Helping people change: Coaching with compassion for lifelong learning and growth by Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten

This review appeared in the most recent addition of Professional Marketing magazine. “Helping people change: Coaching with compassion for lifelong learning and growth” is an important book for those interested in behaviour change and change management– whether as a professional coach, a learning and development (L&D) expert or a leader who wants to engage and inspire people. The authors define coaching as “a facilitative or helping relationship with the purpose of achieving some type of change, learning or a new level of individual or organizational performance”.

Future vision and positive energy

The organisational behaviourist authors offer some simple key messages, notably the power of visualising your ideal self and future vision to generate a PEA (Positive Energy Attractor). They suggest focusing on strengths rather than correcting weaknesses or ensuring compliance with externally-sourced targets which triggers a NEA (Negative Energy Attractor – a stress response) from considering what we ought or should do. They argue that the desire to change must outweigh the obligation to change.

Intentional Change Theory (ICT)

Harnessing the power of storytelling, there are inspiring coaching case studies of people losing their way and then rediscovering their hopes and dreams. The stages of Intentional Change Theory (ICT) are explored:

  1. Identify the ideal self and personal vision
  2. Explore the real self – both strengths and weaknesses
  3. Establish a learning agenda
  4. Experiment with and practice new behaviour
  5. Maintain resonant relationships and social identify groups based on mindfulness, a positive emotional tone, the arousal of hope, an authentic connection and compassion

The authors state “To make changes stick, our research shows that it has to be intentionally and internally motivated rather than imposed from the outside”. There are many illustrations of how to have conversations that inspire.

They argue that behaviour change does not occur in a linear fashion but as discontinuous bursts or spurts, which are described as discoveries. Five such discoveries – mapping onto these stages – are required for a sustained change in behaviour.

Coaching skills

Naturally, there’s material on questioning which is fundamental to any coaching process. The authors support questions that spark joy, gratitude and curiosity as these activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) whereas negative questions trigger the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the fight or flight response.

The authors explore an interesting downside of focus – that we then don’t notice other things around us or other possibilities. There’s a tough-to-read section on the science of two brain networks – the analytic network (AN) for tasks and the empathic network (EN) for relationships.

The authors mention the interaction of a third component – the renewal system where the PNS battles the SNS. This is an elaboration of the old left brain-right brain balance – the AN analyses and solves problems and the EN is open to new ideas.

Another core element of coaching – active listening – is explored in detail through a HCQ (High Quality Connection) involving emotional carrying capacity, adaptability and connection as well as shared vision, shared compassion and shared relational energy.

Different approaches – peer coaching, external coaches and training your managers in coaching – are explored as ways to create a coaching culture.

There’s some good material on recognising “coachable moments” to know when someone is ready to make a change. There’s evidence that the first two years in the job is a critical time to help someone to be more effective and material on readiness to change.


There’s a brief foray into the ethics of coaching. There are various coaching principles explored – the belief that individual change is a process not an event, coaching as a chance to mine for gold (and not dig for dirt) and the agenda coming from the person being coached.


There are many familiar coaching themes but they are explored from a fresh perspective. The book is much more than a series of anecdotes – it is evidence-based and backed-up with sometimes quite technical scientific references about the underlying neurophysiology. There’s significant evidence for the emotional and hormonal impact on successful learning and powerful support for the effectiveness of ICT – an increase of 61% in Emotional and Social Intelligence (ESI).

Along with the learning points, there are application exercises and conversation guides so it’s practical. The authors pose interesting questions for reflection to cement the ideas. This inspiring book re-energised my work as a coach despite qualifying many years ago.

Related blogs on coaching:

Soft skills: Introduction to coaching – Three frameworks ( June 2020

Why are questions so important? (Questioning skills) ( February 2024

What is Socratic questioning? (Questioning skills) ( February 2024

Coaching and Consulting – People and Problem-Solving skills ( February 2024

Learning & Development Update: Lean Learning ( October 2023

Neuroscience for learning and development by Stella Collins ( September 2023

Dr Julie Smith (Mental Health Guidance) ( July 2023

Research update on the most in-demand soft skills ( May 2023

Coaching and Consulting skills – Limiting beliefs, approaches to helping ( February 2023

Lonely at (or on the way to) the top? Coaching solutions ( July 2022

Don’t jump to conclusions – Coaching and Consulting skills ( February 2022

Coaching and consulting skills for M&BD workshop (November 2021) ( November 2021

Boost business development success with coaching ( February 2020

12 thoughts on delegation, coaching and team management ( January 2020

Team management issues – Managing up, boundaries and broken relationships ( February 2019

The art of giving feedback – top tips ( June 2018

Emotional contagion, delegation, coaching and team meetings ( January 2018

Coaching skills – the power of questions ( May 2017

Before your set your goals – check your limiting assumptions ( January 2015

Coaching skills – the importance of active listening – Kim Tasso November 2014

Personality assessment as part of the coaching and development process ( June 2013

Further details of my coaching services (I am a qualified professional coach mentor) Coaching and Mentoring services from Kim Tasso management consultant

I am also an accredited psychotherapeutic counsellor – my counselling and therapy services are described here Tasso Talking Therapy

Reviews of other coaching books

Book review: Coaching skills: A handbook by Jenny Rogers ( June 2022

Coaching models – book review of Stephen Gribben’s book ( August 2017