Video Snippet Interviews 1-4 with Richard Boyatzis PhD

This is a member only resource

Become a Member » Log In »
Video Snippet Interviews 1-4 with Richard Boyatzis PhD

In these videos snippets Richard talks about coaching, coaching and the brain, leadership vs resonant leadership.


Introduction to the Videotape Tutorial of Dr. Richard Boyatzis:

At the Harvard Medical School conference in 2010 we asked Dr. Boyatzis to describe his thoughts on coaching and how it relates to his work in leadership. This wonderful information dense interview is rich with evidence based theory and research that supports some of the very basic tenets of coaching.  If you absorb his ground-breaking research it will allow you to describe in very scientific ways why and how coaching can have a powerful impact on executives leaders and all of us. His ground-breaking research can inform all  and can help us describe in very scientific ways why coaching can have a positive impact.

Richard’s research has clear implications for coaching of all types ranging from leadership to physician-patient to 360 feedback sessions.  (For those unused to executive coaching terms a 360 refers to a type of assessment tool where individuals all “around” the executive are given questionnaires or interviews to give their feedback on his or her strengths and challenges.)

The interview that followed contains some of the most important insights on coaching leadership and neuroscience that you will find anywhere.  The material is so rich that I have transcribed it for you. Each section also has numerous comments that will hopefully add context to Dr. Boyatzis’ material and point to some of the ramifications of what his theoretical and empirical work for those of us engaged in leadership coaching. These comments are labeled and are in blue Richard’s comments are in black.

Richard recently won the Academy of Management best paper of the year award for his outstanding article on Coaching with Compassion. In it he outlines the theory neuroscience and research that supports his approach to coaching.  Please read our Academy of Management article tour that includes extensive commentary woven into the academic paper.

Richard was a co-author of the very famous leadership books Primal Leadership and Resonant Leadership. This innovative work focused on how CEOs can become more personally and professionally sustainable by learning to coach with compassion. Dr Boyatzis explains from a neurological point of view how this kind of connecting activity leads to increased physical and psychological energy renewal and sharper thinking. He looks at the power of focusing on the positive to create the mindset that leads to cognitive and relational openness and literally restores our capacity to function at our best.

I’d like to thank Dick Heller one of our Founding Fellows for conducting this exciting interview.


Carol K



What is exciting you about coaching? (1.5 minutes)


Coaching at its heart is an interaction between 2 people and a lot of the research is focusing on one or the other (they focus on: how is the coach behaving? What is the coach doing? Or processes he is using?  How is the person being coached feeling or are they changing.

In fact some of the most potent aspects of what is happening is what is happening between each other. So I think that one of the things we need is research on the dyadic interaction.  *Carl March and Helen Reiss in the psychotherapy research program. at Mass General Hospital are doing this with Therapists and patients. 

I’m with a group of colleagues at Case Western Reserve where we are trying to look at neurological stimulation level and the behavioral affect level (emotional experience) how are these interactions these dyadic affects arousing things in each other that may be helpful to a person exploring the possibility of change or not. 

We suspect and early studies with doctors and patients trying to predict Treatment Adherence (It turns out that the) things we typically do when try to help and coach work the opposite!

They neurologically slow people down and actually cause a form of perceptual and cognitive impairment.

Carol’s comment: Treatment adherence is a big challenge to doctors and to all of us really. Do you have a parent or spouse that has an illness and won’t take their medicine even though it will significantly alter the course of their life? You are not alone. It turns out that only 50% of all patients actually do what the doctor suggests. Think about it of all the people with high blood pressure diabetes cancer or other serious illnesses only half take the medications the doctor prescribes. (There is more about his below.)

All of the advances in medicine don’t really mean a thing if people won’t follow through. It looks like a coach-approach rather than an expert approach may be one key ingredient to helping us do what we know what we should. As coaches we may sense that but to convince the medical world we need hard evidence.  Richard is part of the group creating the research that will substantiate this claim.  For example one of important things Richard explores is how the nature of the relationship – e.g. coach-client or doctor-patient or leader-follower -- has a significant impact on whether people are open to change or become closed to change.

