How I Became a Business and Leadership Coach

I did not plan it

Dramatically opposed careers

Dissatisfaction with existing models

A new identity

Making a difference

My business and leadership coaching service is new to my business, but the work is nothing new to me. Since early in my life, I desired to help other people in meaningful ways.

Steve Tonkin-Coach

My career began working with students and families

Sitting in a lunch meeting near downtown Chicago, I realized that it was time for a major career shift. After a decade of study in education and theology and work with students, I knew the time was right to make the shift to business.

My memory includes a:

  • decent sandwich.
  • lunch booth with curtains.
  • full-blooded Italian businessman.
  • set of intriguing questions that I could not answer.

Without hesitancy, I began a season of becoming a financial accounting professional. Learning the nuts and bolts of accounting and controllership taught me the ins and outs of the business environment.

After 20 years in both large and small companies, I was facing the major recession of 2009. So, I started a company. The times were difficult, but I knew how to find opportunities in every challenge.

My Business Vision

My first business vision was to be a full-time corporate trainer with the freedom to train on the topics I wanted and work with the people I chose. After working as an accountant and a family and student pastor, I was ready to do my own thing. These professional experiences seem like two diametrically opposite career paths. I find that they are perfect foundations for business and leadership coaching.

My original focus on corporate training began by using 3rd party material and assessments.

They were good resources for understanding people’s behavior and personality differences. But their philosophy led to limited results. Other people’s materials did not align with the research that lasting results come from intrinsically motivated people. 

The training programs promised to improve performance. Most of their assignments and advice became extra burdensome. These programs never considered how to free people to do their best work naturally. Sustaining results proved difficult. 

While behavior change is essential, it needs to be intrinsically motivated and with much fewer “rah-rah” moments. I did not see many examples of long-term, sustainable results.

From my studies and personal experience, behavior is only one aspect of human existence. 

  • What about our mind, emotions, soul, motivations, and values.
  • Shouldn’t training include a more holistic approach?

Old Training Programs

Third-party products did not begin to answer my questions. 

My Proprietary Approach to Coaching

I wrote a proprietary assessment that measures a person’s intrinsic motivations. My goal was to identify and measure what people do naturally without the need for excessive external incentives. This experience led me to understand the benefits of authenticity. Then, I created a training and coaching model based on living out of authentic identity. I drew some inspiration from old, outdated organizational leadership models. The same ones that many coaches are still pushing regardless of their limited success. Finally, I developed a Culture and Leadership Template to help leaders consider how individuals best help themselves and their businesses succeed. All along, I added more training curriculum to teach these principles that apply to a wide variety of organizations and individuals.

Then the unexpected hit, a global pandemic. 

Adapting to change relates more to your integrity and authenticity than just changing your behavior. The pandemic slowed business and allowed time for me to validate my training philosophy further. One of my core values is to live what I teach. If it doesn’t work for me, then I have no business teaching it to others. Because so many people were struggling financially, I decided to get involved with Joy’s Kitchen, a local food bank. My involvement allowed me to test my philosophy in another setting.

No one knew my leadership philosophy. So I stepped in and offered to help. Joy’s grew exponentially. At the same time, other food banks were shutting down due to the age limitations of their volunteers and personal fear. Cars lined up, stretching down the street as people waited to receive food. This “experiment” continues to be a significant part of my life. 

Food Box Collage

Looking Ahead to Coaching

Making a difference by helping others continues to be both personal and professional priorities. Using my leadership philosophy to help other people and organizations be successful is inspiring.

Coaching has been a consistent thread throughout my life, regardless of what I called it. Now I am adding the term to my business offerings to make it easier for individuals to work with me.

My passion is to help my clients:

  • Build a strategy that aligns with their intrinsic motivations and values. 
  • Help find the best people who will build an effective team. 
  • Diagnose and deal with challenges and barriers.
  • Deal with communication conflict that divides people.
  • Find revenue growth opportunities and limit liability.


Maximizing sustainable results happen when people align themselves to their God-given gifts and passions to build a plan that gets results.

Picture of Steve Tonkin

Steve Tonkin

As a business trainer and leadership coach, Steve helps people discover and affirm their intrinsic motivations and values that create meaningful and sustainable differences in their life and organization.

His writing topics focus on helping people live authentically and unselfishly.

His proprietary training and coaching frameworks help his clients address their issues in a way that will work for them.