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Sir John Whitmore

Pioneer of coaching and leadership development

Sir John Whitmore (1937–2017) was co-founder of Performance Consultants International – the foremost provider of coaching, leadership development and performance improvement in the workplace globally.

Sir John Whitmore

About Sir John Whitmore

Sir John Whitmore was a pre-eminent thinker in leadership development and organizational change. He wrote five books on leadership, coaching and sports, of which Coaching for Performance is the best known having sold over a million copies in more than 20 languages. This seminal text introduced the world to the GROW Model, created by Sir John and his colleagues in the 1980s.

GROW has become a favourite of managers and coaches worldwide, thanks to its success in both problem-solving and goal setting, helping to maximize and maintain personal achievement, enjoyment and productivity.

Pioneer of coaching and leadership development

Honoured with the President’s Award by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), rated as the Number One Business Coach by the Independent newspaper and as having had the most impact on the coaching profession by the Association for Coaching, Sir John Whitmore will always be considered as one of the leading figures in the international coaching community.

He was instrumental in the early stages of the creation of the ICF, which is now the world’s largest organization of professionally trained coaches, and he remained involved in the evolution of coaching and the ICF, serving as a Trustee for the ICF Foundation. He was co-founder, along with Eric Parsloe, David Clutterbuck, David Megginson and Julie Hay, of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC). He was also involved with the Professional and Personal Coaches Association (PPCA).

“His legacy to the coaching community is one that we can only aspire to. His books have been a primer for many coaches around the world, and his thinking has helped shape what coaching is today.”

Hilary Oliver, ICF Global Board Chair

Sir John was the pioneer and godfather of coaching in the workplace, including leadership and management training programmes (such as the gold-standard Coaching for Performance programme), creating coaching cultures and establishing the benchmark in executive coaching. His work was the foundation for the birth and explosion of the coaching industry we have seen globally and which is now helping business transform from the inside out. Sir John Whitmore was also a leading figure in the use of transpersonal coaching for leadership development.

“On behalf of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) I pay tribute to the extraordinary contribution made by Sir John Whitmore to the world of coaching and to the development of EMCC. As a pioneer and thought leader, Sir John encouraged and motivated the quest for professional practice within the industry.”

Lise Lewis, International President, EMCC

Founder of Performance Consultants

Sir John Whitmore founded Performance Consultants with partners after a period studying and working with Tim Gallwey and Bob Kriegel in the United States. Initially, the programmes were designed to improve performance in tennis and skiing, but then as Sir John tells it:

The rapidly changing emphasis heralded a new name for the company and the adoption of coaching as a way to describe the approach (while in the meantime something called “life coaching” was starting to emerge in the United States).

“On the ski slopes of the Alps, leaders discovered a revolutionary way of learning to ski using The Inner Game and wanted us to help them bring this approach to their work. We pioneered this new approach in business, which we called ‘performance coaching’.”

Sir John Whitmore

Sir John Whitmore’s life

Sir John Whitmore had an illustrious early career as a British and European saloon car champion. He went on to become a pioneer of performance coaching in business.

Born on 16 October 1937, the son of Sir Francis Whitmore and Ellis Johnsen, his career began conventionally. Following in his father’s footsteps he was educated at Eton College, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and later Cirencester Agricultural College. Then he caught the motor racing bug – not because he loved cars as he explained in The Telegraph, but “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.”

Along the way, he directed a film, founded ski and tennis schools, shared a flat with racing legends Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, and enjoyed many adventures with his friend Steve McQueen. In later life he became a regular columnist in the motoring pages of The Daily Telgraph.

He attributed his successes, and his ideas about how others could achieve their goals in life, to his desire to shed the assumptions and trappings of the military and aristocratic milieu into which he had been born.

“Sir John’s passing prompted widespread outpourings not only of grief and sadness, but of love and profound gratitude for his generosity, wisdom and inspiration.”

Liz Hall, Editor, Coaching at Work

Sir John Whitmore’s racing career

Sir John raced at Le Mans 24 Hours, the world’s greatest motor race, five times. Including in 1959, when he drove one of the very first Lotus Elites with Jim Clark to gain second place in their class. He also drove a Lotus Elite at that year’s Silverstone May International, where he reached the front row of the grid alongside Stirling Moss, Colin Chapman and Roy Salvadori. He finished fifth overall and second in class.

He gained notoriety by racing Minis when they first appeared. And in 1961 he bought a worn-out rally Mini for £350, painted it green and entered it for the 12-race British Saloon Car Championship. Against all the odds, he won!

It was only after his victory that Whitmore’s mother told his father (who had six months to live) that their son had become a racing driver. Upon his father’s death, Sir John inherited the Orsett estate and the baronetcy in 1962 and became known as “the racing baronet” though he always played down his aristocratic roots. In reality, Orsett Hall had only been in the family since his grandfather’s time as payment for a high-stakes card game that the then incumbent Digby Whitfield-Baker had lost; the baronetcy was given to Sir John’s father after serving as Lord Lieutenant of Essex for 22 years.

Four years later in 1966 Sir John hung up his racing helmet, sold his family seat to friend Tony Morgan and briefly pursued a career in farming before moving to Switzerland and later California. His competitive spirit led him to race motorbikes just north of Hollywood on Mulholland Drive – back when it was little more than a dirt road – against Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen and McQueen’s stuntman, Bud Ekins.

John briefly returned to motor racing in 1990 when he was invited to drive a McLaren M8F Can-Am in which he competed three times. He finished third in the first race, second in the second and won the third. In this video on Coaching Potential, Sir John reveals how he overcame his nerves and internal obstacles.

“I’d proved to myself what I set out to prove, and I wasn’t interested in proving it to anyone else. Now I decided to look inside myself for life’s answers.”

Sir John Whitmore

A new adventure

It was after leaving racing and the world of motor-sports, Sir John became interested in transpersonal psychology and its emphasis on the principle of will, intention or responsibility. He went on to apply his learning and skills first to the world of sport and then to business. In 1970, he studied at the Esalen Institute in Slates Hot Springs, California, the birthplace of the human potential movement, with the likes of William Schutz (creator of team development model FIRO-B), and then trained with Harvard educationalist and tennis expert Timothy Gallwey, who wrote The Inner of Game Tennis which was followed by his other books in The Inner Game series.

Birth of Performance Consultants

In the early 1980s Sir John teamed up with David Hemery and David Whitaker to form Performance Consultants, specialists in coaching and team-working. They pioneered performance coaching in the workplace, including leadership and management training programmes such as Coaching for Performance programme. Performance Consultants became the leading global provider of coaching, leadership development and performance improvement and built up an impressive list of blue-chip clients such as Friends Provident, Standard Life, British Airways, AstraZeneca, Deloitte, Barclays, Rolls-Royce and Roche, as well as several major retailers, and public sector organizations.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Sir John spent time developing the methodology, concepts and techniques for performance improvement in organizations and showed it was possible to accelerate performance and allow people to find a sense of purpose in their work. He co-created The GROW Model, which popularized in his book, Coaching for Performance. Since its first edition in 1992, this book has been considered a seminal work and the No. 1 Bestseller in many categories including: Management; Business team management skills; Business coaching & mentoring skills; and Human resources management.

The Grow Model

The GROW Model, according to one business magazine “has been seen to yield higher productivity, improved communication, better interpersonal relationships and a better-quality working environment”.

“We must see people in terms of their future potential, not their past performance.”

Sir John Whitmore

Transpersonal coaching

As well as paving the way for business to transform from the inside out, Sir John created Transpersonal Coach Training for experienced coaches wanting to acquire leading-edge coaching principles and techniques to help their clients discover the power and effectiveness of who they are and create deep and meaningful change. He challenged coaches to play a bigger game in the world. “Coaching is bigger than coaching” he used to explain as he urged them to become more aware of broader changes going on in the world at large and the responsibility of coaches to bring these facts into the coaching conversation to shake up traditional business mindsets.


  • In his lifetime, Sir John Whitmore was rated as the Number One Business Coach.
  • In 2007 Sir John received the International Coaching Federation’s President’s Award for advancing the profession of coaching.
  • In 2008 he was awarded an honorary Ph.D. in Business Administration by the University of East London (UEL) for his contribution to the development of the coaching profession.
  • A Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Coaching (IAC) in 2013.

“We must take our responsibility, and help others to do the same; we don’t have all the answers but we can help others to find theirs.”

Sir John Whitmore


Sir John Whitmore | Bravery and Your Own Path

Sir John Whitmore reflects on choosing your path and finding the courage to make change.

Interview with Sir John Whitmore | Big Ideas for CEE Conference, TA3 Bratislava (2011)

This video starts with a short introduction in Slovak. The interview is in English.

John Whitmore | Performance Consultants | Coaching: Video Playlist on YouTube

To learn more about Sir John Whitmore, leadership development and coaching, you may like to explore the John Whitmore | Performance Consultants | Coaching playlist on YouTube.

Related Sir John Whitmore articles:

Executive Corner Interview with Sir John Whitmore
Source: Cross Cultural Management, 2013

Leadership in the 21st Century: An interview with Sir John Whitmore
Source: European Commission, Commission en plus, 2010

Coaching & Mentoring. What they are and how to make the most of them
Source: Coaching & Mentoring, The Economist, 2009

The Big Questions are Too Hot to Handle
Source: Sir John Whitmore, 2009

Coaches Red De Wereld
Source: Tijdschrift voor Coaching, Amsterdam

Transpersonally Speaking
Source: Training and Coaching Today Magazine, London, Sep 2007

Global Leadership
Sources: Fimmtudagur, Reykjavik, Sep 2007

Entrevista a John Whitmore
Source: Coaching Magazine International, Spain, Mar/Apr 2007