Top Menu

Beyond Models: ‘Look, no hands!’

This week feels quite momentous. I finished work with a group of coaches, whom I had been supervising for just over seven years – seven years! That’s probably the longest supervision group I’ve run and inevitably, there was some sadness at finishing a wonderful period of learning together. But as we reflected on a journey of seven years, I found myself saying that I was a better supervisor now because of the work with this particular group. Better and braver. The key ingredient of that improvement seems to be that we settled in together quickly and because we ‘grooved’ so well for all those years, our freedom in the co-created dialogue of supervision became quite remarkable.

When I began work with the group, none of them had experienced supervision before and so for a short while, I was quite explicit about key processes and models that supervision uses. However, as we quickly found our way together, it became obvious that paying close attention to supervision models was of limited value. Initially, this surprised me: models provide a useful structure for supervision sessions and are a trusted guide to enquiry and reflection. But this group wanted more than that. Interestingly, I have noticed that the same pattern occurs when training coaches to be supervisors  – training through models seems to be much more valuable at the outset of our supervision training programmes, but much less so, as students engage with the more relational processes of presence-based learning and reflection.

A decent analogy would be with learning to ride a bike. You know how it goes: you move from getting the hang of how not to fall off, to how to steer, to how to work the pedals, to how to balance on two wheels…until one fine day, you learn how to do it all in unison. Then you move from that, to the exhilaration of showing off and saying ‘Look, no hands!’ At which point the bike still goes forward – if everything is aligned properly. The question is, what enables us to ride/work with ‘no hands’, to go in the direction we need to go, without undue effort and without fixing our attention quite so much on ‘handlebars and pedals and wheels’. I notice that as coaches and supervisors gain experience, they shift away from adherence to models and tools and towards intelligent use-of-self plus increased understanding of the ‘space between things, the relationship of things, the Bond’. (Lynne McTaggart, 2013). This is the most noticeable element of maturing practice. After almost 20 years of supervising supervisors and coaches, I want to shout: ‘Let go, trust yourself, trust the relationship, show up with ‘open mind, open heart, open will’ (Sharmer/Senge 2008)!

If we stick with our bike analogy in thinking about a level of competence that appears almost effortless, we can imagine the rider that you were when you rode with ‘no hands’. You may remember that without realising it, you set your intention to steer a straight course. Otherwise, bloody knees! You may remember a high level of attention and your fully embodied focus: the sensation of alerting every muscle in your body to   dance with every nuance and pebble on the road, every slight turn of the breeze that blew – all in order to connect consciously with the environment, to maintain balance and to move forward safely. In that mode of riding, you were working highly intuitively, trusting yourself, the bike, the road, the wheels – all of it. Trusting too, that gravity would hold you onto the road and that quite simply, the movement of the pedals would take you forward. You knew you could align with the air and that you could move through it elegantly and without constantly grasping those handlebars. For a brief time, you were in flow!

As I reflect on moments of flow with the group and on how working with them enabled me to ‘let go… let come’ (Sharmer /Senge, 2008), the questions I have for myself – and for you – are something like:

How do we create trust more quickly in the processes of deep learning?
How do we welcome the ‘unknown’ as a living ingredient in our work?
How do we show up in ways that effectively say: ‘let’s dive, let’s generate conversations that matter’?
How do we become more skilled in working with context, with ‘warm data’ (N. Bateson, 2017)?
How do we show up in ways that encourage clients and ourselves to be real, rather than in role?
How do we accelerate our use of mind-body-spirit exploration and learning?

Edna Murdoch CEO CSA

Keep in touch with us for NEW CSA programmes in 2019. They will take us experientially into the questions above and will provide an advanced learning environment for supervisors, mentors and coaches.

NB.  CSA’s accredited supervision programme for October 2019, in London is already 3/4 full. If you are interested in training with us, kindly get in touch with our Programme Manager, Sam Freemantle: