The Competent (Coaching) Leader 6

The Competent (Coaching) Leader

17.3 min read

Greg L. Thomas

“There is no substitute for competence. ~ Ayn Rand”

Leadership quality continues to be questionable based upon the demonstration of competence or the lack thereof.[1] The fact that a person is in a leadership position does not mean he or she is an effective leader. Research however, has established that competency-based human resources can be developed to acquire critical competencies required for outstanding performance and establish credibility as an expertly, competent leader. Cultivation of critical competencies in the field of leadership requires opportunity, capability and commitment.[2] The competent leader is described as one who embraces the leadership role and possesses or cultivates the knowledge, skills and competencies (KSCs) relevant to the leadership position. This individual also, decisively commits to utilize acquired competencies in his or her leader role.

Likewise, the question of competence in the realm of coaching is an ongoing issue of debate. The fact that a person operates in the role of a coach, does not presuppose he or she is an effective, competent coach. The Coaching Association of Canada believes that a competent coach is one who has the appropriate knowledge, skills, and attitude to do the job effectively. John Krulic contends,

Good coaches must have a sound knowledge of coaching principles. They must understand the principles that apply to learning, training within a sport environment, and human development. They must understand the sport, its techniques, strategies, and tactics. And they need an understanding of athletes and their individual characteristics. This knowledge doesn’t automatically come from participating in a sport for 20 years. Qualified coaches need to be trained to recognize and understand these important principles and to apply them on the field.[3]

An evaluation of this contention reveals three elements: knowledge of coaching principles, an understanding of the principles that apply to human development, and an understanding of the techniques, strategies and tactics associated with the sport. Krulic’s contention suggests a competent coach must develop the capacity to integrate various elements of knowledge, skill and competence.

The phrase a ‘competent’ leader is an all-encompassing description of one’s talent as “described by his or her values, vision, personal philosophy, knowledge, competencies, life, career stage, interests and style” as well his or her general ability to perform in a superior fashion.[4] Table 1. The Core Competency Matrix provides varying KSCs identified as core to the coaching profession stemming from early applications of coaching in sports to current business performance, to human development.

Table 1- Core Competency Matrix

Krulic’s Coaching Competencies ICF Core Competencies CTI Core Competencies
Knowledge of coaching principles. Setting the foundation Naturally creative, resourceful and whole
Understanding of principles that apply to human development. Co-creating the relationship Dance in the this moment
Understanding of techniques, strategies and tactics associated with the sport. Communicating effectively Evoke transformation
Understand principles that apply to learning. Facilitating learning and results Focus on the whole person

Research scientist in the field of organizational behavior and scholar Boyatzis’ (2008), identified three differentiating competencies, which builds upon the aforementioned thresholds to distinguish superior performers from average performers:

  • Cognitive intelligence competencies – characterized by strategic thinking and pattern recognition.
  • Emotional intelligence competencies – self-awareness and self-management.
  • Social intelligence competences – social awareness and relationship management.

He further contends competencies are a behavioral approach to cognitive, emotional and social intelligence.[5] The term competent therefore, is a designation conferred upon an individual for having achieved and maintained a qualifying standard of excellence demonstrated behaviorally.

The application of this behavioral approach in the coaching context draws upon the integration of skill, character, and intellect. Therefore, to be designated as a competent coaching practitioner or leader, suggests evidence of a demonstrated standard of superior [coaching] performance. The question then becomes, how is this standard defined? An accompanying question might be how is this standard achieved? The litmus test for a competent coaching leader requires consideration of three questions:

  1. What am I observing and feeling? Observing and feeling are functions of the social and emotional domains. These two intelligence domains help create awareness to what is actively occurring and the emotional impact this action has on the client as well as the coach.
  2. What do I know? What information do I possess? Memory and perception are functions of cognitive intelligence. They aid in the retrieval and processing of information based upon the current environment.
  3. What skills and abilities am I equipped with to address this situation? The identification of KSCs involves the mental integration process to induce brain activity in all three intels

The reflection process required in contemplation of these three questions, initiates higher thinking processes from cognitive, emotional and social intelligence competencies.

