Give Me Strength: Supervision In Exceptional Circumstances

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Give Me Strength: Supervision In Exceptional Circumstances



Self-imposed or imposed, welcomed or resisted; months ago many of us relocated from our workplaces to our homes. As a new routine has gradually fallen into place I’ve found myself trying to make sense of what is going on. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development scheduled their Festival of Work and moved it from a physical to an entirely online event. One of the keynote speakers, John Amaechi, made the distinction between remote working and what has been happening since March, “Nobody has been working from home, what we have been doing is trying to survive isolation…while we are doing all of that we have been at home and attempting to work”.

The Supervision for Coaches Programme I was running came to a shuddering halt at the half-way point. When participants have managed to join me online we’ve shared what’s going on for us all directly and indirectly (keep this in mind for the ‘parallel process’ comment below). This has been echoed in almost every online event I have attended; sudden overload of work; home-schooling; illness and death; uncertainty around expectations from our organisations and our government; stay in; ensure you get out; talk of autonomy and opportunities to be creative juxtaposed with survival and guilt for not being as productive as usual; trying things you wouldn’t normally do (a lockdown mohican haircut defying age and grey hair was exhilarating!); over-eating; avoidance of sedentary practices; the list goes on. I have experienced recurrent highs and lows of emotions and have seen many headlines, articles and news stories around doing your best, mental health and a phrase I’ve come to dread – ‘the new normal’.

In this context, supervision of coaches and mentors may seem quite trivial at this moment in time. Interestingly, one of the first things I did in lockdown was pick up Nancy Kline’s book Time to Think. It’s a great reminder to try and step back, take a breath and reflect. Pausing is enough to realise that all of the thoughts mentioned above (and more) will be impacting upon coachees/mentees. Accordingly, now more than ever may be a valuable time to offer coaching and mentoring services and it follows that conundrums arising from circumstances will appear in supervision. 

Prof David Clutterbuck ( notes that parallel processing “happens when a coach, mentor or therapist reproduces a behaviour or emotion within their client, or more subtly, when they conflate the client’s experiences and issues with their own. It can distort the coaching or mentoring conversation, so that it focuses – usually unconsciously – on the coach or mentor’s agenda, rather than the client’s”.  Sharing experiences can be liberating whereas conflation removes the focus and recognition that an individual is looking for. My feeling is that we need to be particularly mindful of this not just now but when we do eventually all return to the workplace. Unless of course working from home becomes the new normal….aaargh! There, I’ve said it!

Fear of the unknown has been hindering many. Zoom and MS Teams meetings abound (I haven’t heard mention of Skype – is that no longer in vogue?) necessitating trial and error for participants and facilitators alike. At the Festival of Work, John Amaechi also commented, “Learning can be clumsy, don’t be afraid”. Ironically, this preceded a technical hitch meaning a restart of the session about ten minutes in thus leading to spontaneous decisions about what to repeat, include and discard in order to keep to time. 

And so, I find myself challenged to lead a Coaching HE Conversation on the theme of supervision. Aware that I’m not an adept Twitter user forgive me if my learning is clumsy and I ask that you are not afraid to contribute.

Twitter chat questions:

  1. Has coaching/mentoring in your organisation continued during lockdown? If so, in what ways is it different?
  2. What would you want from a supervisor? How would you want a supervisor ‘to be’?
  3. What level of supervision support exists for coaching / mentoring in your organisation? Which useful models or activities for supervision are you aware of?
  4. How can supervision be made more accessible?

John Trantom LLB (Hons), MA, FHEA, FAUA, Chartered MCIPD

Leadership and Development Adviser

Leadership and Development Foundation

Human Resources
Exchange Station, Tithebarn Street, Liverpool, L2 2QP
t: 0151 231 8030 e: