Intentional Change Model

Over the past ten years, we have worked with our colleague Richard Boyatzis as he has refined the intentional change model: a model that we use as the basis for designing individual leadership development programs. With colleagues, we have conducted research that indicates that if this model is employed, not only can people accurately identify how and why they need to develop their leadership capabilities, they actually do change, and the behavior changes are sustained over time.

Changing deep-seated habits of behavior and leadership capabilities is difficult, and if such change is to be successful, certain conditions must be met in the design and implementation of a leadership development and team alignment process.

Intentional change underpins any successful leadership development program and consists of five stages:

  1. Ideal self
  2. Real self
  3. Gaps and plan
  4. Experimentation
  5. Support

In stage one, people need to imagine and articulate an “ideal” self: who they could be if they were at their very best, living and working effectively, fully and happily. While this may seem somewhat removed from straightforward development of competencies, we have found that it is the first, and most important, key to successful individual development of emotional intelligence competencies and resonant leadership. People only change when they truly want to change—and these proposed changes must be important to the long-term vision of their lives in order for them to sustain the energy for the effort.

Engaging people in articulation of an ideal can take many forms—iterative reflection, dialogue, and/or experiential processes. Specific methods are determined based on the needs of the group and norms of the organization’s culture.

In the second stage, people need to have a clear sense of their “real” self: who they are today, what their strengths and gaps are vis-à-vis leadership competencies, and how, as leaders, they impact others. Assessing the real state can be done in many ways, but it requires that people engage with others, share perceptions, give and receive feedback. There are several mechanisms for collecting data that enhances each person’s sense of their current state, such as qualitative 360 degree feedback, observation and dialogue with a coach, etc. Again, specifics of design are determined so as to best fit the needs of the group and the culture.

The third stage is the creation of a plan to address gaps between the real and the ideal and to build on one’s current strengths. Our research indicates that people plan for the future in different ways. Therefore, our model (and the design of our programs) addresses planning in a holistic sense, including life vision, goals, and action steps.

The fourth stage is practice, adjustment of behavior, experimentation and more practice. We know from our research that deep seated behaviors change only with constant effort, experimentation and practice of new behaviors. In our leadership development processes, we focus on practice of new behaviors through smart experiments that include methods such as action learning, learning groups, and collaborative work on strategic projects.

The fifth stage relates to the learning that happens in a social context. We learn best when we have supportive relationships and people who can help us maintain focus on our learning agenda. We deliberately build this into our leadership development processes, using coaching, peer mentoring, learning groups, and more to provide the necessary structure to make change stick.

This five-stage process must be conducted over time, as it is designed to “rewire” the brain toward more emotionally intelligent behaviors and resonant leadership. Intentional Change is highly effective for individuals. In short, Intentional Change enables individuals to develop resonant leadership and emotional and social intelligence capabilities, thus enabling groups to create climates where they can implement strategy and achieve shared goals.



Richard Boyatzis has been studying the process by which people change and develop for over twenty years. With ourselves and a number of our colleagues, he has documented that the ‘five discoveries’ of intentional change are the keys to sustainable individual growth and development. For more on this, see Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee, and Daniel Goleman, “ Reawakening Your Passion For Work,” Harvard Business Review OnPoint, Summer, 2010. Also see Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, “Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance,” Harvard Business Review, December 2001; Ronald Ballou, David Bowers, Richard E. Boyatzis, and David A. Kolb, “Fellowship in Lifelong Learning: An Executive Development Program for Advanced Professionals,” Journal of Management Education, 23(4) (1999): 338-354 and Richard E. Boyatzis, Scott S. Cowen, & David A. Kolb, eds., Innovations in Professional Education: Steps on a Journey from Teaching to Learning, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.

One stream of research, conducted by Annie McKee and colleagues, looks at how people think about the future. This research indicates that people ‘plan’ in different ways; not everyone thinks in terms of goals and actions steps. Hence, the need to define processes for crafting an ideal vision that takes different approaches into account. Work in this areas includes Annie McKee’s dissertation, Individual Differences in Planning for the Future, Case Western Reserve University, 1991, and “Will it Make a Differences?: Assessing a Value-based, Outcome Oriented, Competency-based Professional Program,” In Richard E. Boyatzis , Scott S. Cowen, and David A. Kolb, eds., Innovating in Professional Education: Steps on a Journey from Teaching to Learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995).

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