Coaching Models and Emotional Intelligence

(See my challenge at the end!) Twenty-five years ago, I was beginning my evolution from psychotherapist to executive coach. I had a lot of thinking and learning to do. That need became apparent as I tried to imagine going to an organization to offer coaching services. The following very short conversation came to mind:

Dana: “I’d like to offer my services to your company as a coach to your senior leaders.”

Decision Maker: “Really! That’s interesting. We’re actually in the market. How do you go about your coaching? What is your focus?”

Dana: “Ummm.”

In response to that nightmarish imagining, I did what all of you have done. I thought about what models I could l use to inform my approach to coaching. Which ones, I wondered, best fit what I wanted to accomplish? I had learned as a therapist that having several models in my repertoire was essential, as no one model fit all situations. As a therapist, I could switch from one model to another when that was what the client needed. I’ve found the same to be true in coaching. Otherwise, every issue becomes a nail to be hammered.

That said, readers of this blog, and my coaching colleagues in the Society of Consulting Psychology and the Society of Psychologists in Leadership, think of me as an EQ coach. Indeed, I adopted EQ as a core offering, but EQ is far from the whole story. Readers of this blog know that it deals with a variety of issues that are not strictly EQ.

There are two reasons why EQ became my starting point. First, I could see its potential for client benefit twenty-five years ago, verified since by thousands of studies that demonstrate that EQ skills are not just a nice-to-have add-on. They don’t just “help” leaders succeed. They are required, in addition to strong intellectual skills. (You need both. EQ doesn’t fix stupid.)

Second, I’ve found that EQ skills are a natural conduit to pretty much all of the issues that we coaches talk about with ourText-image. In light grey in the background, it says EQ over and over again. On top of that in black text it says, "team leadership, supervision, culture change, relationships presentations". clients. In more than half of my coaching meetings, I never mention EQ per se. And yet it is always there.

Let me give you an example: A client took over a leadership team that led a group of 800 employees, after its previous leader was fired. My client was tasked with turning this huge group’s performance around.

My client recognized that he couldn’t turn the group’s performance around alone. He needed to work through his senior leadership team. But it was a team in name only. Its members hardly knew each other. Complicating the situation was the fact that they had loved the failed predecessor, and were resentful of my client for replacing him. My client and I had a team building task on our hands. So we talked a lot about the skills which high performance teams need in order to be successful, and my client asked me to work with the team to help build them.

High performance team models don’t talk about EQ. But EQ underlies those models. For example, successful teams need to have the skill of constructive conflict. Constructive conflict means that everyone wins, that is, everyone gets what he or she needs to be successful. What EQ skills are needed for constructive conflict? At minimum, Empathy, Reality Testing, and Assertiveness. Empathy and Reality Testing are the skills that help you find out what the “other side” needs to win. Assertiveness is the skill that you use to let the “other side” know what you need to win. In the team meetings that I facilitated, I never said something like, “Be sure to use empathy.” The word “EQ” never came out of my mouth. But EQ guided me in working through the team model I was using.

Imagine that you are working with a leader on changing the culture of an organization. That is scary work for the leader and everyone else. You need a model for culture change to guide this work. I suggest that you consult Edgar Schein’s writings. He never talked about EQ. But in executing his model, your client will need the EQ skills of Stress Tolerance, Impulse Control, Optimism, Assertiveness, and Empathy.

Finally, most large organizations have a competency model. In other words, they identify skills which the organization believes its leaders need in order to lead the organization’s work successfully. The Federal Government is a great example. The Office of Personnel Management created the Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs), a guide to what is expected of top-level civil service leaders (members of the Senior Executive Service, or SES). As a part of a project I did with the Federal Government, I mapped the ECQs to the sixteen EQ skills. Here is an example.

The first of five ECQs is Leading Change, which is divided into six components. Review of these components makes it evident that to be skilled at Leading Change, SES members need to be skilled in a variety of EQ skills, as illustrated by part of my map below:

  • Creativity and Innovation – Independence, Flexibility, Self-Regard, Assertiveness, Reality Testing
  • External Awareness – Reality Testing, Empathy, Stress Tolerance
  • Flexibility – Flexibility
  • Resilience – Optimism, Flexibility, Self-Regard, Stress Tolerance, Optimism
  • Strategic Thinking – Problem Solving, Impulse Control, Social Responsibility, Stress Tolerance
  • Vision – Emotional Self Awareness, Self-Regard, Empathy, Assertiveness, Problem Solving

Test the thesis of this post (that EQ underlies everything we coach about) for yourself: Think about a current client and the issues that you and they are working on. Review the sixteen EQ skills. Do you see skills that will help your client succeed? If so, you can point them in that direction. Let’s say Assertiveness would be helpful. If they are already skilled at Assertiveness, point out that this is an opportunity for them to lean on that skill. If it is not a strong point, help them improve their Assertiveness.

You could also try the Competency Model Exercise: What skills does a client organization of yours think are important for its leaders? Look at the sixteen skills again. Identify which EQ skills are needed for each of the leadership skills your client organization has identified. Showing your map to decision makers turns out to be a pretty good way to convince an organization to use your services!

Challenge: Stump the blogger! Send properly disguised write-ups of clients or organizations whose issues you do not believe have an EQ element to our Comments. I’ll try to show how EQ applies. The first one to stump me will get $100. (Purely cognitive issues don’t count, i.e., a math whiz coaching a client on learning matrices, doesn’t get the $100. 😊)

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