WiM Wisdom: Dr. Ellen B. Van Oosten


Managing emotion and coaching with compassion to invite change that sticks.

Dr. Ellen B. Van Oosten is Faculty Director for Executive Education and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University. She is also Director of the Coaching Research Lab and Master Coach at Case, where she researches coaching, leadership development, emotional intelligence and positive relationships at work (among others).

WiM was fortunate to host Dr. Van Oosten during WiM’s SUMMIT 2020 where she discussed the role of emotions in leadership—and life—and how we can better understand and leverage them to maximize individual strengths and contributions. Attendees gave her informative presentation rave reviews. In case you missed it, here are a few takeaways:

“Mandated change doesn’t stick. We need to inspire change. We need energy and positive emotion to spark and sustain positive change.”

Humans only change when they want or need to. So, if we are trying to inspire change in a behavior as an employer, parent, etc., we need to fuel the fire—the internal desire—to make the change versus simply demanding it.  Managers, coaches and mentors must walk beside those they are hoping to help as a partner rather than focusing on problems and weaknesses. In order to work through stress and invite change that sticks, we must lead with empathy and compassion.

“Stress is an inevitable part of the human condition. The issue isn’t so much the stress—it’s the recovery.”

Change is stressful, so understanding how to work with stress is important to coaching. Dr. Van Oosten describes ‘intentional renewal’, a holistic process involving mind, body, heart and spirit, as an essential part of the renewal or recovery. This could be playing or laughing, exercising, being in nature, connecting with humans or pets, praying, meditating or even napping.

“You need three positives to counteract one negative (emotion) because negative has a stronger pull.”

There are three primary principles of coaching with compassion: harnessing the power of positive emotion, focusing on dreams (versus goals) and resonant coaching relationships, or being ‘in tune’ with the person you’re coaching/mentoring. This quote addresses the first. We need a ratio of more positive emotion compared to negative in order to do our best and generally thrive and flourish. Using humor and sharing gratitude are a few ways to unleash positivity.

 “We become what we dream.”

This may seem juvenile, but research deems it’s true. Dreaming is envisioning a positive, exciting future. We must engage passions for who we wish to be in addition to what we want to do. Considering our core values and what brings us energy are important aspects of this process. 

 “Most people just want to be understood and appreciated.”

 To inspire change, we must connect with the person we are coaching. We must be empathetic, mindful, authentic, positive, hopeful and compassionate to find harmony—or resonance. Listening more than we speak is critical. 

Want more of Dr. Van Oosten’s wisdom? She will play a lead role in WiM’s 2021 Leadership Institute. Learn more and register: www.womeninmanufacturing.org/leadership-Institute-.

Dr. Van Oosten has published scholarly and practitioner articles which cover topics such as coaching for change, leadership vision and leadership development in organizations. She co-authored the book, "Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Llifelong Learning and Growth" with colleagues Richard Boyatzis, PhD and Melvin Smith, PhD. She teaches at the Schools of Management, Engineering and Law at CWRU and regularly delivers workshops for managers and executives. Ellen has a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Dayton and an MBA and PhD degree from Case Western Reserve University. She spent her formative years working for GE as a Sales Engineer assisting manufacturing customers with the automation of machines and assembly lines through the use of controllers.