Peter Welch, award-winning co-founder of the Association of Coach Supervisors, has a passion for self-directed learning. It’s shaping his latest multi-agency venture – creating ethical guidelines for coaching supervisors. Liz Hall reports
One wet Tuesday in Sussex more than a decade ago, self-directed learning advocate Peter Welch was in a coach networking session listening to an Irish woman talking about coaching supervision. Suddenly the penny dropped – coaching supervision was the missing link.
Looking back at that lightbulb moment, Welch says, “People talk glibly about aha moments. Well, I did have one. Boom! I suddenly saw the link! There’s the client and maybe the client’s organisation behind them and here’s the coach, and [coaching supervision] was the missing link. Ah! That’s what the supervisor’s there for, to make sure both parties are being looked after, and their needs are being met, and the coach does their best work by supporting [the client]. Maybe it’s a dull aha moment in some people’s eyes, but for me it was very important.”
The woman talking was Edna Murdoch, co-founder of Coaching Supervision Academy (CSA).
Fast forward to 2019, and it’s been quite a year for Welch, with a string of coaching supervision related achievements. In addition to winning the Coaching at Work Contributions to Coaching Supervision Award 2019, the not-for-profit Association of Coach Supervisors (AOCS) he co-founded celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and through the AOCS Welch is devising new ethical guidelines for coaching supervisors – rather than codes of ethics – with the Association for Coaching (AC) and others, which are planned for a 2019 launch.
Meanwhile, his co-edited book (Birch & Welch, 2019) on coaching supervision hit the shelves in May and with Jo Birch (who was Highly Commended in the same category in the Coaching at Work Awards this year), he’s launching Evolution Dialogue groups and pairs, “a dialogue-based forum for deeper coach supervision conversations”, to keep the theme of changing landscapes in coaching supervision from their book moving forward.
He and colleagues from the AOCS regularly contribute to the Future of Coaching Collaboration (FCC) group.
In addition, he works with team and individual coaching clients, as well as group and individual coaching supervision clients. He’s also been involved in projects, including acting as a volunteer coach supervisor for internal coaches supporting the executive leadership programme within The British Heart Foundation.
Looking back at that encounter with Murdoch, Welch recalls, “I rushed up there, first in the queue with my business card, and I said, Edna you must come into my life, and would you form a supervision group with the coaches I know?”
The encounter gave birth to a professional peer supervision group in Lewes, Sussex, led by Murdoch for a number of years. Although she’s stepped down, the group is still running. “It’s a really nice quality network with some deeply experienced coaches who really know their stuff. It became a rich learning format where people really trusted each other and themselves to be vulnerable, and could say, ‘I really screwed up today’, ‘I don’t know what the hell is going on, can someone help me unravel it?’ ”
A handful of members, including Welch, went on to qualify with CSA.
“I strapped myself in on the CSA programme, which is absolutely fantastic. I thought I was pretty good – I’d had multinational learning experiences, I was a coach, I’d mentored. Then we were doing all sorts of things – doing peer triads. I realised I didn’t know much at all!”
“After we’d qualified, someone asked, what next? We decided to get together and form a network of coach supervisors, not to replicate the work that fine providers like CSA offer…[to] start on a different premise, attracting experienced qualified supervisors. Let’s be a broad church and not align ourselves with any particular body, an independent voice.”
The AOCS seeks to promote coaching worldwide, raise standards, create a greater share of voice for coaching supervision and help people find qualified supervisors easily.
“We created this platform to promote supervision and supervisors, our members, to the world of coaches, mentors and latterly OD. We’re really there as a middle ground – we don’t broker or make any money ourselves. We don’t have any crowdfunding or beneficiaries. So we’re a small slice of a bigger pizza and we like that. We don’t want to rule the world but grow organically as the market wants us.”
The ethical guidelines he’s working on through the AOCS are based on core principles, values and current research, and aim to develop supervisors’ ethical maturity when supporting clients with ethical dilemmas.
Welch’s passion for learning and development, particularly if it’s self-directed, spans most of his career. Thought leadership’s in there too.
“By nature, I’m a developer of myself and people and the organisations and networks they’re part of. I automatically gravitate towards developing, also bringing a bit of thought leadership in if I can, something new, connecting a lot of those dots together so it becomes more than it already is. I don’t try to craft it, it just happens.”
Another theme in Welch’s career is customer service, which was engrained in his first career in the hotel business.
