accessible practices. Each pane is a window into a part of how we see and experience reality and, as with all elegantly systemic models, the panes are interdependent. They operate together, as a system. Being aware of them and working on them individually can influence how they operate together.

A few months before the book was published, Doug was diagnosed with a rare cancer. I wanted to believe that he would beat it. Doug was a healthy person–rugged, strong, balanced. Instead, Doug, perhaps sooner than the rest of us, recognized that this was not going to be “beaten”–it was going to be lived. And, he embraced it as the ultimate “complexity challenge.” For eight months now, Doug has been on this journey. He has been generous and courageous enough to share it with his community, including his students. He and his wife have authored a blog that has invited us into this journey. Even as Doug is consciously letting go of his professional identify, he remains a teacher. He embraces that role with wonder and humility. Just a couple of weeks ago, in reflecting on his choice to document his dying process, he wrote:

“I really don’t know how to do this, this dying thing. I’m (drum roll….. yes,  the rumors are true!) a first-timer. Any actual knowledge I might profess about dying hasn’t yet been fully earned. So, it’s not expertise that I am offering.

Rather, it’s my lived experience, day by day, as it unfolds. Is it not true, at the end of the day, that our fullest selves and our lived stories are what we have to offer anyway?

Almost certainly, I will only get to die once. Not that I would wish cancer on anybody. More like, if I’m here, I might as well explore the unique perspective on living that is revealed by dying.

Doug’s curiosity, his willing to share his own experiences, his ability to bring humor (and reveal when he’s in deep pain,) has had an extraordinary effect–it’s the first time in my life that death, itself, has seemed just a bit less scary. That is an amazing gift. I know, because I’ve talked to many of his students (and read the beautiful comments on his posts,) that it’s shared by many of us. It is a testament to the truest power of vulnerability. Doug has embraced dying as a space for practice and decided to share what he’s been learning along the way.

If you don’t know Doug, read his books, listen to podcast interviews of with Amiel Handelsman. They were recorded as the book was being published and as he was coming to terms with his new reality. If you do know him, then I’m sure you and I are having many of the same feelings and sensations. It’s wonderful to have a teacher and hard to lose one. I’m grateful that Doug is guiding us in the journey.

Update: Doug passed away on July 30. May his memory be a blessing.

Strong Opinions, Lightly Held

People TalkingWhat’s the key to turning a difficult conversation into a productive one? Years ago I studied with the people at Action Design–exploring this exact question. How do you have a productive conversation based on honesty, trust and transparency? How can you transform difficult conversations into opportunities for learning and understanding? The phrase “strong opinions, lightly held,” is a reminder for me of how to enter into a conversation that is difficult–or how to respond when a conversation becomes challenging.

“Strong opinions, lightly held” connects to one of the most powerful and practical distinctions I’ve ever learned–between advocacy and inquiry. Advocacy is about speaking up and inquiry is about asking questions–seeking to understand. Inquiry is about curiosity, listening and asking. While the benefits of inquiry are probably the subject of much of the leadership development work you’ve done–perhaps because it’s not all easy be an expert “inquirer”–advocacy is also important. Having a voice, expressing a view and being able to effectively express ideas is critical to effective leadership.

Expressing your view (strong opinions) while knowing that your view is just one view–and being willing to open your view up to inquiry by others (lightly held)–is one of the keys to productive, powerful conversations–and leadership. It’s one of the primary ways that difficult can become productive–and positive. Advocacy and inquiry are a polarity–both are critical, it’s not an either/or. Our work is to leverage the positive aspects of each–to speak up and also be willing to ask, to listen and also be willing to let go.

Living into “strong opinions, lightly held” is the work of a lifetime–a journey, not a destination. In recent years there’s been a host of research about our brains that demonstrates–over and over–that we are wired to crave certainty–to want to believe that we know, that we are right. (See On Being Certain by Robert Burton.) That need for certainty creates in us a false sense of knowing that blinds us to the fact that we might just be wrong. The need for certainty–and its corollary–the need to be right, ultimately get in our way, doing a disservice to the people around us, and preventing our organizations from thriving. It is part of why advocacy, rooted in a sense of knowing, can come so much more easily than inquiry. Inquiry requires that we be comfortable with not being certain that we are right, with being willing to hold open the possibility that we are the ones missing something.

It’s a hard thing to shift. We can begin by noticing when we’re holding a view tightly, when we are not asking questions or have ceased to be curious. We can notice when we are not allowing questions to be asked or making space for others to speak up. We can listen to ourselves when we say (or think) “we know” and check to see if it is really true. We can try on the language of “I believe” vs. “I know” and see what happens.

As we notice and as we make small shifts, we can work to become leaders who are clear rather than leaders who are certain, leaders for whom “strong opinions, lightly held” is an aspiration–one we are always moving towards. We can practice in every conversation. 

Updated, June, 2018.