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History of Life Coaching

History of Life Coaching

Preamble to formal report about the History of Life Coaching.

Thomas Leonard

Thomas Leonard was the driving force behind creating and developing the life coaching industry. Thomas Leonard invented, and documented and the process he called “personal coaching” process to assist people to in about 1991-1992. Leonard spent about 3 years trying to unravel the mystery of himself using every process and every resource he could find asking for help from anyone who would listen. And he failed miserably. Out of desperation he sought something new.

So, Leonard engaged another person to ask him questions about him to reveal things within himself he had not revealed to anyone else in the world including himself. This person (His personal coach) then reflected what he revealed back to Leonard (like a mirror) in an objective, confidential, clear, non-biased, truthful manner to uncover who Leonard really was. He discovered his true inner self (Unconscious self) through the reflection provided by his coach.

History Life Coaching Industry is a winding road
Life Coaching Industry Path

And this mirroring process worked so well, so clearly and so quickly that Leonard became the “World’s Leading Expert on Leonard” by seeing himself through the reflections of his “Coach.” By doing so Leonard gained the ultimate in “Clarity,” the ultimate in “Confidence,” and the ultimate in “Stress Free Power of Choice.” He finally understood who he really was. This gave him real Control over his life. He was thrilled.

Leonard was in reality the first person to BE Coached! (Coachee)

Leonard chose to fulfill his passion to assist others to ALSO become the “World’s Leading Experts” on themselves. He used his newly discovered talent and passion to write to record this remarkable Personal Coaching process for everyone. He described how personal coaching really works, (It is not hard to describe but extremely difficult to execute) the key conditions that must be met to suit the client, (Clients as the absolute center of attention will achieve their “Coachable Goals”) and the very different and special qualifications it takes for someone to become an effective personal coach. (Including the “Gift of Coaching”)

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I was extremely lucky to have found and be coached by Tom Politico who was coached by Thomas Leonard, was his protege and taught personal coaching for Leonard. Learn more about how I found a career coach and the Coach Connection Story

Leonard started many of the key coaching institutions. He co-founded, what I believe was the first school for coaches (The Coach Training Institute, CTI) He had a very unpleasant parting with his partners. He drove around in his RV speaking about coaching with great success. He was involved in founding the International Coaching Federation (ICF) as one of the first coaching associations. He also founded and ran Coach U, a very active online coaching school. Sold it in about 1996 and stepped away from coaching.

He returned in about 1999 to find a bloated, hypocritical, fractious, money driven coach-centered industry. With hundreds of for-profit coaching schools selling their “specialized coaching programs” and “certifications” to unsuspecting people who paid big money to buy their sales promises of becoming a coach and make considerable income by working out of their homes helping others improve their lives. So, he started Coachville as a counter to the ICF and coaching schools in general to return coaching to it client-centered roots. He was blunt, very insightful and a very unusual person with strong opinions opposing the Coach Training School-Coaching Associations-money making centered coaching industry. He made a lot of enemies, hence the reason so many people in the Coaching world refuse to acknowledge Leonard. He passed in February of 2003.

He recognized the difficulty people had in understanding true personal coaching. And in finding real, experienced, high-quality real personal coaches to reap the remarkable life changing benefits by being coached. The Life Coaching Industry is unregulated, and I feel it would be almost impossible to regulate real coaching. How do you regulate a mirror? Thus, it was and still is an open very divergent industry, where anyone can call themselves a “coach.”

Improving Lives is our Passion & Specialty,
Fun is our style, & Confidentiality is our Integrity

We at TCC focus only on providing our special selected clients the best personal coaching that really works by following all the principals invented and defined by Leonard. It worked for me and for the many thousands of TCC clients since I started TCC on June 1, 2001.

I want to pay special tribute to Rey Carr. Rey was the most credible, genuine and intuitive member of the Coaching Industry. Through his Peer Resources, Rey researched and presented the most accurate and insightful live picture of the Life Coaching Industry. He told it like it really was with the highest integrity. He was the conscious of Life Coaching Industry. Sadly, Rey Carr recently passed. I still miss Rey and the Coaching Industry really needs and misses him.

Here is my original History of Life Coaching
I chose not to change.

The History of Life Coaching

I wrote this brief history of life coaching (which I interchange with the more accurate “personal” coaching title) to help our many clients, coaches and myself understand why and how the life coaching process and life coaching industry came about. There is considerable confusion about the history of life coaching that I wanted to clear up.

I am not a historian nor am I trying to be one. I’ve been around coaching since 1999 and I’ve had some direct experience with some of the history of life coaching discussed here.