“When you come from the south west of England as I do, it’s basically farming, fishing and the hotel business – there were limited career options so I got into the hospitality sector. I worked in Gleneagles hotel [Scotland], which was fantastic. What all that bred in me was a real customer service ethos because the customer is right in front of you, there’s nowhere to hide! I worked my way up to four-star hotels.”
He then joined American Express, his next “big career jump”, which further embedded a commitment to customer service, as well as offering plenty of learning opportunities. At one point he was L&D manager at American Express Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“[At American Express, it was] also about customer service. I landed on my feet and was very happy there. Multinationals take their pound of flesh and work you hard but you get fantastic learning back. I look at my
14 years there as a learning crucible.”
During his time at American Express, we launched learning centres, designed fantastic learning and development programmes, “which really makes you understand the learning concept behind all that”.
“We were offering Open University programmes with coaching support – we launched a mentoring programme.”
He was then offered a position in marketing and sales in the organisation, ending up looking after big names such as Harrods. He became retail industry marketing manager, looking after high-end fashion outlets to big names,
learning about marketing and, again, customer service.
He then decided to leave corporate life, and for more than 20 years has been an independent consultant, coach and facilitator.
“I wanted to get back to doing something for me and scaling it down. The opportunity came to do something with my business and I took some time out to think about it. I sat on Brighton beach and thought about it a lot. I thought, you know what, I’d love to launch my own consultancy but don’t want it to be ‘same as, same as’, so I did an MA at Brighton University, which was fantastic, really stretchy, all about organisational learning… the concepts, facilitation, mentoring, coaching, OD and so on. Putting bits together which I needed after corporate life – I didn’t want to just repeat the experience.”
After that, he joined up with a “good buddy of mine”, Ian Mackenzie, also Brighton-based, and managed to
“lure him over into launching Learning Navigators, a learning development concept”.
“It was in the early days of blended learning in the late 80s and early 90s. There wasn’t much e-learning and what there was, was pretty poor. So, we designed and ran blended learning programmes and coaching was a big part of the mix, with learning modules and one-to-one learning with a coach to make it stick.”
The consultancy was successful for a decade, working with national and local government, and the private sector, but “over time, we got overtaken by some of the big players” so they decided to fold.
Since then he’s worked with executives and senior managers across private, public and voluntary sectors, including multi-cultural organisations. Since 2006, he’s offered coaching, team coaching and coaching supervision, the latter both individually and in supervision groups.
Given his high exposure, immersion and expertise in the field of L&D, why does he rate coaching highly? Sustainability and high impact are among the reasons.
“You can get a lot of impact with organisations when you run a big programme. People like coming together with their peers…it’s ‘edu-tainment’, you’ve got to make it funny and be on your toes and interesting, and tell stories about change and transition and make it live. And people usually wake up to that. But of course that diminishes once they leave and go back to their day job.
“[In his consultancy] we were trying to get [programme participants] to engage at a deeper level with what that transition or change meant for them. For example, we did some work for local government and we had the 15-16 senior execs from chief exec down, and everyone had an individual coach and a learning plan so they had to apply it to their own unique situations with their own teams and their own strategic objectives and they were measured on that.
“And the coaching followed it up and made sure there was nowhere to run and hide. It makes it highly measurable. People talk about ROI – we were doing it back in the early 90s and we had the results to prove it.”
In terms of stickiness of learning: “If you like it, you learn it and you adapt and it sticks; if you don’t, it doesn’t. It’s down to the individual really.”
However, he admits that sometimes, “when you walk away, you’re left not knowing if it’s still sustainable. But with coaching, you can get a big impact in a short amount of time, and you can really get a significant amount of change with individuals, whether it’s with performance, or developing people’s talents for the next level, or settling them into a promotion.
“I really enjoy working with individuals, particularly senior executives, where you can be quite a catalyst for change by igniting them and getting them to suddenly say, ‘Wow, I want to rush out and do it’. That’s the high five moment you get in coaching, and I love it.”
Another reason why he went into coaching is because with the earlier consultancy work, “you’ve got to do lots of boring submissions of tenders, you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to get in the beauty line-up, go to bed early, wash your hair and you still don’t get the work! It’s a bit of a tiring world, consultancy.”
