The History of Coaching

“Coaching will become the model for leaders in the future…I am certain that leadership can be learned, and that terrific coaches…facilitate learning.”—Warren Bennis

In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing environment, successful leaders understand the benefit of developing their greatest asset – their people. Many organizations, have identified ‘coaching’ as a key skill required for leaders to be successful at developing a workforce that will be prepared to meet future demands. In fact, millennials, who will make up the majority of the workforce by 2020, want to be coached at work. [1]

This series of blogs explores the origin of coaching within a professional context, and shares practical tools to build your workforce through coaching.

What is Coaching:

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” – ICF

The History of Coaching:

As depicted in the graphic below, coaching has roots in Greek Philosophy, Traditional Psychology and Positive Psychology.

coaching-history

How Coaching Evolved:

Drawing from traditional psychology (particularly Alfred Adler) coupled with the belief that people are not broken, but full of potential (positive psychology), Thomas Leonard, an accountant with a business background, developed the first model for ‘personal coaching.’  Thomas believed in the Socratic Method of questioning, deeply understanding one’s self, and in truly listening to others. Leonard believed in taking action and moving forward.

Life coaching and business coaching, as a profession, grew out of systems Leonard put in place. In 1994 he founded the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the International Association of Coaches (IAF) to establish standards for the coaching profession.

“Coaching doesn’t make sick people well…it helps healthy people become extra-ordinary.”
– Thomas Leonard

What’s in a Name?

Originally the term ‘Coach’ developed as an English term meaning to ‘transport’. In 1830 the term evolved into a slang term at Oxford University to describe a Tutor who ‘carries’ a student through an exam.

Most recognize ‘Coach’ as a sports term which originated in the 1880s. Coaching styles emerged since that time, some more autocratic and others more supportive or focused on developing talent. Think Bobby Knight[1] vs. John Wooden2. Both coaches, hold records for being two of the most winning coaches in the history of college basketball, but their styles were vastly different. Knight was more about the ‘win’, while Wooden was more about the development of the athletes, both on the court and in life.

Today ‘coaching’ within a professional context, focuses on the development of the individual, so that each and every ‘player on the team’ contributes their best to the organization. Ergo, ‘coaching’ is recognized as an essential leadership skill in the majority of successful organizations. Coaching has been embraced by leadership icons across disciplines, including; Warren Bennis, Peter Drucker, Peter Senge, Peter Block, Daniel Goleman and Ken Blanchard, to name a few.


Within the context of leadership and management, IGS defines coaching as:

“The process of partnering with others to champion, encourage and support the individual in reaching his/her desired goals. Leaders who coach understand that the development of each and every individual on the team leads to the overall success of the organization.”


[1] Fry, Richard, “Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. Labor force” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force, 2015.

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