Richard will talk more about this research that when doctors hold people accountable that the impact on the brain is actually a bit negative and serves to slow the person’s capacity to process information down not open it up we’ll see more as we continue.

(If this topic is core to your interest – please make sure to see Movies 5 and 6 in Part 2 next month.

Also take a look at slides 24 – 37 of the Harvard Coaching Conference powerpoint also coming in Part 2 next month

What does a good coach need to know about brain science? (one minute)


Good coach needs – a practitioner needs to have a foundation of both theory and research and practical issues of what works.   Otherwise we’re left with the mere issue of what do we think worked when I tried this which is dominated by marketing or selective memory. (For example) People who thought GM was led effectively just bc it made a lot of money.  (and that turned out not to be accurate).

There are a lot of delusions in the world if we don’t use theory and the following research to be a good anchor.  I don’t think good coaches have to know a lot of neuroscience or psych or behaviors science but be informed readers and stay abreast of current emerging. research and theory in order to say okay we’ve always looked at is “this way” but it might be better if we look at it “this” way (instead). And it might be little better – doesn't seem a huge amount off but it could make the key difference between what is effective and what is not.

Carol’s comment: Richard is sharing with us that theory research and a practical sense of what works gives us a solid foundation much more than anecdotal experiences alone. While these are important it can set us up to remember something that worked once and perhaps over value that memory and think we can generalize from it beyond what we should.  The reverse is also true we may try something that doesn’t work and assume it never does. A solid theoretical or research base can help guide our pratice. Richard talks about we need good theory and research to anchor us to be clear on what is effective.


In the next longer video segment Richard will talk about his leadership books and how leaders can foster that will lead to greater engagement creativity and performance. He describes a bit about his 2005 book Resonant Leadership and the key difference between leadership as generally perceived and resonant leadership.

Then we’ll learn how his research leads to an important critique of *360 feedback processes. A second area he explores is the impact that positive based coaching vs. negative “accountability” coaching has on the brain our relationships and our performance.

What would you say is the key difference between leadership as generally perceived and resonant leadership? (six minutes)


Resonant leadership is on the whole more positive and relational; that in fact we used the expression (Resonant) borrowed the term from physics in our 2002 book Primal Leadership because we wanted to capture something that said the real essence  of  a great relationship with a leader relationship is an interactive one its’ not where there is distance but closeness.

For the 2005 book we did conceptual meta-analysis looking at what are the common experiences.  It’s based on our own and a lot of others research and we are writing *fMRI study on resonant and dissonant leadership exp of 50 year olds with these things in order to pinpoint what are the dominant processes.  

Carol’s Comment:  If you are not familiar with it fMRI stand for functional MRI – for these you take a look at the brain in real time as it functions. There are pictures of the brain and the different areas that light up when there is positive emotion and negative emotion. Look on page 20 of the Harvard Coaching Conference powerpoints to see a bit more As we’ll see Richard’s research explores how resonant relationships can build us up and repair damage from chronic stress.

(Richard continues): Our contention is when you are in a resonant relationship with leader or spouse you will more likely experience mindfulness hope compassion and at least in western cultures playfulness.

To date these are the experiences we think that link the two people in a resonant relationship including when one may be in relative leadership position.  But these are 4 key experiences that the medical researches now show that allow the human body heart and mind to rejuvenate itself.

What we are now showing the only thing that can help ameliorate ravages of chronic stress which we are all under especially if we are in leadership  are these kinds of resonant relationships. 

Yet so many things we encounter in life and organizations pull us apart form that. Annie McKee and I titled the chapter three of Resonant Leadership as  “Dissonance as Default because we think that when a person is trying to do their work and life in today’s conditions the stress gets to you.  It’s not the huge stress.  It’s the annoying stress – the sum total of the every day day in day out that drags you down.

And we are now starting to show this with different approaches to coaching.  Coach them showing with some of the research w/ approaches to coaching.

Carol’s comment:  Richard is now taking some of the positive aspects of Resonant Leadership concepts and applying them to coaching.  In his studies he has two conditions – one set of students gets what he calls “positive attractor” coaching. Think of this as the kinds of coaching skills that surface when we ask our clients to explore their vision and aspiration when a session has a sense of joy and possibility we see the client as “whole” relate as equals and then consider actionable steps. 

Contrast this with what he calls “negative attractor” coaching which is typically what a student will get when meeting with an advisor. In this situation the “coach” asks are you getting your work done how are your courses. In essence the “coach” is working from a hierarchical model and while not being critical the student can feel like they are giving an accounting of themselves.  What he then does is have the clients that got “positive” coaching get into an MRI machine and hear their coaches voice. Then the researchers looked at what parts of the brain “lit” up.  They did the same thing with the clients who got the “negative” coaching.  What he’ll do now is describe a bit of that and the results they found.

P.S.  If you haven’t read Resonant Leadership I recommend it highly.


When we coach people toward things they “should” be attending to we gave two thirty-minute coaching sessions – to college sophomores.  One to the positive and one to the negative emotional attractor SO the pos e tractor 30 minutes

The positive attractor is something like this:

Tell me what your life would be like in 10 years if everything were absolutely perfect and how do your experiences at Case Western (where Richard teaches) possibly help that.

Negative attractor coaching was not all that negative:  In the beginning the coach will ask:  tell me about your courses  are you able to do all the reading are you getting enough help from your instructors doing the assignment’s. While this is not particularly negative  but in our theory -- they put a person on the defensive they create a sense of obligation.

Five days later fMRI scans 25 regions of interest in the brain. (We found) from random effects analysis (which is very conservative analysis) and 114 from a fixed-effects analysis all but one are showing exactly what we wd have expected --  stimulation from the positive attractor coaching.

Parts of the brain that are associated with cognitive and perceptual openness light up. In the negative which wasn’t that negative all associated arousal of parts of the brain that put us in a defensive mode (are activated). And when we as an organism are put in a defensive mode we protect ourselves by closing down we close down perceptually emotionally and cognitively.

Carol’s comment: The repercussions of this research for coaching are enormous. First it gives an evidence-based perspective for what many of us trained as coaches have been taught – to focus on our clients strengths and to create an environment where we see the client as resourceful creative and whole. In alignment with our training when working with clients we explored vision and mission and tried not to be in ”expert” mode. Over time we have collected anecdotal examples from our own experience that suggested this approach was effective. But Richard’s work is part of the emerging research that provides scientific grounding to this stance. (See also Barbara Fredrickson and work and positive organization learning tours in the ICPA Positive Psychology section to learn how more scientific laboratories are coming up with similar streams of research).   

Impact of this research for example on how we do 360 assessments.

Carol’s comment:  For those new to executive coaching a 360 is an assessment of the executive – where everyone surrounding the executive gives feedback on how they experience them. 360 refers to there being a full circle around the person.  There are many ways this can be done there are online 360s email 360s the questions asked on 360s are a specific field of study. Many senior leaders have 360s that are interviews with key stakeholders e.g. the execs boss peers subordinates board members etc.)

One thing we are suggesting in coaching most people feel important to of give data feedback to the executive. When I was in consulting gave 360 assessment enters.

The process became known in the field as became a “data dump and run.”  One gets the assessment slaps the data down in front of the client and what do you do? Go to the gaps!  And the assumption is if we work on the gaps we’ll be more efficient in helping you proceed.

Our research data confirming what we suspect– that as soon as you start focus on the data (360 feedback information)  people are socialized to protect themselves so they  look for the gaps. But as soon as they do they start to close down. (What does this mean) So actually are then coaching people into a state of cognitive impairment!

Carol’s comment: Here Richard is referring to a number of streams of research that show when we are faced with negative or stressful information our sympathetic nervous system (stress based) is activated.  When we operate in threat mode even very subtle threat mode our focus narrows as we galvanize the survival mechanisms that are primed. While this is very good if faced with a life threatening task or assessing a budget this narrow focus is not very helpful for learning creativity growth or openness.

And yet --  there are entire multi billion $ parts of industry are focused on looking at the data and help work on weaknesses Our contention while that important  part of process if you do that first you’ll never won’t get to someone looking at the possibilities  you’ll never get to sustainable affect. This is similar and overlaps with what *Barbara Fredrickson that Deci and Bob Kegan  but we actually think we are doing we are making it more complex… in the process we’re integrating the physiological states with the emotional and the behavioral. 