Cognition involves the mental capacity and aptitude to explore and assimilate unconventional practices into a situation to maximize the coachee’s experience and enhance learning. The integrative nature of cognitive intelligence promotes instantaneous idea generation. Instantaneous idea generation is the result of unconscious cognitive processing of perception, memory, learning, thought, and language.[6] The ability to connect in a positive manner is a function of the emotional intelligence domain. Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) consists of self-awareness and emotional management. It involves the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them.[7]

An EI competency underlies the successful creation and enduring maintenance of a coaching relationship. EI skillsets equip a leader with the ability to develop synchronous relationships and positively influence others. A synchronous relationship is further developed and maintained through the development of social intelligence competencies.

Social intelligence provides the capacity to exercise wisdom when cultivating relationships as well as the ability to act wise in relationships. SI focuses on effective relationship management. Relationship has been shown to be the best predictor of outcome.[8] One’s ability to create an environment characterized by harmony is the result of high social awareness and relationship management skills. Boyatzis (2008a) contends a social intelligence competency is the ability to recognize, understand, and use emotional information about others that leads to or causes effective superior performance.[9]

The following case study illustrates the intentional and purposeful integration of these multiple intelligence capabilities during a coachable moment with a client. “A coachable moment is defined as an opportunity when a person is most susceptible to make the transition into a place of higher learning and deeper thought. These opportunities are brief moments in time used to create awareness and move a client forward.”[10]

Case Study: A Coachable Moment

A colleague approached me and expressed an interest in entering into a coaching relationship. She however, could not find time in her schedule for a formal appointment. This colleague and I spent recreational time together exercising. With her permission, I therefore suggested we utilize some of our exercise time to engage the coaching process. She had a cornucopia of ideas but could not focus on one particular idea or prioritize them. Upon executing the skill of inquiry, we begin to discuss each individual idea and its feasibility. The brainstorming process helped her to contextualize her ideas. By suggesting she consider realistic target dates, it wasn’t long before she began seizing opportunities. One of her business ideas began as a therapeutic outlet, but is now thriving and completely self-sustaining.

As a result of engaging the 3-question litmus test, I was able to employ conventional coaching processes during an unconventional, coachable moment to help my client identify ideal outcomes and move toward goal accomplishment. Despite the suggestion to incorporate informal coaching sessions into the recreational time spent together, the coaching conversations were unplanned and occurred naturally. Upon sensing a readiness in my client to address her unrealized dreams, I would transition into a coaching mode drawing her into a coaching conversation with me. A competent coaching leader must develop the capability to effectively and seamlessly integrate cognitive, emotional and social intelligence competencies and execute appropriate KSCs in a manner whereby the coachee feels helped.

Competency Development

Commander Wesley Clark is quoted as stating, “I’ve never met an effective leader who was not aware of his [or her, emphasis added] talents and working to sharpen them.”[11] It is virtually impossible to enhance one’s KSCs without awareness. Albeit, one may not have a ‘natural’ aptitude in a specific area, it is however, possible to cultivate a ‘nurtured’ aptitude in developmental areas. Competence is a cognitive intelligence competency demonstrated by specific behavior. This attribute denotes a one’s ability to perform the responsibilities required to effectively manage the processes associated with the related job function.

Within the context of this research project, competence is explored on two dimensions: technical expertise and cognitive ability. Technical expertise thereby, refers to skills, abilities, knowledge and techniques obtained through training and psychometric certifications. Cognitive ability [mental aptitude] is defined as the leader’s ability to acquire, comprehend and apply new knowledge or skill.

Technical expertise also referred to as hard skills, define a person’s skill set, and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity. The development of distinguishing competencies to produce superior performance requires ongoing cultivation of advanced skillsets. Strategies to enhance one’s coaching competence include:

  • Research innovative practices in leadership and coaching.
  • Continually assess current skill level.
  • Set growth goals to update and expand leadership toolkit.
  • Obtain advanced training and certifications.
  • Train, practice, evaluate.
  • Integrate multiple skill sets.
  • Cultivate a coaching leadership style.

Threshold competence consists of basic procedural knowledge and deductive reasoning, whereas a distinguishing competence is the result of advanced cognitive functions such as systems thinking and pattern recognition.[12]

The mental aptitude [cognitive ability] dimension of competence includes personality type, leadership style, coaching style, motive, and value systems; these are elements, which influence the quality of human interaction. These cognitive based skills, classified as soft skills, involve the personal attributes that define the quality of an individual’s interactions, job performance, and career prospects. Strategies to strengthen the mental aptitude dimension include:

  1. Experience the experience –personally engage in psychometric tools.
  2. Nurture your self-perspective – Gather feedback from colleagues, peers, family and friends.
  3.  Know thyself – Evaluate assessment data and feedback to become self-aware.
  4. Complete the Coaching Motivation Instrument (CMI) – Evaluate your motivation to coach or lead.

Mental aptitude informs a leader’s ability to build trust, establish rapport, determine coach-client fitness, identify one’s strengths and weaknesses, and understand how his or her particular style of communication is perceived.[13] Competence is comprised of both technical skill and cognitive ability; it is the result of Level-One integration of hard skill and soft skill sets. Level-One integration describes the coordination activity between the mental aptitude component and the cognitive ability domain.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman pioneered an emotional intelligence model based upon what he describes as personal competence. The cynosure in personal competence is self-awareness and the ability to manage one’s own emotions and behaviors. Personal competence engages principles of experiential learning and self- evaluation to increase one’s capacity to effectively manage personal behavior. This EI framework, (shown in Figure 9) is comprised of three elements:

  1. Self-awareness – knowing one’s internal states, preferences, strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Self-management – managing one’s internal states, impulses and behavior.
  3. Motivation – emotional tendencies that guide or facilitate goal attainment.[14]

Goleman (2006b) asserts an emotional competence is a learned capability based upon emotional intelligence and results in outstanding performance.[15] Strategies to enhance EI talent include:

  • Acknowledgement and Acceptance Principle – Recognize emotion is a vital part of life.
  • Catcher’s Mitt Technique– Embrace emotion.
  • Emotional Label – Identify the feeling(s).
  • Emoticon Tool – Connect with emotion. Assess against your personal values and determine how to use emotion to move you where you need to go.
  • Moments of Silence – Invoke silence to observe emotion and evaluate feelings.

These strategies provide a platform to acknowledge, accept, embrace, identify, connect with, repurpose, observe, and evaluate emotion to facilitate purposeful and productive management of one’s feelings and enhance one’s EI competency.

The EI competency underlies the successful creation and enduring maintenance of a coaching relationship. The key behaviors that characterize the EI competency include trustworthiness, care and compassion, equality, active listening, conscious engagement, respect, belief in individuals and individual abilities. These key behaviors are attributes associated with compassion.[16]

Compassion includes an intellectual understanding of the meaning of someone else’s circumstance and a desire to relieve suffering or increase happiness.[17]  Compassion necessitates coordination of competencies from the EI and mental aptitude intelligence centers. This intentional comingling of competencies illustrates the Level-Two integrative process. Compassion further characterizes the development of a caring, coaching relationship when the coach is emotionally in sync with the coachee and committed to his or her success.[18]

The focus of social competence is the ability to recognize emotional responses in others and effectively manage these relationships. Skill building in the social competence dimension will strengthen your understanding of others and increase the ease in which you are able to manage relationships.[19] The social awareness skill measures your ability to discern other people’s emotions and empathize with their perspectives. Relationship management involves the integration of your awareness to your own emotions and the emotions of others. It also facilitates the development of strategies to effectively communicate and interact with others.

Suggested strategies to increase your social intelligence quotient include:

  • Environmental scanning – what are the social norms within the environment.
  • Develop sensory perception sensitivity – what feelings are permeating within the environment.
  • Enhance observation techniques – how do the people in your social sphere interact with one another, with you?
  • Embrace silence – become attuned to silent messages.
  • Nurture your insight – continuously engage in assessments and activities to develop social intelligence skills.

