With news of Sir John Whitmore’s death, you share some of your stories and comments on a pioneer of the coaching industry and renowned management consultant
By Liz Hall
Julie Starr, author, The Coaching Manual
My first meeting with John came as we were both speakers at a leadership conference. I was new to speaking and more than a little apprehensive. When I spotted No 1. author and coaching legend, Sir John Whitmore, in my audience, I felt imagined pressure from a likely critic and judge. All my projection, and all the garbage thoughts of a panicked mind.
When I finished speaking, John hung around to speak to me. He said, ‘I really like what you did. We appear to be saying the same thing, but in different ways. I want to support you.’
Afterwards we hung out, talking about coaching and life in general. It was one of those milestone conversations after which everything changes. Somehow, any feelings of contest or competition, with John or anyone else in my field, evaporated, as did much of my professional anxiety.
Through John’s caring and encouraging manner, I realised I simply needed to build myself up to serve this amazing community of which we are all part. John’s more challenging message to me that day became a constant one over the years; that I should speak my plain truth, and not hide behind models or smart theory.
Over time, John became a pivotal figure for me during my career; a mentor whose care and support I can now tune into at any moment. His generosity towards me often caught me off guard; I’ve sat in his audience during a Q&A and he’s literally directed attention towards me, saying, ‘Don’t ask me that, ask Julie.’
John endorsed my books, wrote testimonials for me (that I’d discover by accident), he’d recommend me to people, etc. He directly shaped my own attitude towards my fellow coaches in the field, reminding me to support others, be generous, help where I can. I am not a unique recipient of this support; John was openly a feminist and believed powerful women would raise consciousness.
He used his speaker platform to talk about what was important to him, which latterly was less about coaching and more about global issues relating to a lack of consciousness. That irked some people, but knowing John I saw that this was his real mission and purpose – to wake people up.
For me, John hasn’t actually gone anywhere. His legacy endures. For me it’s an urgency to speak the truth, be the truth and realise that all support is here for us to do just that.
David Brown, CEO, Performance Consultants International
After a successful career in banking, and 10 years analysing the workings of major capitalists and their organisations, I’d begun to feel as if I was peering at things through dense cloud.
John appeared at a conference one day, as solid and bright as a lighthouse, and confirmed what I knew instinctively, that there is something bigger and more powerful inside us all. He gave me the courage to be myself.
I founded Performance Consultants International with John and our colleague Tiffany Gaskell because of our shared belief that humanity, community and the environment matter as well as financial returns. Together, we chose to make a real contribution to the lives of others.
Some people stand out. John lit the imagination and fuelled a desire for what is possible. He shone so brightly and was so incredibly inspiring because he was so human and vulnerable. He had a playfully naughty side and a wicked sense of humour that made him great fun to be with.
He was a simple man with pure motives who wanted to do something good for the world. In many ways he was ahead of his time. He believed so passionately that people needed to wake up to the problems in the world, that he didn’t shy away from telling politicians, bankers, business leaders and all employees that we should stand up for justice, care for the environment, love, trust and believe in the potential of others.
And he shared these thoughts increasingly with us in the last years of his life – captured in the forthcoming (5th) edition of
Coaching for Performance.
As he grew older John was more conscious of the short time we all have on this planet to make a difference. So, latterly, we found ourselves asking clients if they were really ready for John to come into their organisation and gave advance notice that
“he comes with health warnings because he’ll really tell you why you need to grow up and be responsible”.
We needn’t have worried: John was the wake-up call they had all been waiting for.
I find that so much of what he did is instinctively a part of me, such as walking around the park picking up rubbish. He gave me the courage to be my real self, to have compassion for all people and to care for all of nature.
Darren Robson, Board director, Association for Coaching
John was a pioneer, a visionary and, to us, a legend… . He was courageous in the way he shared his views and forthright in his convictions, beliefs and vision for a better world. He believed wholeheartedly that the profession of coaching could and should make a huge positive, sustainable and lasting difference in our world.
We think he called that right and we thank him for inspiring us and the many thousands of others who make up our wonderful profession.
John, thank you, thank you, thank you…you lit the path for us to follow.
Linda Aspey, MD, Coaching for Leaders
I had the privilege of interviewing John for BACP Coaching in 2012. He was refreshingly friendly, not at all the superstar he could rightly have claimed to be. He and his friend met me at his local train station in a battered old car that chugged its way to his tiny little apartment. Despite his worldwide success he had no time for the material – he’d given most of his possessions away…. My final question in the interview was, “How would you like your life and your work to be remembered?”
And he said: “Personally, I want to feel that I did the best I could to contribute to others and to our future, and if I wanted to be remembered by anyone else, it would be that I did make a difference. To be honest, I already feel I have made a little. I have loved my life. I have been lucky and if I die tomorrow, I will say to God:
“Thanks for my life. It was just fine.”
- The fully revised 5th Edition of Coaching for Performance (Nicholas Brealey Publishing), completed shortly before Sir John’s death, will be published on 7 September 2017. Pre-order it here: http://bit.ly/2rd6SN6
- Three Minutes to Midnight in this issue (volume 12.4)
- Inside Out (an interview with Sir John & Tim Gallwey): http://bit.ly/2rqyJZt
- Driving Force (a profile of Sir John): http://bit.ly/2tgJsXF
- Darren Robson’s interview with Sir John: http://bit.ly/2rd6r5q