Friday, 1 November 2019

The Inner Supervisor

This morning, as I was cycling down Askham hill before breakfast, an Airedale terrier ran out of a garden, and under my front wheel and I came off with a bump. (I should say immediately, the dog was uninjured).

I lay in the road for a minute, realising I was relatively unhurt, though my shoulder was sore. The dog's owner was very concerned and kind. I got up and sat by the roadside, and snapped my dislocated shoulder back into place, and felt a lot better.

After a bit, I cycled on to the paper shop to collect the paper, as is my daily routine, and then home.

And then, of course, I felt very flakey.

I had a call booked a little later with someone I don't yet know, about my possibly supervising her coaching practice.  And (and this is the important bit) I decided to postpone it, as I realised that I was not in the right state to conduct it well, suffering somewhat from some pain and delayed shock.

Yet it was so tempting to go on with it, not least as it would have provided a distraction from the pain. But clearly that would have been the wrong reason to do so. Likewise my pride was suggesting I just keep going: I can soldier on etc.  And I dislike letting people down, and pride myself (that word again) on never taking time off sick, and so on.

But it was clearly my sense of the Inner Supervisor that helped me to make the correct decision. Once I articulated that to myself, I asked myself a) what would I say to someone I was supervising in such a case? and b) what would my supervisor say to me? These questions made the correct decision really clear.

Which underlines the importance and value of supervision: even without consulting my supervisor, my decision-making was better informed due to my regular supervision, and that development of the Inner Supervisor that is one of the goals of good supervision.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Thinking, Fast and Slow

I have just finished reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. It is a fascinating, and very salutary, read. Like most people, I like to think that I am quite a rational person, at least when thinking seriously about serious issues.  Like most people, I am probably wrong, at least some of the time.  Kahneman details the many ways in which we take short cuts in our thinking. For example, we frequently substitute an easier question to think about than the one that we are facing, and answer that, without realising that we have done so.  His many years of research and engagement with others in the field provides him with a rich store of examples, anecdotes, and serious research findings.

There is much to ponder on here; not least the importance Kahneman recognises in the stories we tell ourselves, which of course resonates with my Shifting Stories work (and I will almost certainly post some reflections to the Shifting Stories blog in due course) . But the first thing I am considering is the challenge this seems to pose to Nancy Kline's hypothesis that sits under her Thinking Environment. Regular readers of this blog, if such there be, and those who work with me in real life, will know that I am a big fan and keen exponent of Kline's work (see various posts about it here).

Me with Nancy Kline on the occasion of my
qualifying as a Time To Think coach
The hypothesis in question, is that when people do their own independent thinking, they are most likely to come up with the best solutions to the problems that they are seeking to address.  Thus the purpose of the Thinking Environment is to help people to do such independent thinking.

But if Kahneman is correct, there is no guarantee that people's thinking processes are sound; nor that they will be able to identify the errors in it, even when asked (pace Kline) what they are assuming.

So where does that leave Kline's model - and my use of it as a coach and facilitator?  Is it delusional, and should I desist?  I think not (but, of course, I am aware that my thinking may be poor here, not least because of another risk Kahneman identifies: theory-induced blindness...).  However, I think that Kline's inclusion of Information as one of the 10 components of the Thinking Environment gives me (and the model) a let-out - and some additional responsibilities.

Nancy Kline has always been clear that if you are listening to someone planning to spend their £400k budget, and you know that the budget is, in fact, £40k, it is an act of intellectual vandalism to allow them to spend an hour telling you their plans without sharing your information.  She is quite careful to emphasise that it should be information, not your opinion etc, so as to stay with the other person's independent thinking and not derail it with your ideas.

However, I think I have always tended to treat that component, information, with too much caution; and that as well as factual data like that, there may be other information that I am aware of that would be helpful, or even essential, for the thinker to know.  And Kahneman's insights fit into that category I think.  Which means that I have an additional responsibility really to learn about the various ways in which people can shortcut good thinking, and how to spot them, so that I am in a position to share that information, when both necessary and appropriate, with my clients.

And given the richness and complexity of Kahneman's work, that is no light undertaking...

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Supervision Rooms

I blogged last week, enthusiastically, about Reflective Practice in Supervision, by Hewson and Caroll.  I have been continuing to reflect on it, and how its simple (but not simplistic) structures and models shed light and clarify thinking. 