He’s been an accredited member of the AC since 2010 (MAC status), gained an NCFE Diploma in Performance Coaching in 2005, a Diploma & accreditation in Coaching Supervision in 2008 from the CSA (programme accredited by ESQA), and a Certificate in Team Coaching and Supervision from the Bath Consultancy in 2015.
Various members of his family have had a big influence on Welch.
“My parents were quite social, they used to organise bridge congresses and host dinners. And when you’re around people who are gregarious, it rubs off. So I have a lot to thank them for.
It helps with communication later on.
“I had two fantastic brothers, sadly both not here. One, who died in June 2018, lived in Spain. He was the guitarist of the family – I taught him guitar and he ended up being better than me. He was like a really good long-time friend. He looked after me a lot when I was little and did a few things to protect me and set me on the right path. I owe a lot to him. He travelled all over the world, in the Merchant Navy then privately, then became a musician and DJ. He was a massive influence on me, and I think me on him too.”
Other influences include Michael Carroll. “He is Mr Supervision, he embodies it, his legacy still carries on and I still draw on it. He is so warm and humanistic and so open. I hadn’t seen anyone so open. He embraces everything, just pulls it in and it goes through him. Lovely how he takes stuff and doesn’t stop and deals with it. It’s more of a feeling really.”
Others include former Coaching at Work Award winners Robin Shohet (for Contributions to Coaching Supervision) and Edna Murdoch (Lifetime Achievement Award).
“Robin Shohet is another giver, [these people] don’t always get the recognition. And Edna Murdoch is so rounded and generous.
“It’s corny to say we stand on the shoulders of giants, but we do. We wouldn’t be here unless they’d done that pioneering work.”
At the time of going to press, the AOCS was seeking a new chair to succeed Katharine Long’s three-year tenure. “[The person] needs to have international credibility, be an advocate of coach supervision and come with a superb network of global contacts,” says Welch.
“We’re up to about 160 members. It’s interesting how it’s coming about. Clearly there’s some appetite there. We revamped the website and that’s working really well. People like the independent stance.”
One target market is that of internal coaches and coach supervisors.
“People are getting the message about quality, self care and support. I’ve taught internal coaches and I know some have an incredibly difficult time of it. They’re pushed and pulled all over the place and there’s a lot of pressure inside organisations to reveal what’s going on and all the issues that you hear from coaching come up with a supervisor. There’s a lot to deal with. So what we’re trying to do is provide a resource for those coaches and mentors.”
The AOCS is also going to pilot more virtual learning events and platforms to engage people round the world on whatever time zone they’re on.
In terms of Welch’s professional legacy, the book he’s co-edited with Birch will be part of his legacy, as will the dialogue forums mentioned earlier. The book’s accompanied by a group, called Advancing Coaching Supervision, and a website, “about working in this changing landscape, evolutionary stuff coming out of supervision, who’s pushing frontiers? We want dialogue groups, so it’s a little bit different to the usual approach. We’re trying to do something new but testing it out – a bit like a learning lab idea.
“And we already have another book hatching, Changing Landscapes 2, which hopefully will also be edgy and uncomfortable to read [like the first one]. If it doesn’t provoke anything, why are you reading it?
Welch has recently moved from the busy south east of England to rural Shropshire. When we spoke, he shared, “I’m looking over lovely hills and valleys right now. My wife and I do a lot of walking. And photography.
“I also do a lot of reading. Cooking is important to me too. My wife and I try to learn new dishes, including vegetarian and from the Middle East, and cook for each other, which is a nice thing to do.
“Music’s important too. My dad used to play a bit of kit drum and piano, and my brother played guitar, and I’ve been in a few bands, touring. Not pop but world music. I’ve got into West African drumming – Djenbé – and I go regularly to West Africa and learn with the masters. You sit under a tree, and go swimming in the ocean, but you work very hard – it’s amazing.”
He does the odd gig locally and teaches too, running a drumming group. His coaching background of course helps. He’s also run some corporate drumming workshops.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about learning and having fun and accessing something you wouldn’t normally access.”
References and further information
- J Birch and P Welch (Eds), Coaching Supervision: Advancing Practice, Changing Landscapes, Routledge, 2019 http://tiny.cc/xhchaz
- The AOCS www.associationofcoachingsupervisors.com
- Coaching Supervision Academy https://coachingsupervisionacademy.com
- Evolution Dialogue www.advancingcoachsup.com
- Peter Welch www.associationofcoachingsupervisors.com