Welcoming the Willingness to be Disturbed: Joining Skepticism and the Strength of Human Hearts

Recap of My Learning at the Coaching SuperVision Forum

– Igniting the Conversation – 2015

Written by Michelle Bastock

As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally – our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time. (Wheatley, 2009)

It is no secret that, at this time in North America, and in many places throughout the world, there are many differing understandings and perspectives around coaching supervision.

In 2014, the International Coach Federation endorsed coaching supervision as a valuable addition to developing our coaching practices, and, to further stand by this, the ICF is now providing continuing coach education credits for core competencies on an hour for hour basis spent in coaching supervision with no limit.

I, like many, have had an attitude of skepticism when it comes to anything that asks coaches for more money. And, I know that I am not alone in this skepticism.

So I decided to further educate myself around the experience of coaching supervision so that I could welcome my confusion and heed the voice of my skepticism.

I have accomplished this in a several ways. One was to do research by watching the ICF presentation on coaching supervision found on the ICF website. The other was to participate in several webinars on coaching supervision. One of these webinars was presented by Lily Seto (president of the ICF Vancouver Island Charter Chapter) and the other was presented by Damian Goldwarg (Past President ICF Global). A third way that I educated myself was to join in coach supervision training. A fourth was to enter into coaching supervision myself.

And, the fifth way that I chose to inform my skepticism was to attend one of the first forums on coaching supervision in North America. The Coaching SuperVision Forum – Igniting the Conversation, was held July 4th and 5th, 2015 at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia. It was organized by the Vancouver Island Charter Chapter of the International Coach Federation under the leadership of Lily Seto, Vancouver Island ICF Charter Chapter President.

During the forum I had the opportunity to meet other coaches who are feeling the same skepticism.

With the skeptic in mind, it was a welcome surprise that being a participant of the Coaching SuperVision Forum in Victoria last week was a very powerful learning experience for me on many fronts.

To recap a bit, the forum began with an invitation to be curious and a reminder of the importance of Margaret Wheatley’s evocation of a willingness to be disturbed.

I admit that I very much identified with the invitation to be curious, to explore with less judgment, and, yes, a willingness to be disturbed’.

As we, in North America, begin the journey toward understanding coaching supervision, I found that attending this forum, was an important way to enter into the conversation so that I might more fully inform my developing understanding and my skepticism.

As the tone of curiosity was evoked by Janet Harvey, past president of ICF Global, and Lily Seto, the president of the ICF Vancouver Island Charter Chapter, I began to connect with my own curiosity and my own learning.

At the beginning of the forum, we were asked to reflect upon the following three questions:

  • What brought you here?
  • What is your current perception or understanding of coaching supervision?
  • What are five curiosities that you are bringing to this conference?

For me, I wanted to heed my skeptical attitude, and I realized that I was brought to the conference by my curiosity to go deeper and by my need to learn more about coaching supervision from global leaders who are well steeped in the work.

At the beginning of the conference, I saw coaching supervision as another way to learn how to proceed with greater strength and resources, and a more solid and grounded confidence as a coach.

My five curiosities for the forum were: What does coaching supervision look like and feel like, in different contexts with different supervisors? What are the stories of experienced coach supervisors? What might these hold for me? What are the possibilities for coaching supervision? How might I educate myself, and others, about the potential value of coaching supervision?

The keynote speaker for the forum was Colin Brett. He is a coach supervisor, teacher of coaches, and a teacher of coach supervisors. Colin is the owner of Coaching Development and Coaching Changes based in Britain. I found his invitation clear and enticing as he opened the space for igniting the conversation.

Colin held a space in his presentation that was firmly grounded in the significant characteristics of coaching supervision, yet, there was an acceptance of, and an evocation for, dialogue, questioning and wondering what the work of supervision had that might be different from coaching, mentor coaching, peer coaching and many other forms of work that we, as coaches, do.

Colin led with the idea that there is a strong emotional response by most of us when we hear the word supervision. The objective and objectionable ‘white coat’ or boss figure immediately comes to mind for me.

However, there are some very significant aspects of supervision that are so not that way … coaching supervision is very easily misinterpreted.

I felt that in the title of the forum: Coaching SuperVision Forum – Igniting the Conversation the word SuperVision was aptly written. The word supervision, when shifted to SuperVision renders richer possibilities for both the word and the work.

I think that using the word ‘SuperVision’, is one way that the work of coaching supervision is more authentically represented. Coaching supervision is about depth, expanded self awareness, and seeing things anew, and perhaps, with different eyes.

I find that when I am brave enough to put on those more than ordinary glasses, when I am in coaching supervision, I suddenly see the ordinary as strange and I am willingly disturbed … and my understanding shifts. Significantly.

Colin then presented another important distinction; coaching supervision is not merely high level coaching ability. Coaching supervision requires specialized training and experience. This also became very apparent during the coaching supervision demonstrations at the forum.

The conversation that Colin Brett began with, and the strong invitation he offered, was followed by a videoconference where international perspectives on coaching supervision were presented by Edna Murdoch and Hilary Oliver, both from Britain, and Felicia Lauw, from Singapore. Damian Goldvarg from the United States mediated this session.

