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Handbook of Positive Supervision (Book Review)

By on April 6, 2015 – 10:20 am  4 Comments

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives (Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.



According the the Merriam-Webster dictionary, supervision is “the action or process of watching and directing what someone does or how something is done.”

Supervision means feedback. So necessary for continuing improvement. Often so hard to swallow.

Here are some of the things I have wanted from managers who have supervised my performance:

  • Awareness of what I’m already doing well so that I can keep doing it
     
  • Awareness of what to practice, try, or alter to raise my performance to another level
     
  • Energy to move forward

Thinking back on my experiences with supervision, it seems that my managers were strongest on what to change, weak-to-moderate on what to keep doing, and often abysmal on stimulating energy. Some performance reviews were downright disheartening.

But sometimes I got really fine feedback. When that happened, I felt seen. I felt validated. I couldn’t wait to stretch towards even better performance.

How do people learn to give energy-enhancing feedback? In my field there was no training and no oversight. People with good human intuition probably get it right enough times to learn by accident. But isn’t that a rather haphazard way to learn one of the most important management skills?

So with that in mind, I picked up Fredrike Bannink’s book, Handbook of Positive Supervision wondering who it was for. Was it just for supervisors of therapists supervising other therapists? That’s the background of the author. Or could it be a training manual for teachers mentoring other teachers, lawyers overseeing other lawyers, engineers managing other engineers, and parents raising children? That is, could it be used by anyone to help someone else get better at a craft, a profession, a skill? I leave that question open, but I think you’ll see that I favor the wider view of its usefulness.

“Research shows that monkeys learn more from their successes than their mistakes. … This is due to the fact that a monkey’s brain constructs new neural networks when monkeys perform tasks in which they are successful. … In the case of failures no neural networks are being built.”

 

 

Thus opens the preface of Fredrike Bannink’s book, Handbook of Positive Supervision.

This short book packs a great deal of information into twelve chapters and 8 appendices. The running narrative is supported by 28 brief case stories of application, numbered and marked with a grey bar so that they are easy to find quickly.

Admittedly these are stories of therapists supervising other therapists either in mentor or peer relationships. But the human content is not hard to translate into other situations. Take case 19 on pride for example:

“Two years after concluding supervision, I came across my supervisee at a conference. He told me the following story. On the way home after the last session he was thinking about how he could apply what he had learned when at home. He came up with an idea and since that time, each night when he puts his three children to bed, he asks them what made them proud that day. It is now a daily ritual in which the children also ask him what he was proud of. … He added that this ritual keeps him alert during the day with “What can I tell my children this evening?” When nothing comes to mind that makes him proud that day, he uses the opportunity to do something about it.”

There are also 37 exercises set off in boxes. I looked at these wondering, “Who could use them?” I’ll give an example and invite you to answer that question:

Exercise 15: Proof of Competence: Ask your supervisees what they see as the best way for you as their supervisor to collect proof of their competence. What should you, as their supervisor, pay attention to? What, according to them, can you do to achieve this? How would they like to receive your feedback?

Imagine what you might learn!

So let’s take a brief tour of the first 10 chapters to see what Dr. Bannink covers. The last two chapters are supervisee stories and an epilog.

  • Part 1: Theory
    1. Supervision: In table 1, the differences between traditional and positive supervision are illustrated with 24 contrasting pairs of question, such as “What do you want to get away from?” versus “Where do you want to go to?” and “Why did you do that?” versus “How did you know you had to do that?” All of these questions could show up in any kind of supervisory situation.
       
    2. Positive supervision has its roots in positive psychology and in solution-focused brief therapy. Both share a health focus instead of an illness focus. Bannink makes the point that these two fields share many things and yet are relatively unknown to each other. She brings both under the same roof, so to speak.
  • Part 2: Practical Applications
    1. Goal formulation starts the partnership, with supervisors inviting supervisees to voice what they want to achieve in the supervision. I loved the comparison of the supervisor to a taxi driver. If someone gets in your cab and doesn’t know where he wants to go, you don’t just start driving. Nor can you accept, “Well, I don’t want to go to the airport,” (“I don’t want to procrastinate.”) as your destination. She explores ways to ask questions to help the person get a clearer picture of the destination.
       
