Helping People Change: A book review by Bob Morris

Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth
Richard Boyatzis, Melvin L. Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten
Harvard Business Review Press (September 2019)

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Note: The source of this widely quoted proverb is uncertain but there is no doubt about its wisdom.

* * *

This book really is a “must read” for those who want to help others more effectively. To achieve that worthy objective, Richard Boyatzis, Melvin L. Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten share an abundance of invaluable information, insights, and counsel. The material also includes their brilliant use of three reader-friendly at the conslusion of Chapters 2-9: “Key Learning Points,” “Research Spotlights,” and a “Reflection and Application Exercise.”

As they explain, “We’ve based this book on the premise that, when done effectively, coaching and helping of all kinds create three specific changes in people seeking help. First, they will find or reaffirm and articulate their personal vision, including dreams, passion, purpose, and values. Second, they will experience changes in behavior, thoughts, and/or feelings that will move them closer to realizing their personal vision. And third, they will build or maintain what we call a [begin italics] resonant relationship [end italics] with the coach or helper and ideally with other supportive people in their lives.”

Boyatzis, Smith, and Van Oosten have carefully organized their material within a specific learning process:

o Definition and potential uses of interactive coaching
o How to coach with compassion rather than with compliance
o What recent brain science studies have revealed (e.g. positive and negative emotional attractors)
o The nature and extent of personal vision that can engage PEAs
o How to develop and enrich resonant relationships
o How to foster a workplace within which a “culture of coaching” is most likely to thrive
o How to prepare for and then take full advantage of “coachable moments”
o How to respond to “the call of compassion” (i.e. an invitation to dream)

With regard to “coachable moments” (Pages 175-190), I am again reminded of what Douglas Conant and Mette Norgaard observe in TouchPoints when explaining how and why great leadership is about servant leadership in human relationships, “about being present in the moment and feeling confident that you can deal with whatever happens in a way that is helpful to others.” Think about it. How many times, on average, during your waking hours do you interact with other people? Each interaction can be a “touchpoint,” a “coachable moment,” that offers an opportunity to make such contact mutually beneficial. Such moments can also involve sources of inspiration, knowledge, and cultural enrichment.

I presume to add that helping people to change can — and should — include helping them to understand how to help other people to change.

These are among Richard Boyatzis, Melvin L. Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten’s concluding remarks: “The key is to dose yourself with renewal every day. It is, in fact, the responsibility of helpers or coaches to sustain themselves and emote the positive emotional contagion that can only come from experiencing the PEA [positive emotional attraction] more than being in the NEA. In other words, we suggest that it is not a self-centered act to make sure that you have renewal moments each day.”

One of the best ways is to do as much as possible — and appropriate — to help others to have renewal moments of their own. This precisely what Theodore Roosevelt had in mind when suggesting, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The importance of developing emotional intelligence is incalculable.

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