Carol’s comment: Please note there will be master classes on Barbara Fredrickson this summer. Deci’s work is described in a leadership learning tour and Bob Kegan was the focus of our first master class which is in our archive.


How would this information shift how you manage accountability discussions with clients?

How would it help you think of ways to give 360 feedback data?

Without being “sugar coated” how can one give “negative” feedback in a “positive” and empowering way to keep the person open and intrigued rather than feeling threatened or defensive? How much is it in the words you use – or in the emotional tone you emanate when giving the feedback.

Bruce Avolio describing 100 years of leadership research describes ONE FACTOR is the most important in leadership development.  This is the Pygmalion Effect and it has an effect size of nearly .80.  In essence this means what you believe about a person has an impact on what they can deliver and how they can perform. Other research on “affect priming” suggests when studying how well people can do at a task the size of the Pygmalion-like impact is the difference of one grade. (If someone suggests you can or cannot succeed at a specific test your performance rises or falls.) Imagine what one grade difference in life or work would be. How powerful is this impact on you? Think of a conversation when the person with whom you were speaking related to you in a judgmental manner versus an affirming one.  How different did you feel?  How well did you think in each scenario?


What is coaching with compassion – and who has given us the most resistance? (two and a half minutes)


We are working right now as we have been presenting at conferences and at the  Academy of Management for the past few years on coaching with compassion versus coaching for compliance (when you are trying to get someone to comply with your wishes)

One caveat I have to say our approach compassion slightly different and it’s an expanded view. The standard western and eastern view is compassion is feeling for someone who is in pain or suffering. Our view is different it. Our contention is that the experience of compassion is  more like  Confusion benevolence – it’s opening yourself up to the other could be to the other in pain but not always.  Sometimes’ it’s opening to the aspirations or the nobility of the human spirit or helping someone reach for their dreams.

With that caveat about compassion we believe most effective leaders and managers and helpers in general which includes coaches and (and now we have beginning data on doctors) if they genuinely show components of compassion empathy and caring and something actionable. They are much more effective? Why?

Because they allow the person to stimulate technically parasympathetic nervous system which leads to this opening up.

And very often if a person is not feeling cared for especially if you are in power distance relationship you know you are wondering what are they really after?... What message are they giving me?... Should I worry?... Suck up?... All of these kinds of things.

Carol’s comment: This section of Richard’s interview is incredibly important. I would like to frame it a bit differently and include information from his award-winning paper for the Academy of management. In that paper he doesn’t compare coaching with compassion and compliance – but coaching around that which activates positivity in the client versus coaching around weakness. The first kind fo coaching is egalitarian the second is more judgmental.  As we see here and above Richard offers good brain research to explain some of the neural mechanisms behind why focusing on the positive is good for the client.

How easy it is for people in organization to acknowledge that this is important?

I have found that in service business organization not for profit and for profit and in organizations that are vision and mission driven values sensitive organizations organizations that have thought about their purpose that this (positive orientation) comes as not only this is no surprise but it comes as a validation of what they know. In some case people are able now to put a label on it.  People felt awkward (emphasizing the positive). The biggest actually the people who had the most resistance to this concept were the editors of the Harvard business review.

Carol’s comment:  I also feel that Richard is right – his work provides a good scientific framework that can help people defend a positive orientation. This is very powerful when you feel you’ve been working this way but didn’t have access to good science to explain to others why this orientation is effective.  Many great coaches leaders and managers have had a positive approach and have been made to feel apologetic for it.

Richard was asked who was the most resistant and he chuckles and mentions HBR.  He’s right HBR is very tough – but not just on these ideas. Whenever you write for them they want you clearly prove and show support every sentence!

Become a Member

The IOC is a global community of coaches.


Contact Us

  • Institute of Coaching
  • McLean Hospital
  • 115 Mill Street, Mail Stop 314
  • Belmont, MA 02478
  • Phone: 617-767-2670
  • [email protected]