During this panel discussion there were insights offered about how coaching supervision is alive and growing in different ways, at different stages, in different parts of the world. One of these insights was the fact that many organizations, in a global market, require that the coaches that they hire, are engaged in regular, and ongoing, coaching supervision. Will this, I wonder, be a foreshadowing of what organizations in North America will require in the near future as well …

After the videoconference, I heard the panelists tell us that coaching supervision is growing worldwide and it is enhancing the work of coaching internationally. After I heard this, I felt anticipation, excitement, commitment. I am surprised by the way that coaching supervision is beginning to ignite within global and local, North American contexts.

The presentations on day two of the forum continued to invite curiosity and the willingness to be disturbed. The sessions engaged participants in dialogue and welcomed insights and healthy skepticism regarding coaching supervision.

We began the morning of the second day with a brief welcome and opening remarks that reignited the curiosity and learning from the first afternoon of forum.

Colin Brett then asked us to engage in one of two tasks. One was to consider a recent piece of coaching work. The other was to co-create a coaching supervision contract. Colin Brett provided a series of guiding questions for each of the tasks.

Both tasks, I realize in retrospect, are authentic parts of being in coaching supervision. This opportunity to engage in this task was enlightening for my partner and I. We chose to discuss a piece of coaching work with a particular client that was going very well and we got to really dig into the strengths of what was working. Then we inquired, together, into how this client work might be even further enhanced. Ideas for moving forward with this client were acknowledged and embraced.

The next session of the forum involved being present for a coaching supervision demonstration. I had the opportunity to attend, both, an individual coaching supervision session and I was also asked to be a member of a group supervision session.

In each of these demonstrations confidentiality was required, so any comments that I make below are of a more general and non-identifiable nature to honor those coaches who were brave enough to share their practice in front of an audience. And as a result, my comments below are grounded in respect for each of the coaches and the confidentiality agreement that we made at these sessions.

I observed the reactions of the participants and noticed that many of us who attended the individual coaching supervision demonstrations were very deeply moved. Disturbed.

Being present for the experience of another coach being supervised was very powerful for many reasons. I found that the level of vulnerability, contracting and depth of insight generated was inspiring.

I felt a deepening of awareness in me. I began to more deeply connect how profoundly, and how complexly the personal and the professional intersect.

After the coaching supervision demonstration, we, as audience members were asked to reflect upon our learning. Each person then shared their learning with the group.

I noticed, that it was a tad challenging for many of us in the group to shift from our own comments and judgments, to a learning space. I believe that this was another key aspect of coaching supervision that Colin Brett modeled on purpose. Suspend judgment.

“When we listen with less judgment, we always develop better relationship with each other. It’s not the differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do. Curiosity and good listening bring us back together” (Wheatley, 2009).

By bringing us back to this place of curiosity and listening, Colin Brett, assisted us in more openly articulating our individual learning.

Then, Colin Brett, shared with us a meta-experience from the chair of the coaching supervisor. This included what he was thinking, feeling and chose to do as a result of his noticings ‘in the moment’ of this coaching supervision session. He also provided the theoretical basis for his words and his actions as a coaching supervisor.

It became very evident to many of us, that there is, indeed, a notable difference between coaching and coach supervision and, that this difference is not well served by being described using only words.

I have discovered that being present for a ‘live’ experience of a coaching supervision session gives a truer indication of what coaching supervision is like, and what the depth and value of supervision is for us, as coaches.

Three theory bursts followed the coaching supervision demonstration.

Participants had the opportunity to learn the difference between mentor coaching and supervision presented by Damian Goldvarg, to explore the expectations, assumptions and ethics in coaching presented by Pat Marum or to consider how coaching supervision serves as an antidote to loneliness in the coaching profession presented by Janet Harvey.

I attended the theory burst, presented by Janet Harvey, where we explored how coaching supervision serves as an antidote to loneliness in coaching. Here, I was invited to reflect upon my experience of being lonely and to receive several theoretical foundations for the work of coaching supervision, such as: the way that it supports learning, the way that it resources, and the way that it might attend to the ethics, the standards and the deep personal practice and learning of the coach.

Coaching supervision, I realized, is a place where I can bear witness to my own work. A place where I learn to shed the pressure, angsts and stress of my work in a safe place, and potentially return home to the question of whether I am standing in all of who I am being as a person, and as a coach.

It is where I can tend to the question of how I am making meaning of my work as a coach. Here, I can come to know and embrace my own wholeness.

I can learn to better see myself. I learn how to be a better human within my wholeness. I learn to integrate this into my being, and into my work as a practitioner. I learn more deeply when, and how, I can come back to center within myself to be more present in the moment in my personal and professional being. It is raw, tough and challenging work to become realer, to become more keenly aware of my rough spots and my blind spots …

This is, I realized, is the significance of the work that I am doing with my coach supervisor. I can learn to claim my whole self and be very real, be very much the best me that I can be as I work with coaches shoulder to shoulder.

This, I realized, is one of the key attractions of coaching supervision for me. I am alone, but not lonely. I want to offer this experience of working shoulder to shoulder as a fellow traveler on the many paths that we journey in our practice and within our profession. These learnings, I realize, arose from the theory burst that I attended.

Attendees from other sessions shared that there were gems in each of the other theory bursts as well.

For example, after attending a session on the difference between mentor coaching and coaching supervision, one of the participants that I spoke to shared with me that they now understand the difference between mentor coaching and coach supervision. It had been a very vague, confusing and even annoying experience for this person as they wondered about the difference between the two prior to attending this session.

Now, the wonderings, have moved to a deeper level for this participant. What, they asked, is the difference between the kind of reflection in mentor coaching and in coaching supervision? Here is noticed a new curiosity, one that I would say, has greater depth had now opened up for this person after attending the theory burst.

The theory burst exploring expectations and assumptions in coaching was also an invitation to further expand our understanding and action in the complex, and deeply ethical, realms that we, as coaches, are often ensconced in.

After the theory bursts, the opportunity to participate in a group coaching session offered another opportunity to be present for a coaching supervision experience.

In the session that I attended, the coach supervisor, Peter Welch, demonstrated a way to engage in coaching supervision with a group of five coaches. I was one of these five. Each of us had an opportunity to provide an issue.

In our group, two of the participants provided their current dilemmas. Peter Welch, the supervisor led the session and modeled a supervisory conversation around the issue with the coach first, so that the group could understand it well. I saw the great care that was taken to surface the issues and, ultimately, the question that the coach was bringing to the group.

After the lead taken by Peter Welch, each of us within the group, had an opportunity to ask additional questions, or provide experience from our practice, that might further illuminate how to dance with the dilemma.

Then we switched and another coach had an opportunity to provide their issue and the same format was followed. Each of the coaches commented on how much value this experience provided as they now consider, from a variety of perspectives, ideas, insights, and. the next best steps for their dilemma.

In the group supervision sessions, I saw the wealth of information that was gleaned by the group in relation to some very specific coaching contexts. It was clear to me that group supervision has its own character and I reflected upon the distinction that group supervision is certainly not the same as a peer group discussion.

There were some key distinctions in how the work was addressed and the level of rigor that was brought to the fore for the coaches involved. I noticed that we were all learning through this process. Even though I didn’t bring up an issue, I was informed and resourced by the work that was done in the collective group. It reinforced for me that group supervision is an experience that I want to participate more frequently in, in the future.

At the end of the second day there were summary reflections. Participants were given time to go back to what brought them to this forum. I found many of the insights that I was seeking. And more.

I will continue to glean from coaching supervision stories. Here, there weren’t as many of those as I had wished for … but, I realized, that is for another time. And another stage. And another place. I will continue to seek these out. It was better to experience the coaching supervision demonstrations live for me right now. More curiosity. More to discover. Later.

We were then asked to comment on the questions:

  • What is your next curiosity and what will you research now?
  • What commitment to your professional development will you make as a result of today?

I continue to be curious about how coaching supervision can serve us, as coaches, to continue to deepen and integrate new understandings based on current theories and to link theory and practice in ways that will serve me, as a coach, and, my clients. I want to learn from, and to linger with stories that coaches share from their supervision experiences.

I committed to carry on learning about coaching supervision, to be in coaching supervision and to build my own supervision competency.

I am an executive coach and, now, by addressing my skeptical attitude through the Coaching SuperVision Forum – Igniting the Conversation 2015, and the other coaching supervision experiences that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I have entered into a coaching supervision training program.

For me, the conversation has been ignited. And I continue to feed the flames … I believe that this forum will also ignite other conversations about coaching superVision. In North America. Any beyond.

The conversation has been ignited together … curiosity has been awakened and the willingness to be disturbed welcomed. In a shoulder to shoulder experience. A little bit more … as we engage in thinking well together. Not to be joined at the head … but to be joined, as Margaret Wheatley so powerfully expresses in the quote below, by human hearts.

Hearts that open our work to the tough, the depth, the challenge of understanding ourselves with real and honest compassion so that we can work well on behalf of our clients, and their organizations and so that we can duly honor our imperative to erupt the brilliance of human contribution within the world.

As the world grows more strange and puzzling and difficult, I don’t believe most of us want to keep struggling through it alone. I can’t know what to do from my own narrow perspective. I know I need a better understanding of what’s going on. I want to sit down with you and talk about all the frightening and hopeful things I observe, and listen to what frightens you and gives you hope. I need new ideas and solutions for the problems I care about. I know I need to talk to you to discover those. I need to learn to value your perspective, and I want you to value mine. I expect to be disturbed by what I hear from you. I know we don’t have to agree with each other in order to think well together. There is no need to be joined at the head. We are joined by human hearts. (Wheatley, 2009

 

Reference:

Wheatley, M. (2009). Turning to one another: Simple conversation to restore

hope to the future. Berrett-Koehler Publishers: San Francisco CA.