For example, they use the metaphor of different rooms to illustrate the different spaces that the supervisor and practitioner may need to occupy during a supervisory meeting. The rooms (and their purposes) are: the Office (a directive space, for safeguarding and ensuring compliance with requirements); the Exam Room (an evaluative space, for evaluating the practitioner’s current competence); the Lecture Theatre (a passive space, for imparting information or advice); the Sitting Room (a restorative space, for debriefing and processing of emotions); the Studio (an active space for generating collaborative thinking and action plans) and the Observatory (a reflective space, for exploration, discovery and insight).


I realise that not everybody has an Observatory (let alone a Lecture Theatre) in their house - I am peculiarly fortunate in that respect - but nonetheless, the metaphor is helpful.


Commendably, Hewson and Carroll highlight that their work is primarily about Reflection, so focuses largely on what goes on in the Observatory - but they make it clear that all the other rooms may be important to visit.  They also stress that it is very important (and this is where the metaphor of the rooms becomes particularly helpful) for the supervisor and practitioner both to know and agree which room they are in at any moment in time. Indeed, a colleague who supervised me recently said, after reading this, that it made it clear to him precisely why one part of the session had felt differently to each of us: he had thought we had moved into the Office, while I was still in the Observatory.

And that observation set me thinking, too, about where different coaching approaches are likely to sit most frequently.  So I see Kline’s Thinking Environment approach as spending most time in the Observatory, for example, with occasional forays into the Lecture Theatre (information) the Sitting Room (feelings) and the Studio.  Whereas a Solutions Focused approach might be expected to spend a larger proportion of time in the Studio, focusing on solutions.

And then, of course (for my mind is essentially frivolous) I move on to think about a special edition Cluedo: it was the Supervisor, in the Observatory, with the Mirror...

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Thank Heavens: A Good Text!...

You know that feeling - you're slogging through worthy and thoughtful, and probably valuable, texts on whatever it is you are studying, and suddenly you stumble across one that is written to be read, thought-provoking, exciting even - and thoroughly re-energising.  Thus me, studying for my Coaching Supervision Qualification.  Yes, yes, Hawkins and Shohet is essential reading, and their 7-eyed model is not without merit; and de Haan can't be ignored, and has some real insights; and then there's some good essays in some of the collections (The Heart of Coaching Supervision and Full Spectrum Supervision)... But to be honest it can all get a bit wearisome.  And then someone (whom I can't remember, or I would call down blessings on her (or conceivably his) head) suggested Hewson and Carroll's Reflective Practice in Supervision. So I dutifully bought it, it arrived, and the clouds parted, the sun came out, and birds began to sing.

It's not just that it's well written - though it undoubtedly is.  The authors have thought carefully about what will be useful to busy practitioners and have structured and signposted the book well. And it's not just that the content is good - though again it undoubtedly is: it gives the clearest idea of what is distinctive about supervision that I have read; and has a number of simple but profound frameworks that one can instantly recognise as useful, but also as worthy of further reading and thought.  But also, it builds on, refers to, and expands many of my particular areas of interest.  Michael White of Narrative Therapy fame, is an acknowledged reference point, as is Nancy Kline, of the Thinking Environment, for example.

So do I really like it because it speaks to my prejudices?  I think not, for I disagree with it (and with White and Kline) in various important ways.  In fact, interestingly, it offers a particular approach (the Consolidation Stance) that fills what seems to me to be the biggest gap in Kline's model. Nancy seems to assume that once one has had the right thought(s) then right action will follow as day follows night.  Not so Hewson and Carroll. They recognise that more is needed (as indeed does Scott, in his ground-breaking Shifting Stories, where the last part of the model, Enriching the Plot, addresses precisely that issue... but I digress...)

So if you happen to be studying to be a Coaching Supervisor, this is highly recommended.  Or if you are a coach, I think there is a lot to learn from this.  But above all, if you are thinking of writing a book for practitioners, have a look at this as a model - and compare it with other, worthy but weighty texts: you will learn a lot.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Learning Questions

Reg Revans: Founder of Action Learning
Running an Action Learning set recently, I was reminded once again of how difficult participants sometimes find it to ask appropriate questions, particularly at the start of the process.  At the end of the first day, that is typically one of the learning points.  Participants understand the principle well enough: that the kinds of questions that are helpful in this context are questions that are designed to help the problem-owner think differently about the problem, in the hope that some insight may arise; as opposed to questions designed to help the questioner understand the problem better, or questions that are actually suggestions, posing as questions. 

For example, questions such as How many people are involved in this? will not help the problem-owner at all. He or she already knows this - it adds nothing to his or her understanding. It merely helps the questioner understand the issue more clearly. And underlying that is the strong drive in the questioner to try to help by solving the problem.  

And that leads onto the second type of inappropriate question: How would they react if you...? Clearly, that is, in fact, a suggested solution. 

So, why are such questions inappropriate?  Because they do not help the problem-owner to think differently about the problem and gain new insight. Rather, they spring from a strong habit of hands-on problem solving.

And, as I say, participants in new Learning Sets generally understand this, once we discuss it; but frequently they still find it difficult not to ask such questions; even though, as problem owners, they also recognise that the high-value questions are of another type altogether, such as What are your blind spots about this issue?

It is not surprising, of course that they are still learning the ropes, at the first meeting of the Set. And generally by the second meeting, they are getting better at formulating appropriate questions; but it is very interesting to see how deeply engrained the problem-solving approach to helping is, even in senior leaders.  However, my belief is that if they want to get the very best out of their people, questions that develop their staff's ability to think for themselves, rather than be led to solutions by their bosses, are actually very valuable.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Coaching Supervision

One of the questions that we have been debating at the Coaching Supervision Partnership is the difference between Supervision, and Coaching a Coach.

The Partnership is a group of experienced coaches who have come together to co-design a Coaching Supervision development programme, (accredited by the ILM at Level 7) initially for themselves, and ultimately (potentially) for others, too.

So the question, What do we mean by Supervision? is of course a key concern. Initially, some of us were fairly unclear whether there was any difference between supervision and providing coaching for a coach. But at our second workshop, yesterday, it was evident that peoples' understanding had developed.  And that was largely as a result of our practice in-between the first two workshops, when each of us supervised, and was supervised by, one of the other members of the Partnership.

What emerged was a much greater clarity about the fact that supervision is quite distinct.  In particular, it is about bringing a level of expertise and experience to the conversation.  When coaching, one need not be an expert in the discipline of the coachee;  I coach Vice Chancellors of Universities, for example, but could not possibly do their job. But when one supervises a coach, one needs to be have expertise in coaching - and that changes a lot of other things.



For example, it implies an obligation (as well as the ability) to evaluate the coach's practice and give feedback on that; likewise to focus on the coach's CPD; and to contract with the coach explicitly about both of those as areas of focus.  Further it implies a responsibility beyond the coach - for the welfare of the coach's clients, and for the reputation of the coaching profession.


We spent a lot of time yesterday discussing the various models of supervision that are out there, and it was interesting to reflect that nome of them seemed to focus on this, which seems to us a crucial distinctive of the supervisory relationship.  Indeed, none of the models seemed fully adequate to us - some were good but too limited in their scope; others (the Full Spectrum approach, for example) seemed t
o be trying to be too all-encompassing and ultimately impractical (and in my view, making spurious and overblown claims, too).  So one of the questions or indeed challenges we have set ourselves is to see if we can develop a model (or possibly a set of nested models: a high-level simple one, with detail sitting under it) that we believe to be less inadequate.  Should we manage that, you can be sure that I will report it here (but don't hold your breath....)

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Bad Habits

'Don't look at your hands!' That was my son, Michael, watching me practicing the piano.  It was partly tongue in cheek (and partly just cheek) but also a quotation from his fearsome former piano teacher.

And also very good advice. For he noticed that I had got into a bad habit, and was giving me some timely feedback. The reasons for not looking at one's hands when playing the piano are many, and known to me.  But - as with so many bad habits - there is a short term benefit to doing so: it is easier.

So I have been working on playing the pieces I am currently working on with my eyes firmly fixed on the sheet music, which has been both difficult and beneficial.

Interestingly, it also makes more sense of one of the Oscar Peterson exercises I am working on: the fingering seemed mad to me: it involved moving one's hands dramatically between each bar. There was an easier way to finger that exercise.  But doing it as written, without watching is actually a very useful skill development exercise.

The resonance of that is enormous, it seems to me. So often we adopt maladaptive strategies that have a short term benefit but a long term cost. And very quickly these can become habits,  and then (being habitual) feel the 'right' thing to do. This applies to the way we manage our time (working through lunch breaks to get more done etc), our energy (using caffeine to keep going; skipping our exercise because we are too busy), and even our posture (sitting slouched because it is more comfortable).

And part of the delight of being a father of grown-up children, is having them calling me to order, challenging me to live up to the expectations I have of them, and doing so with great perception and wit!