Supervising versus Coaching

supervising versus coachingMost of us have grown up in a world where we are either a supervisor or we are being supervised. Think about it…our parents supervised us, our teachers in school supervised us, our bosses supervised us. Perhaps we became the parent, teacher or boss, thus stepping into the supervising role ourselves. But when you become a coach, how do you navigate the competing demands of supervising versus coaching?

A supervisor is usually the one coming up with the vision, mission and direction. Although they may solicit help from others, because the buck stops with them, supervisors are the ones who clarify goals and objectives. Supervisors are usually the ones who call the meeting, set the agenda, and direct the conversation.

Supervising versus Coaching

As the idea and function of coaching is becoming more popular, supervisors are beginning to review and reconfigure their roles in their organization. Pastors and network leaders are also being challenged to take on more of a coaching role. The question arises “Can supervisors be coaches?”

The very nature of coaching is the antithesis to supervising. The coach’s role is specifically to not set the vision, goals or agenda. It is the one being coached who does this. The coach is called to come along side to help someone else discover God’s agenda for their life and ministry and help to see that become a reality. As coaches, our role is not to tell people where they’re going or what they need to do, or even to answer their questions. Rather it is to ask good questions to help them discover the path for themselves. Furthermore, a coach doesn’t decide the goals ahead of time and come to the coaching session to solicit help with the coach’s goals. A good coach must lay aside his or her own goals and allow the person being coached to develop those goals.

Another challenge in supervising versus coaching is that the supervisor usually holds the purse strings. In many cases, the supervisor has power over the subordinate in relation to their salary or even in keeping their job. Because of this, as a subordinate, we hesitate to share the things we struggle with either personally or in our ministry role.

I have found this especially true in coaching church planters whose salary depends on success and is often tied very closely to expectations of performance. They feel more free to share their challenges with a coach who has no strings attached to their finances.

Coaching Plus Supervision

So, can you coach those for whom you are also supervising? We all wear different ‘hats’ even in a given situation. If we are clear and intentional about which hat we are wearing, it is possible to function in different roles with the same people. At the very least we can begin to focus more on helping people discover their own path rather than directing them onto ours.

coach_modelHowever the challenge of supervising versus coaching remains. You will need to evaluate your own role and personal expectations and consider each relationship on its own merit. In some cases you will do well to encourage the coachee to find a different coach while you remain as supervisor. The same considerations need to be evaluated if you are looking for a coach.

The coaching tool below will help you evaluate where you stand in the roles of supervising versus coaching:

Supervising and Coaching Evaluation

Consider the different roles of the supervisor and the coach:

1) Which list exemplifies your present role?

2) How would you like your role to change?

3) Which relationships do you feel you could successfully coach?

4) In which relationships do you need to remain primarily in the supervisory role?


  • Clarifies and articulates the vision
  • Develops goals to achieve vision
  • Solicits help from those they supervise
  • Sets the agenda for the meeting
  • Operates in a ‘telling’ mode
  • Answers questions
  • Gives advice


  • Asks questions to help coachee clarify vision
  • Asks to help coachee develop goals
  • Works with coachees to see them to accomplish goals accomplish their own goals.
  • Asks coachee to set agenda
  • Asks questions
  • Helps coachees discover their own answers
  • Points coachee toward resources

Jeannette Buller Slater has been a coach since 1984. She offers executive coaching for pastors and church planters. Learn more about Jeanette at