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Why leading is so difficult and how super-Vision can help by Elaine Patterson


2015.01.27 Photo of Glasses


“You see things not as they are but HOW you are”

Eric Butterworth

Leading well is hard. This is because leading well is both business and personal; and leading is a people business.

The person who is the leader is the common denominator. As the title of Kabat-Zinn’s book suggests “wherever you go there you are”. Therefore “WHO you are is HOW you lead”™. Leadership does not exist in a vacuum but in the relationships, which the leader is able to create. Technical competence is assumed or can be relatively easily acquired. Success or failure in today’s turbulent times resides in how leaders and people professionals chose to show up in their lives and work. It is this, which determines the quality of the relationships, which they can consciously and intentionally build through the creative – and often courageous – conversations they are able to have with themselves, with their teams, with their work, and with the wider world – minute by minute, day by day. Simple, but not easy and the hardest work all of us ever have to do. Learning to express all of WHO we are is the secret to purposeful, soulful and productive work lives.

In my work I am noticing that an increasing number of my clients feel a new loneliness wherever they sit in the organization. Many are reporting that they feel “exhausted” burdened by overwhelming in-trays; that they “have lost the plot in the rush”; are feeling uneasy about “going round in circles” whilst also sensing that “it does not have to be like this”. These observations are supported a recent Infographic from Officevibe called “13 Disturbing Facts About Employee Engagement” (2014). The survey reported that: 88% of employees do not feel passionate about their work; that 79% of Business Leaders and HR professionals did not feel that their organizations had developed good enough leadership development pathways to nurture talent, that 75% of organizations were struggling to attract the talent that they needed and that only 6% felt that their processes for managing performance were effective.

It seems that traditional leadership development programmes focus on the knowledge, theory and tools of “doing” leadership, which are important and valuable, but they are not the whole story. Outside-in learning needs to be blended, matched and/or exceeded by inside-out reflective development to enable everyone of us to effectively meet and embrace the bigger and bigger questions which life and the churning business context continually wants to throw at us.

Leaders therefore have a choice. The choice is to either become the Victim to these events and forces seemingly outside of their control or to choose to grow their own capacities and capabilities to enable them to re-imagine, create and innovate their way into the future whilst also discovering where they truly belong. Our processes of making sense and making meaning need to grow in order to match or ideally surpass the levels of complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty, which is being faced. As Revans (1988) famously wrote:

“learning needs to be equal to or exceed the rate of change”

and as O’Brien the CEO of Hanover (quoted in Scharmer 2013) observes:

“The success of any intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener”

This in essence, means an ongoing and lifetime leadership journey of development, leading to enhanced levels of awareness and consciousness as described by Torbet et al (2000) or Laloux (2014).

However, this quality, type and depth of learning does not happen overnight. Rather it is both a slow burn and a long-term investment. Shrewd leaders and people professionals are increasingly turning to the riches of super-Vision of the quality which has been developed by Coaching Supervision Academy because it provides the safe space, focused inquiry and reflective learning to help them to critically and wholeheartedly engage with all that is happening from the inside and outside – past, present and future – from which new meanings and directions will naturally emerge and become apparent for implementation.

We are now seeing super-Vision coming of age. super-Vision is now extending its reach and moving out of its more traditional compartmentalization within the medical, therapeutic and educational professions with a contemporary refresh and repositioning. It complements and works in harmony with the other helping professions as defined by Egan (in Wosket 2006) but brings forward a new dimension of exploration and consciousness which is necessary for todays effective leaders (Laloux (2014) and Udall (2014).

This is because the quality and nature of super-Visionary conversations with skilled super-Visors work on a broader, richer and more vibrant canvass where leaders can openly and honestly explore the broader landscape of all of life and work, within which they lead. These conversations also serve to role model a space and spacious which allows new and different ways of relating to, thinking about and reimagining self, others, and the world. These unique conversations engage the whole person who is both a leader at work and a human being in life and work to integrate both within enhanced levels of awareness and consciousness because the self is always present. Leaders learn to develop new capacities and capabilities which enables them to become self-referencing through the creative integration and expression of ALL of WHO they are and are BECOMING in ways which very practically release everyone’s potential, creativity, engagement and commitment to get the job done.

To conclude with quote from the actress Judy Garland:

“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

To find an approved CSA L super-Visor please visit our website

To enquire more about how we work and what development programmes we offer please contact Elaine Patterson Director of Leadership at the Coaching Supervision Academy on +44 (0) 1895 635734 or email


Elaine is an international Executive Coach, Coach Supervisor and Leadership Developer whose passion is bringing the inspirational, energizing and creative powers of our shared humanity into the heart of leadership, work and business practices.



Butterworth, E. (1968) Discover the Power Within: A Guide to the Unexplored Depths Within. New York, Harper Collins

Officevibe (2014) 13 Disturbing Facts About Employee Engagement. Available for download

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever You Go, There You Are. London, Little, Brown Book Group.

Laloux, F. (2014) Reinventing Organisations; A Guide to Creating Organisations Inspired by the Next Generation of Human Consciousness. Belgium, Nelosn Parker.

Revans, R (1988) ABC of Action Learning. USA, Gower Publishing.

Schamer,O. and Kaufer, K. (2013) Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco- System Economies Applying Theory U to Transforming Business, Society and Self. San Francisco, Berret-Koelher Publishers, Inc.

Torbet, W., Rooke, D. and Fisher, D. (2000) Personal and Organisational Transformations: Through Action Inquiry. Boston, Edge Work Press.

Udall, N. (2014) Riding the Creative Rollercoaster How Leaders Evoke Creativity, Productivity and Innovation. London, Kogan Page

Wosket, V (2006) Egan’s Skilled Helper – Developments and Applications in Counselling. East Sussex, Routledge.



11th January 2015