Elevating Your EQ: The Coaching Quotient

Spring 2021

By Patricia Alviano and Lara Koretsky

Five years ago, I led a project with Crescent School (Toronto) to define what thriving and being “in flow” look like for employees. The result was the Crescent School Competencies: skills, knowledge, and behaviors that all employees aspire to embody. Among them is emotional intelligence, a competency touted globally as the number one indicator of a leader’s success. I would add that emotional intelligence is the number one driver of all individuals’ success. It speaks to our humanity, which is our ability to understand ourselves and develop strong relationships with others. Crescent defines EQ (emotional quotient) as “the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and well-being, as well as the emotions and wellness of others.” We further break it into the five dimensions that Daniel Goleman, the leading expert on emotional intelligence, created: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Emotional intelligence shows up every day in the stories we tell ourselves, how we interact with others, and our general behavior. EQ is a skill, like many others, that can be learned, practiced, and mastered. Since 2016, we have offered employees at Crescent School both in-person and online workshops on emotional intelligence and the opportunity for employees to be coached by me, a Professional Certified Coach (ICF), to hone their emotional intelligence. More than 20 employees have embraced the opportunity for individual coaching to increase their emotional intelligence.

What Is Coaching, and How Can It Help Build Emotional Intelligence?

According to Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in executive coaching, the definition of coaching is “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

The individuals I work with are at all stages of their professional and leadership careers in education. I support them by coaching them to step into their leadership and break down barriers, both internal and systemic, to achieve their goals. Often, when I work with individuals, I support them to get “unstuck,” to move forward with clarity, impact, and accountability. Coaching has been an incredibly successful modality for honing EQ, furthering leadership, and promoting growth. When coaching for heightened emotional intelligence, I pay particular attention to the client’s ability to recognize their thoughts, behaviors, and triggers. I hold up a figurative mirror so they can see how they may be judging themselves, others, or the situation. That, in turn, impacts their behaviors and their ability to be empathetic and build authentic relationships.

Coaching is a structure that facilitates personal and professional development through an ongoing relationship between coach and client. The client and coach agree that the coaching relationship will be designed together. They will partner as equals in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. There is no master, teacher, or leader. Instead, the coach supports the client to get curious, dig deep, problem-solve, and act. The coach may plant the seed, but the client ensures that the garden is growing. Coaches do this work by asking questions, actively listening, feeding back to clients what they hear and see, and holding the clients as resourceful and competent to act by following what best serves them. This process and methodology drive personal empowerment and accountability.

Coaching is neither advice, therapy, nor counseling. Coaching is also not consulting, teaching, or having the coach provide solutions for the client. Instead, it is a process by which the client and the coach learn and solutions are collectively generated. The client is in charge of how to move forward and what they want to act on. The coach holds up a mirror for the client, providing feedback and offering a structure, space, and accountability for the client to learn, grow, and flourish.

Benefits of Coaching

I have found my coaching work with teachers and leaders to be one of the most effective methods by which they can fully realize their potential, achieve their aspirations, and positively impact their students. Coaching benefits educators in three meaningful ways.

First, while coaches work to champion the clients, they also empower clients to become more self-aware—a key ingredient in EQ—and to react with strength, composure, and confidence, which speak to the element of self-regulation in EQ.

Second, coaching also supports individuals to step into their leadership capabilities. Frequently, we focus on the tasks that sit in front of us, the “to-do list.” Coaching places equal importance on how we show up, who we are, and who we choose to be. I often ask my clients, “How do you want to show up at this moment? Who do you want to show up as, and what qualities do you want to embody?” Knowing one’s value also allows one to respond to others with empathy and clarity, leading to stronger relationships. For teachers, this practice can be embedded in how they show up in the classroom, how they interact with their students, and who they want to be remembered as.

Third, a coach acts as a champion and serves as an accountability partner, refocusing efforts, holding the client as competent and whole with the ability to act upon that individual’s statements. My clients often leave my office with “homework,” which allows them to further their goals and understand their purpose concerning their work and how they show up. It increases another key element of EQ—motivation. Defining what they are doing and how it relates to their sense of meaning helps establish motivation and purpose in their personal and professional lives.

Frequently, we find ourselves getting in our own way and creating barriers to our success. While some of the obstacles can be real, others are imagined and internalized. This is not to fault individuals for their perceptions but rather to help them notice when they may be creating obstacles for themselves. We all hear “voices in our heads,” many of them negative, telling us we can’t do something or that how we showed up wasn’t good enough. The reality is that those voices are our saboteurs. In ancient times, they might have helped us survive, realizing potential threats in our midst. Over time, we as a species have evolved, and now many of those threats are imagined, yet our saboteurs still speak to us as if they are trying to protect us. Instead, we need to tap into the voice of our inner leader who knows our wisdom, who understands our strength, and who has infinite self-compassion, the ability to problem-solve and act creatively. I work with employees to notice when the saboteur’s voice is loud and to create and fully develop who their inner leaders are so that they can call on them at any point to take over the narrative. When one becomes more aware of the saboteurs, one can learn to respond with self-empathy and self-regulation.

