One afternoon a few weeks ago I was reading and a sentence jumped out at me. No matter what came after that my eyes kept travelling back to those words as it registered its impact on me. I noticed how it kept showing up again and again in my work with coachees, supervisees, and in leadership programmes that I was working on over the following few weeks. It’s a quote from US social researcher and author Brené Brown: ” if vulnerability is the most accurate measurement of courage it is also the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”.
For me this sentence has enormous resonance in coaching supervision. We create a non-judgemental environment for our supervisees to bring the whole range of their work and themselves to supervision; their successes, their questions, their dilemmas, their stuck bits. We invite them to feel safe enough to bring all these things, and with it to allow themselves to open, to trust and experience a degree of vulnerability as they hold up their work up to a joint scrutiny, illumination and celebration. This perambulation around the ‘garden’ of their professional work is an act of courage since they bring who they are as much as what they do, into dialogue.
The importance of this goes beyond the immediacy of the session. The exploration of the complexities of the systems their client operate may reveal, in parallel process similar stories around guardedness and vulnerability. All this requires an open and hardy mindset to discover new things and appreciate what is already working well.
This is at the heart of the supervision conversation in my experience. We may underestimate how much the UK/Europe coaching supervision community is advancing and, with each step, growing stronger. The benefits for supervisees, their clients and the organisations is showing up more and more, especially in anecdotal stories. The willingness to show up 100% and look deeply at who we are and how we work ignites creativity and robustness in being regularly taking time to see how we can be the best we can be as supervisors and as coaches.
For very experienced coaches unused to taking their work into a supervision space, this ‘birthing’ process is a big leap. They may hesitate, feeling unsure of what and how much they need to talk about in supervision. Both courage and vulnerability come up very close to each .
Encouraging someone to experiment, starting from the very edge of their allowable vulnerability requires us, as supervisors, to also be willing to be alongside our own vulnerability – sometimes not knowing, sometimes experiencing ambiguity, sometimes nose-to-nose to uncertainty with compassion and presence as we wait ( there, courage resides too) for what needs to emerge in the service of the learning of the supervisee. This seems to unlock an enormous rush of potential that tips into ways of working, making deeper connections and discoveries with supervisees’ clients. As a direct result of vulnerability and transparency, pertinent conversations and creative outcomes arise – ones that are relevant to the work.
There is something though that can get overlooked. Many supervisees, when explaining what they did in relation to a piece of work with a client, often overlook instances of their own courage in favour of what might not have gone as well as they would have liked. Taking time to savour and learn from times when they tried something new and different, when they asked the really tough but very vital question, said ‘no’ when a piece of work didn’t sit right in their personal value system, or sat with their own fear when things looked wobbly, processing it with mindful awareness in the moment.
I know that when I comment to supervisees on what I observe in this way it takes them aback before recognising, “well, yes I guess I was brave”. Acts of courage are not always the big heroic splashes. They come in all shapes and sizes; some decided in the fraction of a second and yet can lead to change and generative conversations of a different tenor.
So in summary
1- How does courage play out in your life, in the every day? When are you aware of the fluttery edge of new territory? How do you know?
2- It is important to listen out for small acts of regular courage. If you track them back you usually find vulnerability. How can you cherish this as a way to resource oneself?
3- How does the supervisee understand their own vulnerability as a step towards the birthplace of creativity and change? How have they moved ahead despite or in spite of their vulnerability?
4- As supervisors we have to model our willingness to connect with and be at ease with our own vulnerability to sit with self compassion as well as compassion for others whilst appreciating what unfolds.
Karyn Prentice CSA Assistant Director of Training January, 2014