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The Courageous super-Visee by Elaine Patterson

The Courageous super-Visee

By Elaine Patterson

 I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”.

Nelson Mandela

I recently attended a workshop run by Dr. Alison Hodge when she posed the question “why don’t clients come for supervision?”.

The question came back to haunt me as I drove along the M40 to meet and work with a new client.  It was beautiful summers day and I reflected on the joy of the work that we as coaches and supervisors are privileged to do.

I then turned my thoughts to what must it be like for my client meeting me to work with me for the first time. What might she be thinking, feeling and expecting? And again I was reminded of the phrase in “To Kill A Mockingbird” when Atticus explains to his children Scout and Jem which is so foundational to my own practice:

“First of all” he (Atticus) said, “if you learn a simple trick, Scout you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his/her point of view …” …. “until you climb into his /her skin and walk around in it”

I was struck by the realization that the very act of coming to coaching or supervision is in fact an act of immense courage and bravery. This is because the client is entering an unknown reflective, learning and creative space where they need to trust that they will be safely held by a competent and caring coach or supervisor to explore the riches, frustrations and sinews of their life in order to be more and contribute more as defined by them.

This means that clients are invited to shake off the heritage of what has often been for most of us a school and educational system, which has at its roots back in the nineteenth century and Britain’s Industrial Revolution (and which we then exported to the many corners of the globe). The caricature of the headmistress Miss Trunchball in the RSC production of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” sadly evokes the fear of learning, with the risk, shame and penalties of ‘getting it wrong’ which resides and resonates at some deep level in us all.

As coaches and supervisors we must openly acknowledge and work with the fear of real learning which by its very definition invites our clients to let go of what is known and explore new territories.

I have developed a lens to help us work with these energies, which I have called the “Naked super-Visee”. We cannot work as Pollyanna expecting our clients to skip into sunsets of new possibilities without holding an awareness of these energies.

These are the Voices of Fear, Voices of Doubt, Voices of Guilt and Shame.

Fear because of stepping into the unknown; Doubt because of the risks of exposure and the attendant judgement of self and others; and Guilt with shame for possibly having been “wrong” in the past or getting it “wrong” now.

What is liberating is that these Voices are the stories which we and our clients tell ourselves which imprison us in cages of our own making. By courageously allowing these voices out, to hear them, to challenge them, to respect them, to honor them does mean that their hold can diminish and the deeper work of learning, change and transformation can begin.

Top tips

1. Acknowledge that learning means stepping into the unknown, which by definition is fearful. Do not deny its existence but hold the fear respectfully, listen and work with it AND also bring in other realities, opportunities and perspectives.

2. Embrace your vulnerabilities. They are the raw material and fuel for our own growth; and have much to teach us. See Brene Brown’s Ted talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” on

3. Acknowledge that we can be our own harshest critic. We would probably never speak to friends or colleagues in the way that we can sometimes speak to ourselves. Practice self compassion. See


  1. Use mindfulness and Presencing techniques to bring you back to your own calm centre. Read Hanh, T. H. (2008) The Miracle of Mindfulness. London, Piackus Books Ltd. Great Britain, Rider.


  1. Celebrate your own courage and bravery in stepping forward to become more and all of who truly are. Keep a journal and record all the positive feedback you do get to refer back to in moments of doubt.


And a final thought from Maya Angelou:

One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.


Elaine Patterson


Elaine is Director of Leadership at the Coaching Supervision Academy. She is an accredited Master Coach and accredited Supervisor whose passion is bringing our shared humanity into the heart of leadership, business and coaching practices.


Brene Brown’s Ted talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” on [Internet]. Available from:

Dahl, R. (1988) Matilda. New York, The Puffin Group

Hanh, T. H. (2008) The Miracle of Mindfulness. London, Piackus Books Ltd. Great Britain, Rider.

Lee, H. (1960) To Kill A Mockingbird. GB, William Heinemann Ltd.