Sir John Whitmore - the father of business coaching

Empowerment Coaching Krakow Blog-Sir John Whitmore biography eng

Sir John Whitmore died on April 28, 2017, at the age of 79. The legacy he has left behind in the fields of coaching, mentoring, leadership development, and organizational change is undoubtedly invaluable. The list of awards with which he was awarded during his lifetime is given at the end of this column.

He is the co-creator of the GROW coaching model (short for Goal, Reality, Options, Will), which has been recognized as the foundation of business coaching. He was the creator of the concept of Performance Coaching, which has forever entered the business world. He described the essence of his concepts in the book Coaching for Performance, which has become the bible of business coaching. To date, it has been published in over one million copies and translated into over 20 languages.

Sir John Whitmore's book has influenced my life as well. It was thanks to him and subsequent certification in the British organization Institute for Leadership & Management (ILM) that I started regular coaching practice.

Before we move on to Sir John's work and achievements, it is worth mentioning first his lordship ancestry, childhood, and what he himself put forward as a reason for participating in motor racing.

Childhood and youth

John inherited the title of Lord from his father. And as it happens in such British families, his childhood and youth looked "standard": a very good upbringing and the best schools (including Eton College and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst). Ahead of him, there was noble life in the class of British aristocracy.

And here's a surprise. At 21, Sir John "catches the car bug" and starts competing in the Le Mans 24 motor racing.

He himself explained it this way:

I did it because I did not love myself. I was insignificant in the shadow of my successful high-profile parents. Of course, I was quite unaware of this at the time. I needed to prove myself somehow, demonstrate that I could make something of myself.

Doesn't that sound like a good topic for a coaching contract these days?

Sir John has raced the Le Mans 24 Hours race five times. In 1959, when he drove one of the first Lotus Elite cars with Jim Clark, they took second place in their class. That same year, he also competed in the Silverstone May International race, where he made it to the front row of Stirling Moss, Colin Chapman, and Roy Salvadori. He took fifth place in the general classification and second in his class.

But he gained real fame when he was racing a Mini car. In 1961, he bought a well-worn rally Mini for £ 350, painted it green, and competed in the British Limousine Championship. Against all odds, he won!

It was only after this victory that Whitmore's mother told his father (who had six months to live) that their son had become a racing driver. Following his father's death in 1962, Sir John inherited the Orsett estate, the title of baronet, and became known as the "racing baronet," although he had always downplayed his aristocratic roots. Maybe because Orsett Hall didn't become the property of the Whitmore family until his grandfather's day - as an honorary debt in a high-stakes card game.

Four years later, in 1966, Sir John hung up his racing helmet, sold the family property to his friend Tony Morgan, and moved to Switzerland and later California. His competitive spirit has led him to race famous Hollywood actors on motorbikes. He competed with Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, and McQueen's stuntman Bud Ekins. All of this took place on the famous Mulholland Drive, which was little more than a dirt road at the time.

He also directed the film, and in private time shared an apartment with racing legends Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, and had many adventures with his friend Steve McQueen. And later on, he became a regular columnist for The Daily Telegraph's automotive column.

What is worth emphasizing as a summary of this period of life is his statement that he attributed successes and ideas on how others could achieve their goals in life to the desire to break with the assumptions and traps of the military and aristocratic environment in which he was born and raised.

In the future, Sir John will return to racing again. This will be in 1990 when he will be invited to drive the McLaren M8F Can-Am. He will run three times. He will be third in the first race, second in the second, and the third race ... will win!