Social intelligence competencies are composed of capacities [i.e., concern and caring], as well as non-cognitive abilities [i.e., empathy and synchrony] and focuses on the interactive dimension of relationships. Effective relational management is an outcome of commitment. Commitment is demonstrated through acts, which symbolize dependability, loyalty, sincerity, inspiration, wisdom, honesty, and trustworthiness.[20] Commitment involves coordination between emotional intelligence, social intelligence and cognitive processes and illustrates the interaction that occurs at Level-Three integration.

An integrated framework composed of cognitive, emotional, and social intelligence competencies postulates a theoretical structure linking both soft skill and technical competencies in a theory of action and performance.[21] A competent coach integrates cognitive abilities with emotional and social skillsets to enhance the coaching experience and increase the client’s probability to improve his or her performance. Through integration skill sets become disciplines, disciplines become a way of life.


Competence is the qualifying characteristic, which distinguishes mediocre leaders from superior performing leaders. Competence characterizes your personal and professional DNA—it becomes an expression of who you are, much the same way as a brand identifies an organization. Although a leader may not possess a ‘natural’ ability or capability, it is however, possible to cultivate a ‘nurtured’ skill set. The integration process progresses in 3-steps to facilitate competency development in cognitive, emotional and social intelligence:

  • Level – One: Integration of technical skill and cognitive ability.
  • Level – Two: Coordination between the Emotional Intel and mental aptitude.
  • Level – Three: Internal transmissions stimulate interaction between the Emotional and Social Intels and the Cognitive domain.

This integrated framework links soft skill capabilities with technical competence to develop a theory of action and performance. Generally, competence is examined as a specific attribute or trait, which is demonstrable through one’s behavior. Lance Berger however, further describes competence as “a reliable, measurable, enduring characteristic [emphasis added] of a person that causes and statistically predicts a level of performance.[22]

Demonstrated competence defines who the leader is ‘individually’ and is illustrated by what the leader does and how. Competence validates a leader’s ability to lead effectively. Because leadership is about relationship, a leader must possess an innate ability to connect, inspire, create vision and lead the way. Coaching is the substrate used to populate soft skills with technical skills in a collective environment. Coaching is effective because it is a relational process. Research in organizational behavior suggests development of cognitive, emotional, and social intelligence competencies result in enhanced leadership performance and improves the relationship management process. The competent (coaching) leader not only embraces the leadership role but also cultivates a coaching style of leadership to encourage superior personal, professional and organizational performance.

*Image courtesy of ddpavumba at


Albarracin, Erick. “Research Paper: The 10 Practices of Effective Coaching: The Development of the Coaching Practice Inventory (CPI).” International Coach Academy. May 17, 2013. www. (accessed July 12, 2014).

Bertolin, Diane. “Developing Compassion to Help Improve Daily Life.” March 22, 2014. (accessed August 11, 2014).

Bowes, Barbara. The DNA of High Performance-How Competencies Drive Success. June 9, 2013. (accessed August 8, 2014).

Boyatzis, Richard. “”Competencies in the 21st Century.”.” Journal of Management Development ( (,), 2008.

Boyatzis, Richard. “Beyond Competence: The Choice to be a Leader.” Human Resource Management Review (JAI Press, Inc.) 3, no. 1 (1993): 1-14.

—. The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1982.

Boyatzis, Richard, and Saatcioglu Argun. “A 20-year view of trying to develop emotional, social, and cognitive intelligence competencies in graduate management education.” Journal of Management Development (Emerald Group Publishing, Ltd.) 27, no. 1 (2008b): 92-108.

Boyatzis, Richard, Melvin L. Smith, Ellen Van Oosten, and Woolford. “Developing Resonant Leaders through Emotional Intelligence, Vision and Coaching.” Organizational Dynamics (Science) 42 (December 2013): 17-24.

Bradberry, Travis, and Jean Greaves. The emotional intelligence quickbook: everything you need to know to put your EQ to work. New York, NY: Fireside, 2005.

Buckner, Stacey. Feelings or Characteristics that Colors Represent. 1999-2014. (accessed June 5, 2014).

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 2006a.

—. Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 2006b.

Haan, Erik, and Charlotte Sills. “The Relational Turn in Executive Coaching.” Journal of Management Development ( 29, no. 1 (October 2013).

