​Helping People Change: Coaching With Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth

by Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2019).

Michael Paradise, MDiv, is the administrative pastor of College View Seventh-day Adventist Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, United States.

Regardless of our life status or sphere of influence, we all want to get the most out of life. Many leaders have a unique opportunity to influence people within their organization through coaching. Helping People Change attempts to coach people into making healthy, positive choices for their own lives.

Helping People Change offers research-based methods, enabling people to make informed decisions that will ultimately lead to increased happiness and greater satisfaction. One of the key themes throughout this book is that good coaching is not a coercive effort. The best coaches ask questions that engage self-reflection and create a desire to make lasting changes within the individual.

One factor that inspires people to change is the positive emotional attractor (PEA), which is defined in detail throughout the book. Looking for positive ways to encourage personal growth might include role modeling, envisioning future success, or asking questions that will help an individual see where they can improve. The negative emotional attractor (NEA) is a state in which people make decisions based on fear or potential consequences or because they are being coerced. Both PEA and NEA can be appropriate motivators, depending on the situation.

For example, a soccer coach found that one of his talented players was not enjoying the experience of playing college soccer. He could have activated her NEA by pushing her to perform better and train harder so that she could earn more playing time or help the team meet their goals, but he recognized that this would not work for the young lady. Instead, he engaged her PEA by asking questions that got to the heart of her motivation. As it turned out, she only played soccer because everyone in her family had played, but she really wanted to run track. The coach cared more about seeing her reach her personal potential than meeting his own goals, so he encouraged her to pursue becoming the best track athlete she could be. Her success was made possible by a coach stepping in to help her decide what she truly desired.

One building block to becoming an effective coach is learning how to ask questions. The authors guide the reader in how to utilize pointed questions to engage the PEA of the one being coached. Advising and coercion belong in the NEA category, and they do not inspire lasting change. If we truly seek positive change for those we mentor, we will enhance their vision of their ideal self. Bringing about that kind of clarity is the prize for a good coach.

Anyone involved in mentoring in some capacity should read this book. That being said, it is not a beginner’s guide to coaching. There is an assumption that those reading Helping People Change are already familiar with the role of a coach.

This book will likely inspire readers to evaluate their current coaching and mentoring relationships and encourage them to seek more opportunities to coach and be coached.


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Michael Paradise, MDiv, is the administrative pastor of College View Seventh-day Adventist Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, United States.

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