This review of Emotional Intelligence Coaching: Improving Performance for Leaders, Coaches and the Individual by Stephen Neale, Lisa Spencer-Arnell and Liz Wilson, Kogan Page, 2009 appeared in Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, Vol 2, No 2, September 2009.
I approached this book with both interest and scepticism. Emotional intelligence was popularised by Daniel Goleman in the mid-1990s and, like many coaches, I have a couple of his books on my shelves. I also regularly give his excellent Harvard Business Review article of March 2000 entitled "Leadership That Gets Results" to my clients to help them understand better the relationship between emotional intelligence and leadership. I have trained in using emotional intelligence psychometrics and I work with my clients to help them develop their "emotional intelligence". As a result, I really should be clear about what emotional intelligence is - and I'm not. So I was interested to see if reading this book would increase my understanding of and clarity about emotional intelligence. Whether it would give me new tools and approaches to help me increase my clients' emotional intelligence and so boost their leadership effectiveness and business performance.
I was sceptical. The term 'emotional intelligence' (called EI throughout the book) is often used as a catch all label for anything to do with our emotions - hence my confusion. So I was wondering whether EI coaching is a distinct activity and approach, or whether it is just a sexy label for what effective coaching should do anyway - which is deal with the whole person: their thoughts, feelings, emotions, intuitions, imagination, needs and physical presence.
The Introduction was encouraging, claiming "never before have EI and coaching been brought together in this way to help you develop your own and/or other people's performance". However, the intended audience is broad and it is clear that the book is aimed at those relatively new to coaching. As the authors say "whether you are an HR manager or director, a company leader or a manager, a coach, trainer or consultant, or interested in people development or people being the best they can be, then this book is for you". It also became clear that the book is primarily about helping coaches become more emotionally intelligent - not, as I had hoped, about helping coaches increase their clients' EI.
The book starts by exploring what EI is and provides an enticing list of the advantages of developing your EI - improved relationships, improved communication with others, better empathy skills, acting with integrity, respect from others, improved career prospects, managing change more confidently, fewer power games at work, feeling confident and positive, reduced stress levels, increased creativity, and learning from mistakes.
Neale et al define EI as "the habitual practice of using emotional information from ourselves and other people; integrating this with our thinking; using these to inform our decision making to help us get what we want from the immediate situation and from life in general. They point out that becoming more emotionally intelligent is a challenge because of the underlying structure of the brain. The human brain consists of a reptilian brain (which regulates basic life functions such as breathing and reflexes); a limbic brain (the emotional brain housing our values, beliefs and attitudes and generating the emotions that these trigger); and a neo-cortex which contains the thinking brain. The authors liken the thinking brain to a lion tamer and the emotional brain to a lion. The lion tamer can learn to tame the lion - but the lion is the more powerful animal, and can always take control of a situation if it wants, so must be treated with respect. Importantly, the lion is also much more aware of what is going on within it and around it than is the tamer. The more able the tamer is to use the lion's awareness of what is (as communicated via feelings, intuitions, dreams and physical symptoms), the more able tamer and lion will be to develop an effective working relationship and a successful performance.
Chapter 2 provides a basic introduction to coaching and Chapter 3 links EI and coaching. This chapter also introduces the four TA life positions ("I'm ok, you're ok", "I'm not ok, you're ok, etc"), defining the EI coach as coming from the "I'm ok, you're ok" position as follows:
"The EI coach uses a combination of skills, healthy 'I'm ok, you're ok' attitudes, self- and other awareness and expertise to facilitate the growth and awareness of their coachees. Underlying this skilled facilitation is the positive intention to always strive to be coachee-focused, with the EI coach authentically aiming to use his or her attitudes, awareness and skills to support the coachee in the best possible way."
Most experienced coaches would probably say that they do what is described in this definition, and more, without thinking of themselves as an EI coach. This suggests that the book should be seen as being about helping coaches develop the EI necessary to be an effective coach, rather than being about a distinct kind of coaching called "EI Coaching".
The TA life positions model introduced in this chapter provides a useful framework to explore some of the pathologies of coaching - the submissive coach (I'm not ok, you're ok); the directive coach (I'm ok, youre not ok); and the hopeless coach (I'm not ok, you're not ok).
Chapter 4 presents some evidence for the link between EI and performance, and briefly explores the measurement of ROI. Chapter 5 looks at how the coach can develop their own EI. It provides checklists for the core elements of being emotionally intelligent - self-regard, regard for others, self-awareness, and awareness of others. These are followed by exercises and activities for developing the core EI skills. Stating that our values, beliefs and attitudes all live within the emotional part of the brain, Chapter 6 looks at how to align these in support of the behaviours and actions you want to take.
Chapter 7 covers core coaching skills. The four core EI coaching skills of listening, questioning, empathy and rapport are introduced as is the EI COACH model, the acronym standing for Emotions, Intelligence, Current, Opportunities, Action Change measure and How do you feel now? In essence this seems to be the GROW model preceded by and followed by questions about how the coachee is feeling.
The authors return to values in Chapter 8 and in one of the most practically useful chapters explore the importance of helping coachees connect emotionally with their goals.
Chapter 9 provides a variety of coaching resources (a coaching agreement, code of ethics, coachee preparation form, example coaching questions) and Chapter 10 a useful discussion of ethics and best practice. Appendices contain transcripts of interviews with some figures from the coaching world.
As this summary of the book suggests, there are interesting parts to this book. But ultimately I found it fragmented and felt I had to work hard to get value from it. It does contain useful material but lacks a strong unifying thread.
If you are relatively new to coaching and are looking for a general introduction which includes but does not privilege the emotional domain, then I would recommend other books, for example Effective Coaching by Myles Downey. But if you recognise a specific need in yourself to develop your emotional awareness (whether of your own or others' emotions) and to become more comfortable with emotions in coaching, then I would recommend this book. It will strengthen your ability to use your own feelings and those of your clients more fully in your coaching work.
From a leadership development perspective, one of the key tasks in developing from an Expert to an Achiever action logic (to use the terminology of the Leadership Development Framework) is the development of EI. The Expert action logic is associated with an approach to coaching which focuses primarily on skills development; the Achiever action logic with improving performance and organisational effectiveness. This book would be ideally suited to any coach making the transition to an Achiever action logic and the corresponding coaching approach. It would also provide some useful teaching materials for working with clients making the same transition or seeking to consolidate themselves at the Achiever action logic
As the authors point out early in the book our emotions are often unconscious. I would have liked to have seen more about how to work with these unconscious emotions both in ourselves and in our clients. Whilst one aspect of EI is to access the lion's more subtle awareness, there will be times when the lion runs wild and uncontrolled. How then do we tame him?
In any next edition of this book I would like to see more on taming the lion and on using coaching to develop the EI of the coachee. This would then not be just a useful book for the new coachee but also a valuable contribution to the development of the field of coaching.
Finally, am I clearer about EI, and do I have new tools? I am clearer, in that I have some new frameworks for thinking about EI, though it does remain for me one of those fuzzy, catch-all concepts with unclear boundaries. And though I am not going away with any new tools, the new frameworks do give me some new ways of thinking about my clients and so give me fresh options in my coaching.