Intentional Change Theory: A Useful Framework for Career and Executive Coaching

By Millicent N. Simmelink

One of the goals of coaching is to help clients make positive life-work changes that persist. Clients who are unclear about making a career choice, have been involuntarily separated from their employer or who want to make a career change can benefit from career coaching. Career coaches help their clients discover their potential, overcome limiting beliefs, create a plan forward and provide support, as needed (Lyon, 2022). Career coaches are, also, skilled in helping their clients navigate the job search process including resume construction, personal branding, networking, social media, interviewing, application processes and salary negotiations. Executive coaching is developmental in nature. It focuses on strengthening the leadership and interpersonal skills of mid-level managers to C-Suite executives with a strong emphasis on developing a client’s emotional intelligence (Moravaneni, 2022).

Intentional Change Theory (ICT) offers a five-step framework for making personal change that has implications for both career and executive coaching. Developed by Richard Boyatzis, at Case Western Reserve University, the framework grew out of his seminal research on individual and organizational change (Mindtools Content Team, 2023). ICT provides practitioners with a fresh theoretical approach to mindfully help their clients change habits, set goals, and overcome limiting beliefs. ICT is considered one of the few evidenced-based approaches that effectively contribute to sustained, desired change in others (Boyatzis, 2019). In a world overshadowed by change, helping clients create a personalized change plan that promotes agile adaptability is fundamental to coaching success.

The Five Step Framework

ICT’s framework is simple and elegant. It allows clients to create a change plan that is tailored to their personal and professional needs. The client’s plan is designed to leverage their unique strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, dreams, and support networks. Clients are encouraged to write down their self-reflections (Mindtools Content Team, 2023). Coaches may want to suggest clients use a journal to help process their unique journey. Overtime, the client can always revisit the ICT framework to refine or redefine their direction. The framework’s five steps (Mindtools Content Team, 2023) include:

  1. Discover your ideal self.
  2. Discover your real self.
  3. Create your individualized learning goals.
  4. Experiment and practice new habits.
  5. Get support.

How to Integrate ICT into Coaching

Since there are five steps to the process, the coach might dedicate one session to each step over a five or 10-week period depending on how frequently the client wants to meet. This way, the client will not feel overwhelmed as they engage in self-reflection and take actionable next steps before their next appointment. Each session description that follows includes potential activities for the coach to offer and/or actionable steps for the client to work on before the next session.

Session 1: Discover Your Ideal Self

The first step to making intentional change is being able to authentically describe your ideal self. This session is an opportunity for coach and client to explore, in a safe space, the client’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The coach might introduce a visualization activity to help the client clarify, in their mind’s eye, the person they would ideally like to become and what personal changes can help them get closer to their ideal self. The client should jot down what they remember from this exercise in their journal before discussing any personal changes they would like to make.

Actionable next steps might include asking the client to make a list of all their hopes, dreams, and aspirations and then, setting a short- and long-term goal for each item. Have the client prioritize which dreams they feel are most exciting and most realistic to achieve. This can be the basis for the next session’s discussion.

Session 2: Discover Your Real Self

Once the client can envision their ideal self, they will need to take stock of their real self. As their coach, it is up to you to help them identify their strengths, weaknesses and what is holding them back from becoming their ideal self. The Clifton Strengths Assessment created by Gallup can be used as a coaching tool to help clients identify their top strengths (Rath, 2007).

Discussions with your client about their self-perceived weaknesses, fears, and limiting beliefs can help them better understand their real self and what is, potentially, holding them back from becoming their ideal self. Asking the client to recognize unhelpful thoughts and teaching them how to mindfully let them go is the goal of this session.

Session 3: Create Your Individualized Learning Goals

In this appointment, the coach might start off with a guided visualization that can help their client envision their future self. Afterwards, the coach might ask their client what they observed and what kind of learning goals might help them get closer to becoming their ideal self. S.M.A.R.T. goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timebound are helpful.

Session 4: Experiment and Practice New HabitsIstock 1391612927

Experimenting and practicing new habits requires a growth mindset that is open to new possibilities. This is the key to intentionally managing change and finding career success. It takes about 66 days for a new habit to form, assuming one practices it regularly (Lally, 2010). Developing a new habit of thinking, like shifting one’s mindset from being fixed to growth oriented, is no exception. Coaches might suggest that clients regularly ask themselves “what is the worst thing that can happen?” in any given situation so they can learn to challenge their fixed mindset, dismantle limiting beliefs, and develop a new habit of thinking.

Session 5: Get Support

Supporting clients as they become their best selves is one of the most gratifying aspects of being a coach. The world of work would not be what it is today without people helping people. Human connection and the ability to leverage one’s network is what sparks success. Helping our clients commit to a habit of building relationships that are authentic, organic, and strategic supports our clients in their journey to become their ideal selves. In this session, a coach might ask the client to identify their role models and why these people are significant. The coach might, also, suggest the client create a personal board of directors that consists of several trustworthy individuals with whom they can bounce ideas off. And finally, the coach might ask the client to set some goals for reaching out to other professionals whom the client would like to get to know. Clients who know how to grow and nurture their professional relationships will be better able to adapt to change when it happens.

Future Success Depends on Change

The one skill most needed in a rapidly changing world of work is the ability to accept change. Integrating the five steps of Intentional Change Theory into career and executive coaching best practices can help clients adapt to change and succeed in their respective careers.



Boyatzis, R. E. (2019). Coaching with intentional change theory. In S. English, J. M. Sabatine, & P. Brownell (Eds.), Professional coaching: Principles and practice (pp. 221–230). Springer Publishing Company.

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Joseph, L. (2009). The job loss recovery program ® guide: The ultimate visualization system for landing a great job now. Discovery Dynamics, Inc.

Lally P, van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998–1009.  

Lyon, M. (2022). Do you need a career coach? https://hbr.org/2022/02/do-you-need-a-career-coach

Mind Tools Content Team. (2023). Intentional change theory: Achieving manageable, meaningful change.  https://www.mindtools.com/ag66mq2/intentional-change-theory

Mitsuhashi, Y. (2018). Ikigai: Giving every day meaning and joy. Kyle Books.

Moravaneni, S. (2022). 7 reasons why you need to be working with an executive coach. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/7-reasons-why-you-need-working-executive-coach-moravaneni-pcc/

Rath, T. (2007). Strengths finder 2.0. Gallup Press.

Simmelink, M. N. (2023). Set your sails to reach! A mindful approach to envisioning your potential and navigating your career. BookBaby.


Millicent SimmelinkMillicent N. Simmelink, Ed.D., LPC is the founder and Chief Engagement Officer at Career Links LLC in Cleveland Ohio. A leading provider of career development and outplacement services for over 35 years, she uses a holistic client-centered approach to help her clients mindfully envision their awesome potential and navigate the ever-changing world of work. She has been an adjunct faculty member in Clinical Mental Health at John Carroll University teaching Career Development Theory and Vocational Assessment, the Assistant Director of Career Development at Oberlin College and is the author of the newly released book Set Your Sails to Reach! A Mindful Approach to Envisioning Your Potential and Navigating Your Career now available at store.bookbaby.com and on Amazon. Millicent can be reached at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/millicentsimmelink  or msimmelink@careerlinkscounseling.com

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1 Comment

Cynthia Scanlon   on Wednesday 04/03/2024 at 09:09 AM

Excellent article !

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