Coaching for emotionally intelligent leadership

The emotional intelligence of leaders heavily impacts the success of a company and the extent to which its employees thrive


The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated existing gaps in connection and performance among teams for many businesses. Rebuilding stronger teams in the coming months will mean cementing relations more effectively. Emotional intelligence (EI) is integral, addressing thoughts and feelings that otherwise disrupt productivity.

In this article, I explore the impact of coaching on building emotional intelligence in leaders and harnessing momentum in teams. I also suggest two tools that can be used to recognise emotions, start non-judgemental conversations, support behavioural changes and open communication.

Impact of coaching on emotional intelligence

The emotional intelligence of leaders heavily impacts the success of a company and the extent to which its employees thrive. Research supports this and illustrates the impact of EI on employee satisfaction and bottom-line revenue.

It almost goes without saying that without understanding and working with their own and other people’s emotions, leaders stifle success.

Coaching brings thoughts and feelings to the surface, creating an understanding of emotional currents that lie under the surface. From here, leaders can learn to influence behaviours and outcomes.

Accessing emotions

Self-awareness is the first pillar of emotional intelligence. Being conscious of one’s own emotions allows one to consider how they impact those around one. This was exemplified to me by a client I recently worked with.

Jo found herself working hard and putting in long hours, despite the available resources to prevent this. To separate her tangled web of feelings, I asked her to create “a wheel of emotions.” This is a simple circle divided into eight segments, each labelled with a particular emotion. Considering them individually, Jo could rate their strength on a scale of 0 – 10.

The ‘wheel’ created a visual representation of how she was feeling, allowing her to engage other areas of her brain and begin to find practical solutions. Her highest-rated area was anxiety, wherein which she scored nine, and the lowest was energy, rated as three. Once the wheel was completed, we considered the causes and set goals to make small behavioural changes between our coaching sessions.

While reviewing after three months, Jo could see real progress had been made. She re-evaluated her energy levels at five and her anxiety at seven. She could also see that her behavioural shifts had set off a ripple of changes throughout her team.

Influencing relationships

Part of the power of coaching lies in its ability to allow one to place oneself in someone else’s shoes. It can allow one to think and feel as another person does, rather than just observing their perspective from a distance. I’ll illustrate the potential of this with another case study which presents the tool of ‘Perceptual Positions’.

Kerry was part of a high-potential leadership programme. Whilst incredibly keen, her confidence was brittle, and, as a result, she felt the need to be ‘across everything.’ This resulted in her working longer and feeling anxious, with the potential to cause early leadership burnout. A key area of anxiety was her relationship with Evelyn, who had been in the department longer but seemed reluctant to contribute ideas or take any responsibility.

How the Perceptual Positions tool worked

Step 1 – Standing in position 1, I asked Kerry to describe her thoughts and feelings about her role as vividly as possible. I asked questions that took her below the surface of events to uncover her emotions without getting into the narrative.

Step 2 – I asked Kerry to physically move to stand in position 2, dissociate from herself, and adopt Evelyn’s physical space and perspective. I now addressed my questions to Evelyn and asked what she was experiencing, thinking, and feeling.

Step 3 – When Kerry felt she had exhausted the position of Evelyn, I asked her to move to position 3 and adopt the perspective of a detached, objective observer. She chose to be Rahul, her immediate line manager. In this position, I asked her to comment on what had been said and his thoughts on the situation. Did Rahul have any insights to give to Kerry?

Step 4 – Finally, I asked Kerry to walk back to the first position, bringing all the new knowledge she had gained. I then asked her to look towards the second position and talk through what had changed in her thinking.

By coaching Kerry to ‘be’ the other person, she could change her perspective on her behaviour. She realised that her need to feel that she was covering everything was intended to give her confidence in case she was asked what was happening in her team. However, she felt micro-managed and untrusted when standing in Evelyn’s shoes and experiencing Evelyn’s thoughts and emotions. In a beautiful ‘a-ha’ moment, she understood that Evelyn likely saw little point in taking the initiative —she may as well wait for Kerry to tell her what to do.

Perceptual Positions is an incredibly valuable coaching tool because it gives insight into how it feels to be another person, and it offers a new perspective on the motivations for their actions.

It was important for Kerry to recognise her emotions first before she could understand what Evelyn was feeling. Through coaching, Kerry increased her emotional awareness, which had a ripple effect within the team. Evelyn started to feel valued and became braver to take action and contribute ideas.

This is just one example of how coaching can truly develop emotional intelligence and change how people work together. It is also a tool to pinpoint and resolve problems before they erupt.

Individual leaders can substantially impact the success of a company and the extent to which its employees thrive. Emotional intelligence can be increased at all career stages and is pivotal in productivity, retention, and business success. As we move towards a future in which work is more remote, keeping teams connected, engaged and creative means ensuring that employees feel seen and understood. Having a high level of emotional intelligence will become an increasingly important part of successful leadership; one-to-one coaching has been proven to deliver significant and long-lasting benefits in developing this crucial skill.

Employees managed by leaders with high emotional intelligence are four times more likely to leave their company. Coach your leaders today to improve productivity and the retention rate

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai, and ICF Pune.

The author, Helen Burgess is an executive coach and expert in leadership development. She has first-hand experience in training, consultancy and coaching within various public, private and not for profit organisations. Her mission is to make ‘fulfilment at work’ possible for everyone to maximise their potential and go on to deliver great things. She started her career on the Marks & Spencer graduate-leadership scheme before establishing her own travel business and becoming director of membership for a large travel consortium. On Point Coaching was established in 2016 after Burgess completed her PG Cert in business and personal coaching.

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