Mentor coaching goes hand-in-hand with supervision

24th March by Clare Norman

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As coaches, we know the importance of supervision to keep us safe and keep us sane. Fewer coaches know what mentor coaching is and how it can help us to stay sharp. You might have heard the expression if you are thinking about credentialing for the International Coaching Federation. But you may not know what it is or how it is different from supervision.

Here’s the scoop.

Supervision and mentor coaching both enable us to become better coaches. They work hand in hand, as they each offer something that the other does not. 

Supervision enables us to look at ourselves in relation to our clients and is self-reported. The self-reported nature of it means that we may miss something crucial about our skills.

Mentor coaching enables us to get feedback about our skills and competencies as a coach, as our mentor coach observes us and helps us to see our blind-spots, hear our deaf-spots and articulate our dumb-spots (Eckstein, 1969). 

Both are equally important for our development to enable us to partner with our thinkers to uncover new thinking. 

Unlike supervision, mentor coaching doesn’t get much mention outside of the credentialing requirements for the ICF. My contention is that we should include it in our ongoing development plans, in exactly the same way as we include supervision as a staple of our reflective practice.

Mentor coaching is so much more than a tick-box exercise to be “got through” in order to get a credential. By listening to recordings of our coaching, alongside a coach who understands the competency framework that we align ourselves with, we pick up things about our coaching that we aren’t aware of in the moment. For example, working with a coach this morning, he noticed that even though he knows that he needs to keep the agenda in the thinker’s court, he was slipping into leading that agenda. It’s so easily done, if we don’t check ourselves.  Just as we take short-cuts with our driving skills after we have passed our test, we do the same with coaching after we have finished our training. 

No matter how experienced we are as a coach, there is always more to learn about the words and phrases we use.  And it’s difficult to see those through our own lenses. Much easier to have someone by our side who can help us to see through different lenses. For example, if we were to listen to a recording of our coaching on our own as part of our reflective practice, we might still not hear ourselves using long convoluted questions, when a pithy one would have been more powerful. We might still not notice how we could have used movement in the session, to enable the thinker to think from a different place, because we’ve got into our own norms of doing things – in this case, sitting side by side, which isn’t always the most useful position to be in.

This is a vital tool in our reflective practice kit. I am certainly not saying that this is a replacement for supervision. It may highlight some things that we then take to supervision. For example, a coach I was working with this morning said that listening to himself coaching was throwing up questions about who he is as a human being. That’s definitely a supervision question. Or some ethical issue might surface.  Again, a supervision topic.

So, this is a both/and equation.  They work hand-in-hand.

“Supervision keeps us safe and sane.

Mentor coaching keeps us sharp” (Norman, 2020).

If this article has peaked your interest and you would like to find out more about mentor coaching, you may wish to pre-order Mentor Coaching: A Practical guide, by Clare Norman, published on 9th April by Open University Press.

You can search for ICF-aligned mentor coaches in the mentor coaching registry on the ICF website. Alternatively, you could ask your existing supervisor to observe a recording of your coaching and to give you feedback against your own coaching body’s competency framework. What are you waiting for? 

A huge thank you to Clare for sharing this excellent introduction into the importance of mentor coaching. Clare runs her own practice - Clare Norman Coaching Associates - and has 19 years of coaching experience and is a Professional Certified Coach, a certified coach supervisor and a mentor coach for the International Coach Federation, for internal and external coaches.