Mentor supervision, where’s the latest research?

Where is the mentor supervision researchA good question and one that Paul Stokes and I were chewing the cud over earlier this week. We have been asked to update our chapter for the second edition of Coaching and Mentoring Supervision and Practice on this very topic. We found the absolute paucity of new research and interest in mentor supervision very disappointing.

I guess supporting mentors with mentoring supervision is a specialist topic that only mentoring nerds like us are interested in. However, if you think of the number of organisational mentoring programmes in existence, why are people not researching and documenting the good practice that is occurring in mentor supervision?

It was 2003 when I won a £5 bet from a fellow student at Sheffield Hallam to get the word ‘passionate’ into an academic article I was writing with Paul. Luckily for me, John Rowan in Inskipp and Proctor (1995)1 describes supervision as “a passionate joint enquiry”, so I got my fiver! However, since Paul and I published Mentor Development & Supervision: “A Passionate Joint Enquiry” and then wrote more about mentoring supervision in 2011 and 2013, not much else seems to have been researched on the topic.

Nevertheless, in light of our more recent experience in supervising mentors, we have revised our schema for mentor supervision; full details will appear in the updated book chapter.

Mentoring the poor relation to coaching

Mentoring supervision has always been the poor relation to coaching supervision. With the majority of mentoring being voluntary, provided by basically trained mentors in a non-commercial relationship, supervision has not been developed in the way it has in coaching.

Coaches use supervision as a way of demonstrating their professionalism and ethical practice. It is a seal of approval and signifies quality assurance when you are buying coaching. When a coach pays for supervision, they can always cover the cost of this from their paid coaching assignments.

What is the latest in mentor supervision?

As a mentoring practitioner, this is what I am noticing about mentors and their supervision and development currently:

  1. Mentors when offered the opportunity of support and supervision are generally keen to take it up. However, the majority of mentors are in organisational programmes. Supervision is often provided on a webinar basis for quite a large group. Paying for small group supervision for a number of mentors on a regular basis is expensive. Also, can it be justified if they are in one relationship for perhaps a year? Professional coaches are in a much larger number of relationships and perhaps shorter periods. Providing the right mentor supervision solution can be expensive and complicated when you consider the amount of mentoring they are actually involved in.
  2. Mentors need supervision more than ever. With most organisational programmes offering fairly basic training, mentor Imposter Syndrome is on the increase. Having the support to reflect on their mentoring practice, receive some affirmation they are doing it effectively and not causing any harm, can be such a confidence booster.
  3. Mentoring programme co-ordinators and organisers are often not mentoring themselves. This role might be delegated to administrators who do not possess real mentoring knowledge and experience. Often they don’t have the credibility or skills to support their internal, more senior mentors. Buying in external supervision may be the only option and the cost can be off-putting.

I am reflecting there is reluctance and complexity, even in the best run mentoring programmes to provide robust mentor supervision. No wonder there is a lack of literature to read on the topic!

What do you do in your programme?

It would be great to hear more about what others are doing. Let Paul and I know what your organisation does? Or how you are operating as a supervisor of mentors? We are still in the midst of updating our chapter on mentor supervision, so do get in touch.

1 Inskipp, F and Proctor, B (1995), “The Art, Craft & Tasks of Counselling Supervision, Part 2 Becoming a Supervisor”, Cascade Publications.

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About Lis Merrick

Lis Merrick is Managing Director of Coach Mentoring Limited, the ISMCP Accreditation Chair (European Mentoring and Coaching Council International Standards for Mentoring and Coaching Programmes), a Visiting Fellow of the Coaching and Mentoring Research Unit at Sheffield Business School and she was the EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council) UK President from 2015 to 2018.

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