Since its inception in the 1930s as a process tailored to executive development and sales, coaching has evolved from these original applications to include a much wider array of disciplines. Coaching now encompasses a virtually unlimited variety of niche specialties, ranging from wellness and fitness to relationships, life management and business performance. In some cases, coaching even serves in matters of spirituality and life-purpose. All this to say, the coaching profession has exploded and in the process it has created a diverse population of passionate individuals committed to leading lives informed by personal choice while championing others to do the same.
Although the profession is relatively new in terms of accreditation and officially sanctioned standards, coaching’s roots run deep. Indeed, countless pioneers, thought-leaders, and seminal theorists have contributed and shaped the myriad styles – or modalities – of coaching in wide use today. In this article, I’ll provide an overview of the evolutionary pathway of coaching and its ever-growing list of applications that have transformed contemporary views of a successful life. I will finish with a brief look at Whole Person Coaching,® a modality I developed in response to the growing need for coaches to equip themselves with tools to shift the client’s deepest fears, and move them beyond struggle to the unchartered territories of their future.
Origins of the term “coach”
We’re all familiar enough with the common definition of the term relating to athletics, which according to Merriam-Webster is its second definition, as in “a private tutor” or “one who instructs or trains, especially, one who instructs players in the fundamentals of a sport and directs team strategy.” Yet coaches (sports, life, wellness or others) are far more than tutors who relay information in a one-way pattern of communication. Instead, a professional coach works with an individual to elicit their personal or professional best by drawing upon their unique abilities – some of which are often latent or unrealized. The coach then helps to establish clear goals and assists in laying out a roadmap for the client to achieve those goals successfully. From there, she stays active as a behind-the-scenes partner, serving at the client’s side to see them through to success.
Interestingly, some believe the origins of the term coach have more to do with the dictionary’s primary meaning of the word, as in “a four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, a railroad passenger car intended primarily for day travel, a bus or trailer,” etc. This sense of the word refers to the physical transport of an individual from one place to another. Although it is no longer standard practice to use brute force to motivate our clients forward, the crux of this concept still holds true. A professional Whole Person Coach,® for example, does employ physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual movement to transition a client from one place to another. And all this is done with the client at the steering wheel, driving themselves to their self-appointed destination.
Dictionary meanings aside, the term coaching has come to represent a highly specialized career path for those devoted to collaboratively creating positive change for others in either personal or professional arenas.
Theoretical roots of coaching
The roots of coaching, one could argue, date back to the Socratic method. While Socrates’ process might not have been fully appreciated in classical Greece, as evidenced by his death sentence, his method of using inquiry to challenge the self and achieve understanding made a permanent mark on human culture and is now considered a powerful, life-enhancing tool. It has been in use in the business arena for decades.
An expert in the field, Vikki Brock, PhD, MCC, provides the grand story behind the conception, birth and maturation of coaching in her book, Sourcebook of Coaching History, in which she depicts the evolution of root disciplines throughout the history of the profession.
Indeed, we see that numerous disciplines, ranging from the personal growth and development industry to accelerated learning and development theories and practices, have all contributed to modern coaching. According to Dr. Brock, coaching is also rooted in biology, philosophy, linguistics, psychology and a wealth of other social sciences.
Key theorists in the coaching profession
According to Dr. Brock’s research, we see original thinkers such as psychotherapist Alfred Adler in the early 1930s envisioning people as creators of their own life. Adler relied upon goal setting and life planning processes to assist individuals in the creation of their future.
In addition, great innovators such as Dale Carnegie in the field of self-improvement, Erik Erickson in psychosocial development, Carl Jung with future orientation, Abraham Maslow with the hierarchy of needs and motivations and Carl Rogers’ client centricity, all contributed to the profession. Their influences began showing by the 1950s, spawning the many thought-provoking processes known as coaching.
Organizational development theorists, including Ed Schein, Peter Block, Chris Argyris and Ken Blanchard, arrived on the scene in the 1960s and 70s, along with Werner Erhard and the Neuro-linguistic Program (NLP) theorists Michael Grinder and Richard Bandler.
Together, these individuals vastly contributed to the theories and practice of human effectiveness and success as well as to the disciplines of business and organizational development and leadership. The big leap forward in personal effectiveness, fulfillment and success in the second half of the twentieth century is largely attributed to the innovations of coaching and its specialized practices that still form and inform today’s coaching methodologies.
But it wasn’t until the 1980s that coaching really took off, supported by the popular work of Tim Gallwey, John Whitmore and Stephen Covey. In the 1990s coaching also flourished with authors and contributors like Anthony Robbins, Daniel Goleman, Martin Seligman, Peter Senge, David Cooperrider, Ken Wilber, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Marshall Goldsmith, to name only a few.
Today, the coaching profession is flourishing in just about every industry, consistently evolving as both small and large businesses continue to use its learning and development tools for everything from leadership and team development, to sales, customer service, strategic planning, effective communications, process improvement and conflict resolution. More recently, coaching has even been used to promote the health and well-being of organizations’ employees, serving as a proactive way to enhance workforce productivity and overall well-being.
Professional coaching also continues to find its way far beyond the large corporate organizational setting, which is only one aspect of the industry. Since the mid-1990s the refined practice of coaching has been so successful that it’s now a widely accepted profession, with educational programs being offered through universities and training institutes around the world.
Supported by professional associations like the International Coach Federation (ICF), the European Mentoring & Coaching Council (EMCC), and the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC), the coaching industry is safeguarded through established guidelines related to best practices and ethics. As a result, more and more people from all walks of life are searching for professionally credentialed coaches to help them accomplish their goals and to give practical expression to their dreams and visions.
One of the fastest growing segments in coaching today is in the area of personal growth and development, which requires specialized programs and techniques for individuals who are seeking a wide range of personal goals that include happiness, success, career transition, and work/life balance, as well as personal health and wellness, relationships, family matters, artistic pursuits and life purpose, to name just a few.
Whole Person Coaching
The system of Whole Person Coaching® (WPC) is one such refined and specialized holistic approach. With interdisciplinary roots in adult developmental models, emotional intelligence, neuroscience, archetypes, myth and story-telling, as well as somatic theory, the WPC® process invites wholeness into the client’s life by integrating all of ¬¬¬who they are, as well as what matters most, into every aspect of their life. With this combination, the individual not only learns to live from a place of personal power, but she also positions herself to continue to navigate and chart the life course that feels most congruent. In doing so, WPC® clients master confidence and competence, thriving intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually from their own unique gifts and resources.
The range of professionals using coaching now extends way beyond business, human resources and the communications fields, to include doctors, alternative health and well-being practitioners, teachers, nurses, and experts and thought leaders looking for profound processes to evolve their expertise into best habits for total living. Indeed, as a result of the professionalization and popularization of coaching in the last few decades, more and more individuals are finding that their expertise and life experiences are not only valuable to themselves but to others as well. For these practitioners of the coaching profession, the needs, applications and benefits of coaching are limited only by the imagination. In fact, as coaching’s popularity has grown, as many specialty models, methods and styles of coaching have been developed as there are specific coaching niches. There is no limit to coaching as a powerful tool for change. The future of coaching only grows brighter as do those who use it to leverage all of who they are.