Therapy has a longer tradition than executive coaching, and the core skills have much in common. However, Starling & Baker (2000) say “…it is puzzling to find so little debate about whether it is appropriate simply to extend a process designed for counsellors and psychotherapists to coaches.”
This is not to say that models of supervision from other fields may not be useful. Lane (2006) sees coaching as ‘borrowing’ ideas from a range of disciplines, which coaches then adapt to suit the needs of their clients, but he argues this should be done with care. Coaching then would appear to be at a stage where it is continues to ‘try on’ existing models of supervision, still in search of a universally agreed approach to coaching supervision per se.
So what do coaches do? Grant (2011) found that 83% of 174 coaches undertook some form of ‘supervision’, though only 26% had a ‘formal supervisor’. He defined formal supervision as taking place: “…within the boundaries of a clearly designated and defined supervision with another individual whose primary relationship in that relationship was to provide supervision.” In other words he may be excluding from his definition group supervision, and peer supervision with a fellow coach.
The number of coaches who say they should be undergoing continuous supervision may be higher than those actually going through supervision (Hawkins & Schenk, 2006). Passmore & McGoldrick (2009) suggest that this may be because although coaches are being told they should go through supervision, they don’t really understand why. Grant (2011) suggests the key barriers are cost, and the absence of suitably qualified supervisors Moyes (2009) identified four different perspectives on purpose, three of which represent the needs of the coach, one of which represents the need of the client:
⦁ Development. Hawkins (2006) found that 88% of coaches used supervision to develop their coaching capability. Grant (2011) reported similar findings in his study of Australian coaches.
⦁ Addressing specific challenges. Both Hawkins (2006) and Grant (2011) report the extent to which coaches value supervision in helping them become ‘unstuck’ in addressing difficult coaching assignments.
⦁ Support. De Haan and Blass (2007) found that coaches used supervision mainly for reassurance, confidence building and benchmarking executive coaching practice. Armstrong & Geddes (2009) talk about how coaches working in isolation may regard supervision groups as supportive ‘communities of practice.’ Moyes (2009) however, suggests that the supportive aspect of supervision may be more important in therapy, in which therapists are typically working with the deprived or disturbed clients, than it is in coaching.
⦁ Managerial. Moyes (2009) suggests that purchasers of coaching services want supervision to protect them from the risk of unethical or unprofessional practice, to provide them with assurance that coaching is focused on organisational objectives, and to ensure that coaches are working within their capability (Hawkins, 2006b).