• Mark Ames

Leadership coaching for emotional intelligence and personal resilience

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

I worked in Student Services leadership roles in further and higher education for 35 years. In July 2020, I embarked on a new career in leadership coaching. In this post, I describe the contribution leadership coaching can make to the development of emotionally intelligent and resilient leadership.

When I reflect on my own leadership experience, it was often the relationships with colleagues that I found the most professionally and personally challenging aspects of my role. In The New Leaders (2002), Boyatzis, Goleman and McKee highlight the importance of the emotionally intelligent leadership competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Although intelligence and technical skills remain important, leadership roles also require people who can work well with others, perform effectively in high-pressure situations and deal calmly with emotive issues.

In my first leadership role, I found myself working with a number of more experienced colleagues who already had deep misgivings about my predecessor and now saw me as inexperienced and not up to the job. They may well have had a point; though every leadership journey has to start somewhere and none of them had applied for the role. I tried hard to understand and meet their expectations of me as their manager. However, there was little, if any, acknowledgement of the progress made and always some new source of dissatisfaction. Despite the support of my line manager who had also found members of this team challenging to work with, it became clear I needed additional support.

I began working with a leadership coach who helped me start to transform my understanding, approach and effectiveness as a leader. I began to realise how emotionally dependent I was on trying to make things okay for others, even when their demands were unreasonable. I also started to understand better how at least some of the dissatisfactions being expressed by my colleagues were to do with a wider set of their personal and professional issues. These insights were arrived at through the coach enabling me to reflect on and reframe my direct experience which, in turn, allowed me to devise and experiment with new ways of managing myself and relationships with others.

Although not a panacea, this experience helped set some important foundations for my ongoing leadership development. I learned how to be less reactive and more considered in responding to the wide range of challenges any leader faces. This approach has also supported my own wellbeing and resilience, as I have learned how to set and evaluate myself against more reasonable expectations. The role of my various leadership coaches over the years has been vital in helping me gain new insights into myself and others which might otherwise have remained in my sub-conscious yet still impacted adversely on my leadership behaviour. I am now able to incorporate these insights and experience into my own work as a leadership coach.

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