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Wendy Buckingham  /  Creator, Life Coaching Professionally

The History of Life Coaching

Page Summary

The history of life coaching - its origins and development is an interesting story and an important one for aspiring life coaches to know and understand.

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The concept of life coaching goes back to sports coaching, school coaching, music coaching etc and how advantageous it can be for people in all walks of life and occupations, to have the support of a coach to bring them to their full potential.

But life coaching, as you will discover, is very different in its criteria and application from sports and other types of coaching.

It Started With Thomas Leonard

Thomas Leonard, an American financial planner, is generally acknowledged as the first person to develop coaching as a profession in the 1980s and the concept and history of life coaching today really starts with him.

Leonard observed that his clients, though emotionally stable and hardly needing therapy, wanted more from him than just the usual tips on how to invest and safeguard their incomes.

They wanted help in organising their lives better and planning and achieving their goals.

His groundbreaking book The Portable Coach is a compilation of his teaching and an invaluable resource to have on your life coaching shelf, full of really useful information and amazing transformational processes to use on yourself and with your clients.  

As a result of his observations, Leonard’s career gradually shifted from financial planning to full-time developing of the techniques which were to become his life coaching methodology.  At the time he called it “life-planning”.

Within a few years, he was coaching and training people in those specific coaching skills which were complimentary but quite different to those practiced by therapists, mentors and consultants. You can read about what life coaching is and how it compares with those here: 

The First Specific Life Coach Training

In the early 1990's Leonard founded the first formal coach-training program.  He called it Coach University. Coach U as it came to be known, offered courses in coaching that were conducted live or via a series of conference calls often called “tele-classes”. No Skype, zoom or internet back then!

I'm proud to say I trained with CoachU in 1998 to 2000, 200 hours of tele-classes, and later become a tele-class leader.

Thomas Leonard died tragically young at 49, but CoachU remains today as one of the leading and most innovative and respected coaching schools. 

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The manuals CoachU produced invaluable coaching aides packed with information and processes many coaching schools still don't cover.

One example is the The Coach U Personal Development Workbook and Guide. I have well thumbed copies which have earned their place on my bookshelf many times over!

Leonard was also instrumental in founding the International Coach Federation an important component in the history of life coaching to this day. This worldwide body was the first to set and publish industry standards and ethics and provide independent credentialing of coaches and accreditation of coaching schools.

The ICF is still the benchmark for coaching excellence though there are now many other associations that provide accreditation of training courses and credentialing of coaches. You can check them out here.

From Cynicism To Understanding

When life coaching first hit the personal development scene, it was often presented vaguely and viewed cynically.

People couldn't decide whether it was a credible profession or the latest dubious fad from the U.S.

Now, the idea that a properly trained professional life coach can be a real asset to individuals and businesses, has gained worldwide acceptance.

Thousands of trained professional life coaches and many people from other similar disciplines such as mentoring, therapy and consulting have embraced its value. 

As coaching has become more of a recognised discipline, numerous college and university post graduate courses in coaching are being offered around the world.

Unfortunately, life coaching is not licensed or regulated in most parts of the world. This has resulted in many people who have little understanding of the specific skills needed to life coach are simply able to add the word "coach" or "life coach" to their portfolio of skills without any training. And this is further complicated by the many different types of coaches there are - sports, health, fitness, financial, business who are in reality trainers or consultants and do not do life coaching as prescribed by Leonard.

I have to labour the point that life coaching is a specific and wonderful skill to master in addition to any other qualifications or skills a person may have. 

Getting Started As A Life Coach

You can learn more about life coaching and becoming a life coach by exploring this site including, in particular the related pages shown below. 

Just know that if you go about it the right way and get training and have a recognised life coaching certification, you are entering a rewarding, established and growing profession with many opportunities. 

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Created and written by Wendy Buckingham, Class One Productions P/L. Sydney

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