The Unseen Skills of the Great Coach: Part II

Excellence and its Invisible Driver

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the hidden driver of excellence. It is no different in coaching. In coaching, it is indispensable—a must-have. Researchers Jonathan Chan and Clifford Mallett agree by stating that high-performance coaching requires more than instruction, skill and drills; it requires ‘soft skills’ such as EI, motivation, inspiration, conflict management, and the ability to align all team members toward a common purpose. To further confirm EI’s significance, a coach who is smart, experienced, knowledgeable, and technically astute, but who is ’emotionally illiterate’ or lacks ‘people skills’ or the ability to pick up ‘signals’ will not develop a trustworthy, inspiring relationship with staff or athletes. In short, to be a great coach, self-management and interpersonal skills matter a great deal. 

According to Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, EI skills include five components. They are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. The first three are self-management skills. The last two aim to manage relationships. 

Self-awareness is knowing yourself. It is understanding your emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and what drives you. You are honest in your self-assessment and assessment of others. You are without concern for what others may think or say. You are comfortable with yourself. Self-regulation is one’s ability to control and reroute the urge to become upset. This skill enables you to channel potentially dangerous reactions properly. You can remain calm when the environment is not. Motivation is a trait all great leaders have. The desire and drive to succeed is part of who they are. If there are challenges, they meet those challenges with enthusiasm and excitement. In his book Discipline Equals Freedom, Jocko Willink would bark, “Good” when difficulty emerged. Optimism, passion, and persistence make up the motivated coach with a high EI. 

Empathy focuses on others. The empathetic coach understands the emotional disposition of others own skills. Consequently, they tend to treat people according to their emotional reactions or responses. They have a feel for others at the appropriate time. Social skills are the final component of EI. It is the knack for building interpersonal relationships. In his best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie gave us three principles to follow. These principles would attract and help create a bond with others. The first principle is do not criticize or condemn others. The second is to make others feel important. The third is whether you help others get what they want? 

EI became a buzzword in the coaching world in 2016 when Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made it public that he wanted a coach with emotional intelligence. People laughed. Lurie stressed that his team needed genuine leadership. He needed someone with an open heart. Hiring the not-so-sexy choice of Doug Pederson was not “needle moving news.” Pederson spent 21 years playing and coaching in the NFL and in between was a high school coach. In the NFL, Pederson worked under the guidance of some of the sport’s greatest coaches. They included Don Shula, Mike Holmgren, and Andy Reid. Pederson would lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl LII victory in only his second season. It is the Eagles’ only Super Bowl victory to date. Currently, Pederson is transforming and rebuilding the Jacksonville Jaguars, an organization considered a cultural disaster when he took over in 2022. 

A coach with a high level of EI is aware of his emotions and the emotions of others. The great coach knows they do not coach a sport; they coach the people playing the sport. I met Oklahoma’s former women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale earlier this year. The Hall of Famer told me, “…early in my career, I saw people as players, and later in my coaching career, I saw players as people.” There is no mistaking we are in the people business. As baseball coaches, we do not coach baseball; we coach people who play baseball. It is connecting with people. Those with a high level of EI will succeed more than those without. EI possession is the second non-negotiable in the head coach selection process. 

Share this post