The Supervisor as a Coach

Aristotle once said that good supervision is “the art of getting average people to do superior work”, but it is much more than that.

Supervisors have many responsibilities including the allocation of work, supervision of work, delegation of work as well as a myriad of other things not related to work including conflict resolution, team building as well as their own work and business development.leaders

One of the most important jobs of a supervisor is that of a coach.  Supervisors are in a perfect place to coach employees, whether that be for growth and development or correction of performance issues.  In relation to development, as a supervisor, you have primary responsibility for assisting your staff to grow and acquire new skills.  This will require the skills of a coach.

As a coach, your role is to give support, provide constructive and honest feedback, challenge your employees and give advice on career options and preparation for the next steps.

In order to coach effectively it is important to do and be some things.  Coaching is coaching, but in a work environment the coach is also the supervisor. There are some things that need to be done differently than they would be done with an external coach.  There is not the objectivity that there would be with an external coach, and the supervisor as coach has more than the usual interest in making the employee succeed.  It is much more personal for the supervisor.

It is very easy to try and ‘fix’ things for the employee by telling them what to do or rescuing them; a coach however has to have the skills to  help the employee work that out for themselves, by using questioning techniques and helping your employee to work it out for themselves.

For coaching to be effective:

  • ‘meet people where they are’ – not where you are in terms of career or skill, or others in the group
  • Genuinely want to see employees succeed
  • Communicate that this is a positive process not a punishment
  • Know what needs to change
  • Agree how often to meet and when you are going to review things
  • Listen – listen carefully and reframe what the employee is saying if needs be
  • Have a solutions focus – if there is a problem, what is the solution?
  • Leave the need to ‘fix’ and control things behind – the coach’s role is to guide, challenge, question and reflect – leaving the employee with the responsibility for changing to achieve results
  • Look for opportunities for the employee to be challenged
  • Be available and accept that there might be some things you can do to change

Coaching is incredibly powerful – both for the supervisor and the employee.

Secondments are a good career move

Have you considered a client secondment as part of your career plan? If not, don’t dismiss it as something that will detract from your rise up the ranks in your firm. Secondments have many benefits – to you, your firm and also the client.Secondment

If you are offered the opportunity to take up a client secondment think about the following:

  • Is it a strategic client connection, ie. a client that the firm is trying to develop and which has good work?
  • Is it an area of work that interests you?
  • Will the work be challenging? Check the level of authority you will have to make sure the work is at a level that will enhance your skills or develop new ones.

If the answers to the above questions are ‘yes’ then a secondment will be very beneficial for you:

  • you will be exposed to the client in a way that enables you to understand, in more depth, the industry in which the client works
  • you will be exposed to broader work than what you are currently undertaking in the firm
  • you will develop an understanding of what a client expects from the legal advisers
  • you will also develop relationships with a greater number of people at the client organisation, and in doing so, within your firm as well
  • because of the relationships you develop, you are likely to have work referred directly to you on your return to the firm.

Before going on a secondment talk to your supervising partner and the partner responsible for that client (if they are different people) about their expectations of you from the secondment. In this discussion it is also important to make sure that the secondment fits in to your personal career plan and discuss that with them as well.

Find out as much as you can about the client, its industry, its needs and any relationship ‘red flags’. If there have been problems in the relationship, knowing about them makes it easier to manage them.

While it will be annoying to have to check two lots of emails, make sure you don’t miss out on training and CLE opportunities within the firm. Where possible, take someone from the client organisation with you – just as secondments themselves are a ‘value add’ for the client, so are training opportunities, with the added bonus of being able to introduce the client to more people in the firm.

During the course of the secondment, stay in touch with your firm and supervising partners.

If for whatever reason it is not working, speak to your supervising partner at the earliest opportunity, as small problems are better dealt with early before they become big problems.

However, most importantly, on your return, how do you capitalise on your secondment? These are the four most important things:

  1. Debrief with the client
  2. Debrief with your supervising partner and client relationship partner
  3. Revisit your career plan and make sure that what you learned while on secondment is not lost, and that it fits within your career plan – and your plan may need to be reviewed if you have developed an interest in a new area of law
  4. Develop a plan to make regular contact with those you worked with at the client

Structured well, a secondment is a unique opportunity to deepen client relationships, increase your industry knowledge and improve client and legal skills.

Dealing with disappointment

When you are looking for a new job it is inevitable that you will face disappointment along the way.  Even in your working life disappointments will challenge you – perhaps you didn’t get the pay rise or the promotion you were hoping for.

Facing and dealing with disappointments, both big and small, determine how quickly you recover from them.  And you can make a choice about how you respond to disappointments.

Many people choose to complain about their problems. While it is certainly important to acknowledge your disappointment and not just ignore it you can choose to respond positively.  The answer lies in learning constructive ways to acknowledge disappointments.

Recognise that your old coping strategies are perhaps not working and create a new one.

  • Choose to define what is happening to you as a temporary thing, not a permanent failure.
  • Practice acceptance for things you can’t control – sometimes what has happened has nothing to do with what you have done or have not done, and you have no control over it – it is probably not personal.
  • Don’t disparage other people to make yourself feel better – you can  honestly express the emotions that you are experiencing. This is about how you feel about the situation, not about other people.
  • What are the positives? – Find opportunity in adversity- there will always be one.
  • Put things into perspective – even the tiniest of disappointments can seem huge at the time.  Once you have felt or expressed the disappointment take a moment to step back and look at the larger picture – how much is this going to have an effect on you in the future?  Will it matter in 10 minutes?  In 10 weeks?  In 10 months? In 10 years?
  • What can you learn – did you have unrealistic expectations?  Is there something you can do differently or better next time?

Most importantly, reflect on what happened and set goals for the future so that you can capitalise on opportunities as they present themselves.