Focusing on the whole person (yes, emotions are included)

A recent Harvard Business Review article titled “How supportive leaders approach emotional conversations” shares in the opening paragraph

“…managers need to shift their focus to meeting and supporting employees’ emotional well-being. It’s no longer enough to simply provide the operational tools and resources for your team to function”.

In light of the above insight, top executive coaches believe they are most effective when helping clients understand how emotions drive behavior. 

Through coaching, leaders expand their awareness of how recognizing one’s authentic emotions and developing a level of “emotional fitness” provides them the freedom to engage their emotions consciously and creatively, especially when experiencing their own and co-workers’ feelings in the workplace. This deeper understanding of how to meet employees “where they are at” is foundational to sustaining positive workplace behaviors, which in turn has the benefit of reduced turnover, higher employee engagement, and reduced time off from work. 

Leaders have also given the feedback that workplace culture change can only be successful when behaviors change. Per one executive interviewed for this article:

“…changing behaviors drives culture change…and like every other type of change, we need to honor our co-workers’ emotions as they process what this change means to them…”

This belief is affirmed through research completed by behavioral neuroscientists who suggest behavioral change is likely to happen more often when an individual’s emotions are integrated into the change process. Per one recent academic article

“…there is growing evidence that emotions can have lingering consequences for cognition and behavior”.

Take these 3 steps to build your readiness to support your client’s “emotional fitness”

Note – the following three-step process is modeled on instructional material found in ACT’s Next Level Coaching Program. Feedback from alumni of the Next Level program are also included to highlight best practices. 

Coaches who are interested in furthering their understanding of the attributes of emotionally supportive leadership should take these 3 steps:

  1. Understand the concept. Participate in a formal training program that provides the learner with the core concepts related to emotional fluency and the attributes underpinning the concept of emotional fitness. Included in this training should be a robust set of definitions and operating frameworks that guide the participant through a structured understanding of the power of emotions to support transformational growth, how to recognize authentic (and counterfeit emotions) and their relationship to client’s ability to hold themselves accountable for their own transformation.
  1. Understand the process. Taking theory to practice requires a structured process. Experienced facilitators who lead advanced coaching skills training have shared that guiding coaches through learning new skills is best accomplished in incremental steps. These incremental steps are often built around a proven coaching model that facilitates a progressive integration of new learning into the coach’s current mindset. For those learning how emotions drive behavior, ACT’s “awareness-choice-transformation” model is an excellent framework through which experienced executive coaches can practice these skills. 

Another important attribute of this incremental approach is the effectiveness of “in the moment” feedback from co-participants and expert facilitators. Adult learning theory shares the belief that short, focused practice sessions that reinforce specific skills are an effective tool for developing proficiency in a new technique. Per one Next Level alumnus:

“…being able to practice a specific skill with guided oversight was much more beneficial than trying to practice all the new learning in an extended coaching session.” Another former participant stated “I remember the targeted feedback more often than the general feedback…and I was able to see immediate improvement during my subsequent practice triads.”

  1. Understand self. A core concept in the field of coaching training is the requirement to have learning participants actively engage in coaching, either as a client, a coach or an observer. During skill practice activities the learner, in the role of client, is strongly encouraged to bring their authentic self to the coaching session. For experienced executive coaches learning how to engage with a client’s emotions, this can be both challenging and rewarding. It requires the coach (as client) to be truly vulnerable and open, recognizing that they, along with their coach, are on a mutual learning journey.  It also requires participants to co-create a safe space that is celebrated and reinforced through adherence to a strict code of ethics and commitment to each other’s development. Per one alumni:

“…this was a wonderful opportunity to explore my own level of emotional fluency and how I show up for my clients”.

As a coach progresses through these 3 steps, a commitment must be made to integrate this new learning into their practice.  One Next Level alumnus shared that their approach was to mirror how they learned this new skill by:

“…taking small steps with my clients, and taking it very slowly…from my learning I realized engaging with a client’s emotions requires a lot of patience, active listening and compassion”.  

Experienced coaches also shared that sustaining an active alumni network was very important, especially when they felt they were getting “stuck”. Those who had active alumni networks also strongly suggested building your network before you need help. Note that sometime soon we will explore in a subsequent article how participants in ACT’s learning community can effectively leverage their fellow alumni to support their coaching practice.

For those who may be interested in a program that meets all of the above learning requirements, I suggest you take a look at ACT’s Next Level Coaching Program. The Next Level Program does an excellent job of taking theory to practice when it comes to understanding how emotions influence behavior. 

In addition, through expert facilitation, participants learn several techniques that can help them more effectively engage clients in learning how to (in the words of one of the co-facilitators):

“…experience authentic emotion without judgment or attachment, this then allows the client to use their emotions consciously and creatively”. 

Through observation, in-class practice sessions and subsequent independent sessions with co-participants, learners are given the opportunity to increase their proficiency in these techniques. 

To quote a colleague who recently completed this course:

“To be the best you have to train with the best, whether as a professional athlete, musician or in my case, as an executive coach…this program exceeded my expectations”

As shared in a previous article, to remain competitive in the field of executive coaching you owe it to yourself to engage in training that supports your own transformational growth, provides you the opportunity to co-create supportive relationships with curious and engaged colleagues and challenges you to integrate these new methods into your own coaching practice. 

Learn more about ACT’s Next Level Coaching Program, as well as related professional development programs through their website at:

The author

Mike Beckmann is an experienced workforce development strategist with human capital executive leadership experience in both the public and private sectors. He has a Ph.D. in Human Development from Virginia Tech and is an active executive and career coach.

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