Over the last two years, Patricia Alviano, learning support specialist and newly appointed Assistant Head of Middle School, has been a client of mine. In this article, we share our journey, as coach and client, to demonstrate the power that professional coaching in education plays in building emotional intelligence—to ensure that leaders become more attuned to themselves, and teachers are able to reflect their learning with students. 

Patricia’s story:

Coaching played a vital role in elevating my emotional intelligence, and, as a result, I was motivated to embed coaching conversations into my teaching practice. The following are three practical skills I learned that educators can use to engage students in coaching conversations to deepen their self-awareness, elevate self-regulation, motivate, and build their emotional intelligence.

Ask powerful questions. When students fall into autopilot, they are only partially aware of what they are doing and how they are responding. Educators can break this cycle by asking powerful coaching questions— concise open-ended questions that usually begin with “what” to evoke thought. For example, questions such as “What’s most important to you?” “What do you feel is possible?” and “What are you noticing?” equip the educator to approach the conversation from a place of curiosity and invite students to use their intuition, creativity, and resourcefulness to deepen their self-awareness and move into more purposeful action.

Share acknowledgments. Acknowledgment strengthens the teacher-student coaching relationship by making actions seen and known. When educators address the strength or courage a student needs to initiate and complete an action, the student feels seen and known. An acknowledgment can be as simple as saying, “As you remain committed to this challenging task, your resilience is evident!” Championing students by recognizing their small wins will help them self-regulate their actions and manage their behaviors to achieve positive results.

Embed accountability. When educators coach their students toward achieving a goal, they can hold them accountable by making a request. Requests can include a specific action or condition paired with a date or time by which the action will be taken. A request usually begins with the words “Will you...?” Students are encouraged to simply answer yes or no or make a counteroffer. Students’ motivation will inevitably elevate when they recognize that their teacher is championing their growth and development.

Through my own coaching experience with Lara, I learned that foundational coaching skills can be easily transferred and embedded within the student experience to promote the development of their EQ skills, as I hone my own.
We all have the capacity to build our EQ through self-awareness and respond with self-regulation and empathy. By doing this, we not only have a greater sense of who we are, but we begin to get curious about the people around us and, as Patricia demonstrated, model behaviors for students and colleagues to emulate. This leads to stronger relationships and social skills. These important leadership and EQ competencies allow us to thrive and positively impact others.


Here are three takeaways that can inspire you to tap into your own emotional intelligence and get curious about working with a coach:
  • Coaching can be a highly beneficial mode of development that promotes growth in leaders. Even without a coach, you can start to practice some of the skills that will enable you to step into your own leadership. Start by noticing when the saboteur is speaking to you and get very present. Breathe, spend 30 seconds listening to the sounds around you or do something tactile for a 30-second period, like rubbing your fingertips together to feel the ridges embedded within. Once present, start to ask yourself: Is this barrier real or imagined? If imagined, who is speaking to me and what is their fear? Finally, what are the possibilities to turn this situation into an opportunity.
  • Instead of focusing on a to-do list, create a to-be list. This list focuses on who you want to be and how you want to show up in any given situation. Keep it short, and be sure to include characteristics you wish to embody as you navigate the situation ahead of you. Focus on your EQ and the qualities of being self-aware and empathetic toward yourself and others. This will enable you to tap into your inner leader.
  • Finally, tap into what is most important to you. Often when we are experiencing dissonance in our lives, one or more of our values are being stepped on. Realize what values you need to live by to be fulfilled and live with joy and purpose. Ask yourself, what is most important to me to live with a sense of meaning and, dare I say, even fun?!
If you haven’t worked with a coach or someone who has used a coach-like approach with you, I recommend exploring it as an option as you strengthen your EQ on your leadership journey. Most important, know that you can pave your own way. There are always choices that you can make and opportunities you can create from every challenge.
Patricia Alviano

Patricia Alviano ([email protected]) is the Middle School Learning Support Specialist and incoming Assistant Head of Middle School at Crescent School, Toronto, Canada.

Lara Koretsky

Lara Koretsky ([email protected]) is the Executive Director of People and Culture and Leadership Coach, PCC and CPCC at Crescent School, Toronto, Canada.