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  • Henry Campion

Not ‘Who I am’ but ‘How I am’

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit’[1].

Enda Murdoch says ‘Who I am, is how I supervise’[2]. She emphasises that beyond all our training and techniques, each of us is a unique human being with our own way to relating to and working with our clients. I wholeheartedly agree. And yet, when I ask myself ‘Who am I?’, I find the question too abstract. It doesn’t help when I’m reflecting on how I can become the coaching supervisor - or co-visor, as I prefer it[3] - that I aspire to be.

For my own development and that of the coaches I work with, I’ve found it more useful to think in terms of ‘How I am, is how I co-vise’. How I am, in the sense of how I behave - what I say and do - is what my clients experience when they work with me. Beyond what I remember, I learn more about it through my clients’ responses and feedback, from video recordings, and from my reflections, post-meeting and with my supervisor. Often most revealing are my moments of perplexity[4] and raised emotion. What happened? What caused that misstep (or breakthrough!) and how did I respond? What did I not see?

Behaviour, in the sense I mean here, is the distillation of innumerable habits of body and mind - thoughts, emotions and actions, many of which we may hardly be aware of - into what we end up saying and doing. Any given situation, e.g. a client who becomes gripped by emotion, will trigger in us a pattern of thoughts and feelings learned from our experience of responding to that emotion in the past. The more experience we have of similar situations, the richer our choice of behavioural options, especially if we have taken the time to reflect on and learn from each one. Sometimes, though, we realise that our existing repertoire is not enough. We have to think of different, more effective ways of doing things.

Our behaviour can also be influenced by patterns of relational behaviour learned in childhood - our so-called attachment pattern[5]. An example is the habit of putting our clients’ needs before own own, even at the expense of our own well-being. It can be even more marked when we’re under stress, when we might abruptly revert to more uncontrolled, primitive behaviours from early in life, e.g. a sudden feeling of incompetence or helplessness in the face of someone we see as an authority figure. These are not behaviours we can easily think our way out of. They require a deeper understanding of the thoughts and emotions we were experiencing when we first learned them so that we can work out more constructive ways of responding.

When it comes to actually changing our behaviour, insight is not enough. Learning a new behaviour is hard work. First we must specify the desired behaviour, along with a narrative powerful enough to motivate the change. Then we need to rehearse, road-test and refine it until we feel confident of the difference it will make. After that, it’s a matter of practice, at every opportunity. Like learning a musical instrument, it involves literally changing the brain, laying down and reinforcing new neural pathways until they become fully embodied. Only then will it become a habit which we can integrate into a new ‘How I am’.

Each new habit will, hopefully, bring us a step closer to excellence in that behaviour. Then, of couse, there will always be another perplexity to take us round the loop again, spurring us on in the never-ending quest for mastery.

Originally published in Coaching at Work, Volume 15 (5) Sept/Oct 2020, p. 16.

[1] Will Durant (originally published 1926) ‘The Story of Philosophy,’ paraphrasing Aristotle. [2] Edna Murdoch in Murdoch, E. and Arnold, J. (eds.) (2013) ‘Full Spectrum Supervision: Who you are, is how you supervise’ p xxvii. [3] See my case for rebranding supervision as co-vision: Campion, H. (2020) ‘A Shift in Terminology’In Coaching at Work, Vol 15 Issue 3, pp18/19. [4] Perplexity: ‘doubt due to being in a situation whose full character is undetermined’. See Bachkirova, T. and Borrington, S. (2019) Old wine in new bottles: Exploring pragmatism as a philosophical framework for the discipline of coaching. In Academy of Management Learning & Education, Vol. 18, No. 3. [5] See Campion, H. (2020) ‘Use of Attachment Theory’. In: Lucas, M. (ed.) '101 Coaching Supervision Techniques, Approaches, Enquiries and Experiments', No 38, p 108. Also: Brown, P. Hasani, S. & Campion, H. (2019) ‘Neurobehavioural Supervision: Applied Neuroscience in the context of Coaching Supervision'. In: Birch, J. & Welch.P (eds.) 'Coaching Supervision: Advancing Practice, Changing Landscapes', Chapter 3.

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