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Who's the Problem Fixer?

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

Thomas J. Leonard was born in Oakland, California. He didn’t attend college, but by studying courses available by mail, he taught himself financial planning and gained the work experience required for professional certification by a national board.

Starting as a financial planner in the 1980's, Mr. Leonard helped clients build their assets. He met with individuals and couples on a regular basis to review their situations, but it was the extraneous questions from his more successful clients that made him contemplate branching out.

One day, a wealthy couple asked him what colour Mercedes they should buy. He asked about their preferences and worked with them until it became apparent that red was their choice.

It occurred to him that people needed such assistance and he went into business to provide it. Within years he set up a firm that coached others wishing to learn how to provide such services. On February 11, 2003, he died of a heart attack in his home in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 47 years old. (with files from Wolfgang Saxon, New York Times, February 25, 2003)

Why is it important to know about Thomas Leonard? One reason is that he is considered the founder of personal coaching. A second reason is that he founded the International Coach Federation in Washington in 1994.

A third reason is, that in 1998, he published a book called “The Portable Coach … 28 Surefire Strategies for Business and Personal Success”. On page 120, he shares the following story.

One of my earliest clients was a magazine editor. Stewart shared a large office with a chronically quarrelsome editor-in-chief. Just about everyone in the organization had experienced her unwarranted blow-ups, Stewart included, though he seemed to have a knack for defusing her volatility.

Privately, he often wondered why she didn’t get fired. One day, after another unpleasant incident, the truth dawned on him: He was letting himself be the organization’s “shock absorber.” Because he so often corralled and/or deflected her moods, management didn’t have to deal with the problem.

Stewart decided that “shock absorber” wasn’t the highest and best use of his talents. In fact, for management to use him in that way subtracted from his pride. So he moved into a smaller office across the hall from the editor-in-chief, kept up his work, maintained cordiality, but completely stopped “fixing” problems.

Within four months, management stopped living in denial. She was gone. He was promoted. The first issue he created won an industry award.

Thomas Leonard’s words to coaches: It’s terrific to fix a problem. But if you are a problem-fixing “specialist,” a long line of them will show up at your door, and your creativity will be stifled. Value yourself for the skills you most want to employ.

I would add, let’s value the gifts that God has given us, and ensure that we are doing His will instead of our own. How many times have we thought that it is our responsibility to help someone change? That’s never what we have been asked to do. God does all the changing that needs to be done in each of us, provided we surrender to Him.

Ellen White was once asked how she handled the situation if she felt she was delivering a message from God to someone and that person disregarded the message. She said that she believed her role was simply to deliver the message. The person who received it was the one who needed to have a conversation with God.

Let’s not be problem-fixing specialists. Let’s be the ones who point everyone to God, the great Burden Bearer, and the true Physician amongst us.

All of heaven stands ready to help us. Let’s step boldly into what God is calling us to do, and leave the real Problem-Fixing Specialist in charge of everything else - by His grace and for His glory forever.


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