    2. Finding competence starts with asking, “What works already?” This chapter includes 19 ways to find competencies, including exploring VIA strengths, finding exceptions to problems, and looking from the outside in. This chapter even discusses ways to help someone who cannot see strengths in his or her own performance.
       
    3. Making progress includes encouraging a growth mindset and asking questions like, “What will be a sign that you’ve made progress?” and “What will be your next small step?” This chapter includes 20 specific ways to work on progress.
       
    4. Reflection supports getting better by paying attention. Among 22 applications for paying attention, she describes peers sharing stories about times when they’ve felt things went well and times when they had questions that others in the group might be able to illuminate. I belong to a coaching group where we have best practices calls like this. They are invaluable for learning. Is there a way that you could introduce peer exchanges into your environment?
       
    5. Follow-up sessons describes a protocol for follow-up sessions, where the purpose is “to ask questions about the time between the sessions in such a way that one can discern some progress.” Bannink also discusses the difference between behavior change and behavior maintenance.
       
    6. Working relationship explores the quality of the relationship between the person supervising and the person being supervised with some ideas for handling situations where there is stagnation or failure. One of my favorite parts of this chapter is the comparison of “Yes, but” with “Yes, and” sentences.
       
    7. Important issues in positive supervision covers practical matters such as agreements, agendas, homework, reports, and reporting to third parties which may be more useful to coaches and therapists than workplace supervisors.
       
    8. Twenty-two frequently asked questions. This is a wonderful resource because it faces directly all the fears that a new supervisor might have about this approach, acknowledging them and offering practical advice. Here some examples:
      • “What if my supervisee has no goal?”
      • “What if my supervisee cannot name any personal strengths?”
      • “What if my supervisee returns to problem-talk all the time?”

      Thus Bannink anticipates places where you might find yourself getting stumped.

  • The 8 appendices include forms, rating scales, protocols, and questionnaires that support the mission of the book.

I first encountered Fredrike Bannink at a conference where she was leading a workshop on positive supervision. We tried out some of her exercises in groups and pairs. I remember being impressed by her gentleness, her realism, her practicality, and her humor. She had seen and handled all the problems that people raised. I thought, “I would love to learn from this woman.”

Now I have the chance with this wonderful resource.

 


 

Bannink, F. (2014, December). Handbook of Positive Supervision for Supervisors, Facilitators, and Peer Groups. Hogrefe Publishing.

Bannink, F. (2014). Post Traumatic Success: Positive Psychology & Solution-Focused Strategies to Help Clients Survive & Thrive. W. W. Norton. Some of the same wisdom applied to handling trauma.

4 Comments »

  • Senia says:

    Thank you. I got so many good suggestions from your summary of the chapters, Kathryn.

    Energy-enhancing feedback.
    What a great goal.

  • Lesley Lyle says:

    Thanks for a great book review Kathryn. After reading this I immediately bought the book. I am trained in solution based therapy, Clinical Hypnosis DipHE and MAPP and laughter therapy. I really appreciate that there is now a book that brings these elements together and presents them clearly. I look forward to reading this book and finding more practical ways to help people focus on ways to attain positive change in their life. Thank you Dr. Fredrike Bannink for sharing your wisdom.

  • Dear Kathryn,

    Thank you very much for your wonderful review of my book. Much appreciated!
    Would you by any chance have the time to also use your great review for amazon.com?
    Warmly, Fredrike

  • Homaira says:

    Thank you Kathryn for such a clear and insightful review. I may not have stopped to look at Dr. Fredrike’s book because of the title but now realize how desperately I need it in my personal life!

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