Thomas Leonard Photos’s Blog


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About Thomas Leonard


Thomas J. Leonard was born on July 21, 1955, in Oakland, California. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but spent most of his adult life living in various cities throughout the US. His last stop was Phoenix, Arizona. Why Phoenix? He claimed the ‘clean energy’ in Phoenix helped him be more creative. And without a doubt it was the last 2 years of his life, spent in Phoenix, that he did his most compelling and comprehensive work . His professional life began in the field of financial planning. He did not attend college, but, using courses available by mail, taught himself financial planning and gained the work experience required for professional certification by a national board. As he worked with clients, he noticed that what they were consistently asking for was not just financial advice but how to be more happy in life in general. From this, the seeds for Thomas’ version of Life Coaching was sprouted.

Thomas began delivering life coaching along with financial planning until one day, one client asked, “why isn’t there a field of life coaching”? That’s all it took for an entrepreneur like Thomas to begin investigating the idea. At the time, early 1980’s, there wasn’t much going on at the public level. The early adopters met in living rooms, as he did, and began talking about new ways of working with the average person who had trouble reaching goals in life and wanted more success in life and business.

Although Thomas has been called “The Father of Coaching”, it is important to point out that he wasn’t actually the first Life Coach. There were others who can claim to be one of the first. There is no doubt that it was Thomas Leonard who helped put coaching on the map. It was his amazing entrepreneurial skills that helped launch the coaching industry that is thriving today. In 1992 Thomas founded Coach University , a virtual coach training university which quickly became the leading school in the nation with over 7,000 coaches in 38 countries. The classes were first held at his house and then migrated to the virtual world via teleconferencing to allow students and coaches from all over the world to participate. He didn’t stop there though. He soon found ways to bring coaching and coach training to the masses through the internet. His fresh and inspired ways of seeing the world and working with people to achieve goals, began to reach coaches around the world in tens of thousands.

From the onset, Thomas understood that the skills and materials for Life Coaching were going to evolve and change as coaches, clients and society evolved and changed. He realized very early on that coaching was a dynamic field, that needed time and wisdom to mature to its full potential. To guide that process, he created a ‘Portal” for coaches from around the world, to contribute to that evolution. He named it The International Coach Federation (ICF). He had not intended the ICF to become a regulatory agency. He intentionally selected the word “Federation” because it meant “uniting in a league”.  Thomas had a much broader vision for the ICF in it’s early development and he made it clear that he thought coaching was too young, too new and too full of potential to regulate and define standards before it had time to evolve and mature. He didn’t want coaching to be restricted, put in a box and defined too soon. However, soon after Thomas moved on (kicked out?), others took over ICF, it became the International Coaching Regulatory Agency it is today.

In the late 1990″s, many people were excited to meet the now famous, Thomas Leonard, and learn more about coaching and the provocative material he was teaching. Sponsored by Coach University, Thomas jumped in an RV with his little dog “Fringe” and traveled across the United States and Canada. (Were you one of them? We would love to hear your story of meeting Thomas. Email us He met all kinds of people, from janitors to top executives and spread the word about coaching. He created, a virtual University accessible by phone with over 20,000 students and 100 classes a week.

Upon his return from his one year odyssey around North America, he created the portal that he always envisioned and hoped the ICF would become. He called it Coachville. was an instant success. Coaches everywhere wanted to be associated with the largest and most creative coach community and training school in the world. Thomas had a vision that the power of the internet was so strong, coaches could use it in a multitude of ways and especially to become very well trained coaches…virtually. Using video, audio and written communication, later adding two day live events, Thomas created one of the most popular virtual training schools in the world. Unfortunately and ironically, the independently run ICF would not certify Coachville as a training school because their training model was ‘virtual’. That meant, Coaches who were trained at Coachville, however magnificent they were, could not qualify to take the ICF certifying exam. Undaunted, Thomas created another international certifying institution the “International Association of Coaching” (IAC).

It’s interesting side note that Thomas was one of the first people to push the concept of coaching over the phone. Before this time, coaching was done face-to-face as you would meet with a therapist or financial advisor. Initially the ICF rejected this method of coaching would only certify coaches who met with their clients face-to-face. The over the phone method of coaching stood the test of time however and now more than 95% of all coaching is done over the phone. Would Thomas have been able to convince the ICF that virtual learning and skills are as valid as skills learned over the phone? I would like to think so.

What made both Coachville and the IAC so attractive was the elimination of the “name brand” kind of training or qualifying of schools to pass the certified coach exam. Thomas believed some people, through either good genes or how they were raised, were born to be coaches and therefore they didn’t need to join a $5,000+ coaching school. They simply needed to learn some of the language and skills of coaching. Likewise, other people, he believed, had already received comparable training and wisdom in life or through particular roles they played in society and also didn’t need a long directed path of training but could pick up the language and skills relatively easily and quickly. IAC was a breakthrough kind of certifying body in the world of coaching. It insured high quality certified coaches without requiring the typical hoops and dances that most certifying bodies in most fields of endeavor still require.

Thomas Leonard always seemed to be years ahead of his time and the coaching profession. His mind was always thinking about where coaching was going. He didn’t waste time trying to keep coaching in one place. In particular, he saw the power of coaching as more than just 1-1 coaching, in a client-coach relationship. His vision was much greater than that. He saw the skills of coaching used by everyone, in a variety of settings and contexts. He created much controversy in the industry with his idea that “Everyone is a coach”. What Thomas meant was, there is a coach (a wise mentor) in all of us. With the right training we can use coaching skills (wiser communication skills), in every relationship we have,professional or not. What would the world look like today if Thomas’ vision of everyone having access to his coaching skills, like; “communicates cleanly” ( vs pushing one’s own agenda), “respects humanity” (vs creating unrealistic expectations) or “navigates with curiosity” (vs. knowing it all and imposing one’s views on others)?

In his final years, Thomas created the first ever Graduate School of Coaching. This school accommodated not only beginner coaches but a growing number of stalemated advanced coaches. He offered innovative classes and programs that sharpened everyone’s’ saws. Thomas created a huge array of coach trainings to inspire coaches to bring out their best. He had the School of Small Business Coaching, the School of Corporate Coaching, even the School of Creativity. There was no ceiling for his creativity. And again, he headed around North America, to England and Australia, to meet and teach his brand of coach training. People often wondered when he slept.

As if all this wasn’t enough for one single human being to accomplish, Thomas also published several books. He authored several internationally known e-zines. He created a number of personal development programs. And he was featured in over 200 media presentations including Los Angeles Times, NBC Nightly news, Time, Newsweek, Fortune, and The Times (London).

It is not a stretch, by any standard, to say Thomas Leonard was a genius. But it wasn’t just his sharp intellect that was attractive about Thomas. Everyone who knew him was touched deeply by his way of being. Although, not everyone liked him. His directness, honesty, and keen observations offended and even scared some people. Yet he garnered a great deal of respect, even from those who weren’t always in step with where he was taking the industry. His contribution to the field of coaching is still not even partially realized. His passing on February 11, 2003, from a sudden heart attack leaves a gap of inspiration still waiting to be filled. Thomas was survived by his dad, Bill Leonard, who has since passed away and is still missed by his sister Susie Leonard Weller, his niece Katie, and nephew, Dan Leonard Weller. Needless to say, he was also survived by the coaches he knew and the ones who are still finding and being inspired by his work. The world lost a dear source of excitement, innovation and challenge with his passing and still today his presence is missed in the coaching world and beyond.

4 Responses

  1. I am on wordpress as well I found this while writing a paper for school on coaching. I am trying to figure out who is the owner of this site?

  2. On this Christmas morning I thought I’d finally take the leisure to google the man whose book I’ve marked with underlines, notes, asteriks, and !!!!’s more than any other book (and that’s saying a lot, because I always mark books as I devour them). I’ve read Thomas Leonard’s book, “The Portable Coach” several times over, and am convinced that he had a very spiritual side as well. Today I am disappointed to learn that I am far too late to meet him, but nonetheless I HAVE met him, in a very meaningful way, and intend to pass along his remarkable maverick wisdom to all comers. Thank you for writing this candid, balanced and informative summary for those of us who can’t meet Thomas personally. Happy Holidays! Doctor T

    • Ethelle Lord says:


      Nice to read your feedback about Mr. Leonard. I had the great pleasure of meeting him at one of the ICF conferences and will never forget it. I still use his laser coaching method and teach it to my Alzheimer’s coaches now. Indeed he was a genius and his work lives on.

      Dr. Ethelle Lord
      Pioneer in Alzheimer’s Coaching

  3. […] Thomas Leonard was an extraordinary person, a pioneer. Ever heard of him? I’m sure not. He was the founder of several coaching associations and federations, founder of the more comprehensive coach training schools, publisher of books, tapes and learning materials for coaches and generally considered among life coaches to be THE “guru” in the personal coaching industry. […]

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