We celebrate Professor Anthony (Tony) Grant’s life and work. Grant passed away on Monday 3 February 2020, surrounded by his family

A colourful life

Sparky, bright, warm, inspiring and hilarious, Tony Grant is one of the people I most enjoyed interviewing.

He became an internationally acknowledged pioneer and thought leader in the emerging field of coaching psychology, despite leaving school at the age of 15 with no qualifications. His stimulating and colourful London upbringing, one in which discussions on the meaning of life were commonplace, hadn’t been conducive to settling for the rigidity of the educational system of that time. Both his Greek Orthodox mother, Eva, a former model and famous glamour photographer, and his father who was Jewish of Russian descent, had rejected their religious backgrounds. Instead they’d embraced the integrative philosophical and psychological perspectives of the likes of George Gurdjieff. For the young Grant, “It was good if you wanted to get enlightened but painful and a pain in the ass when you’re 12 and there’s no white bread or frozen veg in the house,” and it meant he found school “very pedestrian”. But it helped foster in Grant a curious and assumption-challenging mind.

After completing his training as a carpenter and running his own contracting business, he migrated to Australia, enjoying its “egalitarianism”. He enrolled in a bridging course at the University of Sydney in 1992, and then on the Bachelor of Arts Program in 1993. He completed Honours in Psychology in 1996, coming first in his year and winning the University Medal and the Australian Psychological Prize for best Honours thesis. In 1997, he received the Dick Thompson Prize for his behavioural thesis. Other awards include the 2007 British Psychological Society Award for “outstanding professional and scientific contribution to Coaching Psychology”, the 2009 Vision of Excellence Award from Harvard University for “pioneering work in helping to develop a scientific foundation to coaching”, and the 2016 Australian Psychological Society Workplace Excellence Award in Coaching and Leadership.

In 2000, he launched the world’s first Coaching Psychology Unit (CPU) at the University of Sydney, Australia. He briefly left, going to Macquarie University where he completed a PhD and Masters of Behavioural Science in 2001, with a thesis entitled, Towards a Psychology of Coaching: The impact of coaching on metacognition, mental health and goal attainment.

In addition to being director of the CPU at Sydney University, he held a number of external roles, including Visiting Professor at Oxford Brookes University, and Honorary Research Fellow on the Advisory Board of the ISCP International Centre for Coaching Psychology Research.

Grant’s leadership of the CPU marked the beginning of the process of establishing and strengthening an evidence base for behavioural coaching. The establishment of coaching psychology as a globally recognised field is in part down to Grant’s research.

In 2019, at the University of Sydney in recognition of his exceptional contribution, Tony became a full professor and in January 2020, he became Emeritus Professor. A member of Coaching at Work’s editorial advisory board since the early days, he was also a prolific author and an active coach who saw coaching as a “social movement”.

“It’s amazing to have come to a place in contemporary western society where personal development has become an acceptable part of daily working life,” he said to me back in 2007 (Coaching at Work, volume 2, issue 5).

Liz Hall, editor, Coaching at Work

Tony was an outstanding teacher and presenter, as entertaining as he was insightful and passionate.

His students and all those who participated in his talks and workshops will long remember his ability to impart a practical understanding of complex issues. This was complemented by his ever-present and wicked sense of humour. His repertoire of jokes was extensive and they kept us all laughing.

Sydney University:

Tony was a pioneering coaching psychologist and researcher who was instrumental in the development of evidence-based coaching.

He received awards from the British Psychological Society, Harvard University, and more recently, in 2016 from the Australian Psychological Society. Although many coaches and coaching psychologists may remember Tony for his insightful and inspirational lectures, conference papers and master classes, he will be remembered with great fondness by his colleagues and students for his wonderful sense of humour.

Professor Stephen Palmer

Tony was not only a pioneer and founding father of the field of coaching psychology, but someone who made a significant impact on so many lives.

Personally, Tony changed the course of my career and in many ways my life’s mission. He was my doctoral supervisor (2001-3) and co-author of Cognitive-behavioural, Solution-focused Life Coaching: Enhancing goal striving, well-being, and hope (Green, Oades & Grant, 2006). This research and published study conducted as part of my doctorate was the first randomised controlled trial on cognitive-behavioural coaching, which followed on, replicated and supported Tony’s own doctoral research, providing further evidence that coaching not only leads to enhanced goal striving but has a significant impact on wellbeing.

This study was followed by two other evidence-based coaching studies – Green, Grant & Rynsaardt (2007) and Grant, Green & Rynsaardt (2010) which were conducted in a school setting and again providing further evidence for coaching’s impact. I’m also grateful for the opportunity Tony gave me when he invited me to teach in the Coaching Psychology Unit at the University of Sydney on Applied Positive Psychology, which I taught for 10 years. Over the 20-year period since the Coaching Psychology Unit was launched in 2000, Tony continued to teach, inspire, publish and present, broadening the reach of and interest in coaching psychology across the globe.

It isn’t his purely academic rigour alone that he will be remembered for but for his ‘carry on’ humour and his personal interactions with those seeking help. Many colleagues and students speak kindly and appreciatively of the assistance Tony gave them.

The ripple effect and legacy Tony has created and left behind is significant. He will be sadly missed by many.

Dr Suzy Green, founder and CEO of the Positivity Institute

Find out more

Tony Grant was a guest on the ‘All in the Mind’ podcast in 2014. You can listen to it here: