From “Performance Problem” to VP: How EI Coaching Saved a Career


As part of our Partnership Program, we asked expert coaches about their experiences in applying the EQ-i in their coaching practices. This featured article showcases the expertise of MHS partner, Kelley Marko.

An Article by Kelley Marko, MBA, MA

A Vice President of a service organization approached me several years ago about one of his senior managers I’ll call Jim (his real name has been protected).  In my initial conversation with the VP, I was advised that Jim already had “one foot out the door.” If his behavior did not soon change, there would be no other option but to let him go.  Further discussion revealed that Jim was incredibly smart; he was a brilliant strategic thinker and often had the right intention. However, he was prone to put people off with his abrasive nature and he frequently created a high-stress work environment for others.  Despite these challenges the VP was not yet willing to give up on Jim. Instead, the VP was intrigued by the opportunity of supporting Jim in developing his EI through executive coaching as a way to deal with this challenging problem.  Jim and I met, and we began a coaching relationship after several frank discussions.  Two years later, Jim has not only kept his job, but was subsequently promoted to a Vice President position based on the significant turnaround in his leadership behavior that he credits in large part to the focused development of his EI. 

The following phases of development  were developed from my education and trial-and-error experiences as a professional executive coach that helped support Jim along his journey, and they may help others who are faced with a similar challenge.

Phase 1: Ensuring Suitability, Willingness and Proper Motivation for Coaching
The first step with Jim was to ensure that he actually wanted to be coached and was not doing this simply just to please his boss or as a quick fix to save his job.  Experience has taught me that if the coachee is not fully committed to the hard work, a natural part of personal development, then coaching will not be successful.  Also, focusing on the future and how things would be better for Jim and others  was more helpful than focusing strictlyon what he was doing wrong today.  Educating Jim about what coaching is and is not and what he could realistically expect to experience through a personal development process supported Jim in making his own decision on whether to proceed.  Establishing an environment of strict privacy and confidentiality between the two of us also allowed Jim to be vulnerable, more open and honest about balancing his wants and needs with those of the business through our upfront discussions and our ongoing coaching relationship. 

Phase 2:  Up Front Orientation, Assessment and Specific Goal Setting
Before we could begin our official coaching sessions we needed to establish where Jim was at day zero.  To find out, Jim spent the first month doing activities that included EQ-i and 360 assessments, a personality type assessment, and reflective questionnaires.  As we debriefed these assessments and questionnaires, Jim benefited from starting to see common data points from many different sources that he translated into common themes of both strength and development.  We acknowledged that it would be impossible for Jim to address all identified themes, so we then worked through a process to help him choose the three most meaningful and important objectives that he wanted for himself through coaching.   This approach ensured several things:

  • Jim was driving the process
  • It was in his own language
  • It was aligned with his motivations while still meeting organizational needs
  • We could continue to measure progress over time.   

Phase 3: Ongoing Coaching Plus Measurement Against Progress Over Time
Ongoing coaching with Jim consisted of no less than two sessions per month. Several things helped Jim be successful through the process of coaching and the hard work of personal development:

  • Committing to full engagement in the process by authentically wanting to be coached to develop his EI
  • Focusing on the future and how things would be better for him and others helped anchor his willingness to proceed
  • Being realistic about the time required to achieve noticeable behavior change
  • Acknowledging that he was not engaging in easy work and giving himself permission to struggle as part of his development 
  • Balancing transparency with confidentiality by allowing Jim to determine what specific details he wanted to share about our sessions with others including his boss
  • Sharing his coaching objectives with his boss and other key identified stakeholders in his development so that they had a sense of what he was working on such that they were less likely to misinterpret his behavior as he tried new things
  • Teaching others in the workplace about some of the tools, techniques and frameworks that he was learning about through coaching
  • Asking “what worked well?” and “what would you do differently next time?” to reinforce his learning and development
  • Checking in on progress against his three specific goals and objectives on a regular basis and changing or augmenting these objectives when needed
  • Celebrating his successes and not letting him off the hook with his accountabilities and commitments in mind during coaching

Today, Jim is a successful executive who truly appreciates the value of emotional intelligence in his workplace.

ABOUT Kelley Marko MBA, MA, Consultant, EQ Coach and Learning Facilitator

Kelley is President of Marko Consulting Services Inc., a leading Canadian firm working with organizations worldwide in developing high-performance leaders and enabling sustainable and meaningful change. Kelley’s ultimate focus is to move his clients to strategic and informed action that impacts the bottom line.

Kelley draws on his prior experience as a professional management consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers and partnership with McKinsey in the area of organization and change strategy.

Kelley is also a Professional Executive Coach and a Master Trainer and Coach of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). He has had the pleasure of working with organizations in North America, Central America and Europe and has worked with hundreds of leaders across diverse industries to improve their skills and competencies and improve the success of change initiatives within their organizations.

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