Kihlstrom, John F. “Cognition, Unconscious Processes.” Science Magazine ( 237 (2007): 1445-1452.

Kimsey-House, Henry, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth. Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business Transforming Lives. 3. Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey, 2011.

Krulic, John. What is a competent coach? n.d. (accessed October 9, 2013).

Mayer, John, David Caruso, and Peter Salovey. “Emotional Intelligence Meets Traditional Standards for an Intelligence.” Intelligence (Elsevier Science, Inc.) 27, no. 4 (2000): 267-298.

Passmore, Jonathan. Psychometrics in Coaching: Using Psychological and Psychometric Tools for Development. Edited by Jonathan Passmore. Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page Limited, 2012.

Rath, Tom, and Barry Conchie. Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow? New York, NY: GALLUP Press, 2008.

Wallace, Blanche. The Significance of the Coaching Conversation. General Council of Assemblies of God. May 1, 2014c. (accessed June 5, 2014).

About the Author

Dr Blanche Wallace - The Competent (Coaching) Leader

Dr. Blanche Wallace is a Leadership Coach and Director of the Dynamic Strategic Leadership Coaching Group. She holds certifications as a Growth Coach, Coach Trainer and Executive Leadership Coach. She is a leadership consultant and conference speaker. Dr. Wallace is also the author and designer of two coaching models and has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for church groups, nonprofit organizations, and State organizations. For training or speaking engagements contact Dr. Wallace at:


[1] Richard Boyatzis and Saatcioglu Argun, A 20-year view of trying to develop emotional, social, and cognitive intelligence competencies in graduate management education 2008b.

[2] Richard Boyatzis, “Beyond Competence: The Choice to be a Leader,” Human Resource Management Review (JAI Press, Inc.) 3, no. 1 (1993): 1-14.

[3] John Krulic, What is a competent coach? n.d. (accessed October 9, 2013),

[4] Boyatzis 2008a.

[5] Boyatzis, Competencies in the 21st Century 2008a

[6] John F. Kihlstrom, “Cognition, Unconscious Processes,” Science Magazine ( 237 (2007): 1445-1452.

[7] John Mayer, David Caruso, and Peter Salovey, “Emotional Intelligence Meets Traditional Standards for an Intelligence,” Intelligence (Elsevier Science, Inc.) 27, no. 4 (2000): 267-298.

[8] Erik Haan, and Charlotte Sills, “The Relational Turn in Executive Coaching,” Journal of Management Development ( 29, no. 1 (October 2013).

[9] Boyatzis, Competencies in the 21st Century 2008a

[10] Blanche Wallace, The Significance of the Coaching Conversation, General Council of Assemblies of God. May 1, 2014c, (accessed June 5, 2014).

[11] Tom Rath, and Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow? New York, NY: GALLUP Press, 2008.

[12] Boyatzis, Competencies in the 21st Century 2008a

[13] Jonathan Passmore, Psychometrics in Coaching: Using Psychological and Psychometric Tools for Development, Edited by Jonathan Passmore (Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page Limited) 2012.

[14] Goleman, Emotional Intelligence 2006a

[15] Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence (New York, NY: Bantam Dell) 2006b.

[16] Albarracin 2013; Kemmis 2009-2014; Rath and Conchie 2008

[17] Diane Bertolin, Developing Compassion to Help Improve Daily Life, March 22, 2014, (accessed August 11, 2014).

[18] Richard Boyatzis, et al., “Developing Resonant Leaders through Emotional Intelligence, Vision and Coaching,” Organizational Dynamics (Science) 42 (December 2013): 17-24.

[19] Travis Bradberry, and Jean Greaves, The emotional intelligence quickbook: everything you need to know to put your EQ to work (New York, NY: Fireside) 2005.

[20] Stacey Buckner, Feelings or Characteristics that Colors Represent, 1999-2014. (accessed June 5, 2014).

[21] Boyatzis, Competencies in the 21st Century 2008a

[22] Barbara Bowes, The DNA of High Performance-How Competencies Drive Success, June 9, 2013, (accessed August 8, 2014).

  • Quote of the Day

    “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

    — John Maxwell