The rapid emergence of personal coaching has been accompanied by an influx of thousands of practitioners, over 620 FOR PROFIT coach training organizations, and more than 60 different credentialing systems. Not surprisingly very few people associated with this flood of coaches know the history of life coaching, origin or roots of the field. Yet without an understanding of the foundation upon which coaching stands, it is unlikely that practitioners will be able to respond to the changing client base, ensure the economic survival of their practices, or align themselves with the strengths that have contributed to the effectiveness of coaching.

However, now that I’ve read the 693-page doctoral dissertation by Vikki Brock entitled: “Grounded Theory of the Roots and Emergence of Coaching,” I’ve found a validation of some of my personal experience, a new understanding and appreciation of the breadth of the field, and a few surprises.

Dr. Brock’s work as well as my own direct knowledge and experience provide the basis for this article on the history of life coaching. Her discoveries and my personal experiences and knowledge frequently converge.

Thomas Leonard’s Influence on the History of Life Coaching

“Thomas Leonard was the principal architect and driving force behind “defining, documenting, codifying training, and popularizing” the coaching process and coaching industry as we know it today.” (Vikki Brock)

My independent sources reported and Brock confirmed that Leonard teamed with Whitworth and House who applied their business background to create an industry that is called coaching. The history of life coaching germinated from them.

And Leonard, Whitworth and House invented and developed 2 very powerful programs in the life coaching industry that became very attractive, and successful. Leonard focused on the describing, and documenting the art of coaching and being coached (He was the first coaching client) to make sure it always worked exceptionally well. Leonard also wrote the first training documents to attract and train new coaches to practice the life changing Personal Coaching process. Leonard, Whitworth and House developed very lucrative coach training businesses, sometimes together, then in competition that are still operating in some form today.

The coaching process that is practiced by The Coach Connection and that is described in detail throughout this website is a direct result of the work of Thomas Leonard.

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Thomas Leonard came on the coaching scene in 1988 from the financial world. Leonard created a life-planning course entitled Life Creates Your Life. Dr. Brock emphasizes his contribution by noting that “Leonard is credited with codifying coaching into a curriculum to teach people how to be a coach and that could be taught globally, taught telephonically, in the early days of coaching.” (Brock pg. 313)

Leonard not only invented “Personal Coaching” but was an original partner in CTI with Kinsey, House and Whitworth. I was also informed that Leonard was the behind the scenes developer of Personal Coaching and the original coach training curriculum for CTI.

He also used a very similar curriculum to found and operate “Coach U” in about 1993, which became a direct competitor to CTI. “Coach U” trained over the phone through the Internet. Versus requiring physical in-person training conducted by CTI at their California location. (Understandable that the CTI folks would disown their previous partner) “Coach U” became an over night success boosting the training of personal coaching to very high numbers. Leonard sold “Coach U” to Sandy Vilas in about 1996.

In addition, Leonard was one of the principal founders of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) in about 1994.

Furthermore, Leonard also started “Coachville” in about 1999 to offer online training and an active Coaches Association as an alternative to the ICF. Coachville had become a real force in the coaching world until Leonard’s untimely passing in early 2003.

Dr. Brock’s study provides additional testimony about Leonard from Dave Buck, the current leader of Coachville Mr. Buck “describes Leonard as a synthesizer working with hundreds, thousands of people to create. But while he was collaborating he also had in his vision, a vision of himself being highly impactful, being a leader, being competitive against other companies doing similar things. He was intensely competitive and intensely collaborative at the same time.”

Thomas Leonard was often described as a “real character with strong beliefs.” He wasn’t interested in politics, turf, or ownership; he designed the personal coaching process in great detail and wrote about it for all to see. He was a strong believer in giving things away, and was continuously searching for ways to make coaching accessible to the general population. Thomas saw the development of the coach as learning to maximize his or her own gifts, then passing that gift on to another who, in turn, passed the gifts to the next person.

His perspective was echoed in the book by Lewis Hyde called “The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.” In this book the author details the evolution of the gift as a way of establishing an emotional bond between people compared to a gift being seen as a “commodity” with a monetary value. The focus in Hyde’s study of other cultures and embodied in Leonard’s principle was on giving not getting. Thomas Leonard wanted everyone to benefit from coaching.

However, my sources and Brock’s own reporting show that Brock’s diagram of Leonard’s Legacy (Figure 1.) is inaccurate. The Leonard Lineage marked in yellow should include Every One on the Entire Table. Leonard also became involved with acting groups and recruited, coached, and trained numerous actors who went on to become excellent coaches, trainers, and leaders in the young personal coaching world.

Figure 1: The Legacy of Thomas Leonard according to Brock!

From Vikki Brock's dissertation and reproduced in Peer Bulletin 173 with permission.
From Vikki Brock’s dissertation and reproduced in Peer Bulletin 173 with permission.

How a Sports Coach Relates to the History of Life Coaching

The term coach originated in the sports field somewhere in the late 1880s, and has been a well-known sports profession with many different forms for years. “Even today, the term coaching often produces a mental image of a football or basketball coach, and depending on what the coach actually does, this analogy may or may not be adequate because the head coach is usually a general manager or chief executive officer responsible for running an entire program. The image of the quarterback coach or the offensive line coach is somewhat more accurate by enabling others to play through teaching.” (Brock, page 93)

W.T. Gallwey wrote his seminal book in 1972 entitled “The Inner Game of Tennis.” It was, according to many people, the first major transition from the sports coaching model of control and teaching to personal coaching. That which Werner Erhard and eventually Thomas Leonard developed and fine-tuned into personal coaching. Dr. Brock further shares that “Gallwey’s 1974 inner game approach to sports was based on humanistic and transpersonal psychological principles, where the concept is that the opponent within is more formidable than the one outside.”

Sir John Whitmore believed that “Gallwey was the first to demonstrate a simple and comprehensive method of coaching that could be readily applied to almost any situation.” I have not only read Gallwey’s book, and have heard Gallwey speak and demonstrate his very effective “Inner Game of Tennis,” but I have also used Gallwey’s theories myself to improve my tennis game.

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Life Coaching Versus Personal Coaching

Thomas Leonard called his new self awareness process “Personal Coaching,” because coaching is very personal.

Life Coaching IS Personal Coaching

The term “life coaching” is a more recent concoction, and was popularized in early 2000 when Hollywood and TV-writers used it for their “Starting Over” “reality” show. Many coaches in their eagerness to gain public acceptance and credibility attached themselves to this media-created term and started calling themselves life coaches. Thomas Leonard documented and popularized the new process he called “personal coaching” to assist people to improve their lives by focusing on the person within.

In essence, Thomas and his partners designed, organized, documented, and developed this new process that would fulfill the one human void that none of the other nine major human improvement processes consider addressing and seem ill-designed to or capable of fulfilling. Leonard’s perspective was recently validated by a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review of 140 leading executive coaches. The analysis of the study results showed that while only three percent of the coaches were hired by companies to attend to issues in the personal lives of executives, over 75 percent of the coaches found themselves assisting executives with personal issues.

Others also recognized the inadequacy of psychology and the various treatment interventions based on psychology to assist people to improve their lives.

The chart created by Vikki Brock and reproduced here in Figure 2 illustrates the pioneers in coaching who emerged from the field of psychology, and have contributed greatly to the growth of personal coaching.

Figure 2: The Influence of Psychology on Personal Coaching Pioneers

From Vikki Brock's dissertation and reproduced in Peer Bulletin 173 with permission.
From Vikki Brock’s dissertation and reproduced in Peer Bulletin 173 with permission.

Personal Coaching Has Grown Rapidly

Thomas Leonard traveled extensively coaching, speaking, and training wherever he could. He captured the imagination of many people to persuade them to become joint pioneers in this new process. The personal coaching industry has grown exponentially in only sixteen short years because of Thomas Leonard’s vision, his energy, and more importantly because personal coaching works so well and so quickly to assist people to unravel the mysteries of themselves.

Personal coaching has evolved into a viable and recognized industry because people want to unravel the mysteries of themselves by discovering their own unique core components. Personal coaching accomplishes the exceptional goals it was designed to achieve.

I do not believe that many people fully understood the universal ramifications and multiple uses of the personal coaching process. Maybe Thomas did, and that might be why he was such an outspoken advocate of personal coaching before he died in 2003 of natural causes. One of the many extremely valuable “Coachable Goals” of the personal coaching process is to discover and attain your ideal income position.

Thanks to Thomas’s personal coaching process, and his personally trained coach, Thom Politico, who was my personal coach, I discovered and have been enjoying going to play every day in my own ideal income position for the past 22 years as the founder and owner of The Coach Connection.

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The Coaching Industry Today

Estimates of the number of people calling themselves coaches range between 100,000 to almost 350,000. The upside is that the public has a vast number of coaches to pick from to find the right coach. The challenge is that there are so many different people calling themselves coaches offering different coaching methods, styles, philosophies, ethics, backgrounds, niches, and purposes, that the public has more, not less, difficulty in finding and selecting the best coach.

The number of coach training schools has grown tremendously. According to statistics compiled by Peer Resources there are about 605 coach training schools, the majority of which sprouted up since about 1992. Vikki Brock reports that there are over 17 coaching related associations. These were created since about 1994.

Yet, the coaching industry is still in the growing stage. If you consider that each of these coaching schools will produce only 50 people a year who call themselves coaches, that means that over 20,250 new coaches appear on the scene each year.

Anyone today can call himself or herself a coach. There are no rules, regulations, laws, restrictions or enforced codes. Coaches come from all walks of life with many different paths to their coaching status. The coaching community itself is also confused about how to determine what the coaching process is.

According to Vikki Brock: “Inside the field there is much divergent thinking of what coaching is and whose approach is best. Outside the field there is even more confusion among clients and the public about what makes up coaching.”

There are countless different coaching processes, programs, structures, and philosophies. Many of which stem from the disciplines illustrated in Figure 3. Unfortunately, too many “coaching programs” and/or “Coaching schools” are frequently considered scams

Figure 3: The Influence of Other Disciplines on the Coaching Field

From Vikki Brock's dissertation and reproduced in Peer Bulletin 173 with permission.
From Vikki Brock’s dissertation and reproduced in Peer Bulletin 173 with permission.

Life Coaching Today Has Many Meanings

Dr. Brock further states: “There are many definitions of coaching, some of which contradict each other based on an influence by practitioner backgrounds, theories, and models.” And she further clarifies that “Most definitions assume an absence of serious mental health problems in the client and that coaching’s purpose is to affect some kind of change using similar knowledge, skills, and techniques.”

Personal coaching is not a process I invented, or take credit for. I would like to, but that would be wrong. Thomas Leonard and his many followers and compatriots deserve all of the credit. In fact, this coaching process found me. I was not even smart enough to seek it.

There have been many different forms of coaching that grew out of this process, and there will undoubtedly be others.

I believe that since the coaching process described by Thomas has proven to me to work so well, and had worked so well for many others before I found it, that it is worth recommending.

The incredible thing about the coaching process popularized by Thomas is that it has historical roots and is widely accepted. But rarely described consistently, and even less widely understood from the client’s point of view. Yet, it is so powerful and so remarkable that it has fostered a whole new way of thinking and an ever-growing industry.

My purpose in writing this article is to educate anyone who will listen about this personal coaching process so that they too will understand what it is all about from their own perspective. I’m convinced that this will help people recognize, understand, and take advantage of this remarkable human improvement process to achieve their chosen remarkable “coaching goals “Coachable Goals” including but not limited to discovering and obtaining their ideal income position.

Brock Reacts to this Article

(ICF Editor’s Note: Bill Dueease’s summary of Vikki Brock’s doctoral dissertation, prompted The ICF (Which publishes Bill’s article) to ask Vikki for her reaction. Here is what she had to say:

“What a great history of personal coaching. Thank you, Bill, for the reference to my dissertation, which encompassed three years of research and over 170 interviews of global coaching influencers. When looking at the roots of coaching, what I found is that coaching was developing globally during the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the key roots being sports, leadership, psychology, and the personal development movement.”

“The first coaching books were written about coaching by managers in business to improve employee performance. The Werner Erhard link is very strong among the first coaches – Jinny Ditzler, on staff with est from 1974 to 1980, started the first life coach training in 1981 in the U.K. Sir John Whitmore brought Werner Erhard to the U.K. in 1974 and Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game process to the U.K. in 1979. Tim Gallwey was actually Werner Erhard’s tennis coach for a time. Ken Blanchard and Peter Senge were personal friends with Werner Erhard. And Thomas Leonard worked in the accounting department for Werner Erhard Associates, and hired Laura Whitworth to work there also.”

As for Thomas Leonard having a hand in the development of The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), while it is true that Laura Whitworth attended his life planning courses and Thomas gave his materials to Laura and Henry Kimsey House, they did not use them for the co-active coaching model that is the basis for CTI’s programs. I was fortunate to be able to interview Laura several times before she died in February 2007.

Werner Erhard popularized personal growth and Thomas Leonard popularized coaching – both were masterful synthesizers. If the size of the dissertation is daunting, my very readable book on the history of coaching will be published by mid-2009. Till then, the 693-page document (including appendices and references), is available at The Foundation of Coaching’s Research Repository. (Vikki G. Brock, Ph.D., EMBA is a Master Certified Coach, Certified Executive Coach, and Professional Mentor Coach.

About the Author

Bill Dueease. Life Coach Match Maker

Bill Dueease is the co-founder of The Coach Connection. Previously, Bill was a chairperson with the International Coach Federation, and a highly successful petroleum industry engineer and entrepreneur. The Coach Connection provides a number of free coaching articles.

This article was originally published in Peer Bulletin 173 (February 3, 2009), a monthly, subscription-based journal published by Peer Resources.

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