Home Research History of Coaching Professional Challenges Facing the Coaching Field from an Historical Perspective

Professional Challenges Facing the Coaching Field from an Historical Perspective

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The real birth of executive and business coaching emerged from leadership and supervisory development, sports coaching, and personal development training during the 1980s. Some say that the term executive coaching came into use during the late 1980s because coaching sounded less threatening than other types of interventions. In 1980, Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game approach to coaching was brought to the UK by Sir John Whitmore and others. It initially started in the sports arena, and then some of their clients said they wanted to bring it into their companies.

Coaching services started up during this period, with Personnel Decisions International (PDI) being the first management consulting firm to offer executive coaching as a stand alone service–yet it may not have been exactly as we define coaching today. One UK coaching company that was founded by Jinny Ditzler in 1981 (but no longer exists) provided life coaching services and trained coaches. In looking at some materials used by Results Unlimited during the early 1980s, I noticed similarities to coaching tools and techniques in use later in the 1980s by Thomas Leonard and Laura Whitworth in the US. This similarity may be in part due to the common est background all three shared. This same year saw the founding of Peer Resources, a Canadian company, by Rey Carr, Greg Saunders and David de Rosenroll to work with mentoring in education. During the 1980s industrial psychologists also brought coaching into German speaking companies.

As we look at the 1990s when coaching gained popularity and media attention, we see the rise of training programs and professional associations serving the coaching community. Coach training schools grew from two in 1990 to 8 in 1995, to 164 in 2004. Professional coach associations grew from 0 in 1990 to 12 in 2004, with annual coaching conferences growing from 0 to 16 by 2003. Seventy-nine coaching books were published during the 1990s (62% in 1998-9), while 153 coaching books were published from 2000 to 2004. The whole concept of coaching culture came into being about that time and by 2004 was a term commonly used in business.


Following this quick overview of the emergence of coaching by decade, I will share a conceptual model I developed as a way to look at coaching’s emergence, where it is today and where it might be in the future. I used two points that Malcolm Gladwell popularized in 2002 – the tipping point and the diffusion of innovation curve. 

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