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Transpersonal Goals and John Whitmore

“Transpersonal coaching means beyond the individual… I’m thinking about humanity rather than individuals,” said John Whitmore in the interview with Carol Kauffman featured in the chapter ‘GROW Grows Up: From Winning the Game to Pursuing Transpersonal Goals’, in the book ‘Beyond Goals’.

Sir John Whitmore has had a great influence on the work of Challenging Coaching, particularly with his expression that “Coaching is more than just coaching”. In this thought provoking chapter John, associated with the origins of the GROW model and author of Coaching for Performance, describes transpersonal coaching as beyond the individual, “When we get to the transpersonal area, we are dealing with development of the person as a human being – as a more effective, more satisfied, more fulfilled human being.”


John describes the typical stages we go through of goal orientation. At an early age achieving things motivates us. Self-belief develops from this feeling of success from within and may explain why a lot of people go into sports at an early age. Following this, and as people get married, buy houses and plan for the cost of bringing up a family, goals are more materially orientated. The final stage is around a broader vision, meaning and purpose, and ultimately considering the good of humanity as a whole. However, these stages are not necessarily associated with age, but about levels of consciousness, and not everyone progresses through all three. John says, “…there are plenty of older people running large companies, who may be adolescents in terms of consciousness.”

John says that to work at this transpersonal level the coach must look beyond what is immediately presented in front of them and look at the whole. The coach must consider the context, the environment, the person inside and outside work, and the complete system. John says that, “Coaches have a responsibility to look more broadly and to ask broader questions, because some people in companies have a very narrow vision.” He goes on to say that the overlapping of psychological progression and spiritual progression, the meaning and purpose, is at the heart of transpersonal coaching.

When discussing the evaluation of transpersonal goal achievement, John says, “When you get into the transpersonal, you’re talking about more subjective things, therefore whether a person achieves a goal is determined by its meaning to that particular individual.” John recommends using a scale to make an assessment of achievement. For example, if working in the area of personal happiness, John says that the phrases “I’m happy” or “I’m not very happy” are not useful. However, a 1 to 10 scale enables assessment of feelings around this subjective and personal area.

John has a great way of speaking his truth and says, ” I think there is a hierarchy in goals. I have my own hierarchy, and I believe humanity is more important than a company…I believe goals should not be harmful in any way… I might say, “By producing these things, you are doing more harm to the environment. How can you do it in a way that is not harmful?” If they say, I don’t care,” then I would choose not to coach that person”.

When asked about his own goal, John says, “My goal is to make the world a better place than it is right now. I would like people to be happier than they are. I would like the world to be a fairer place…we need to think beyond our personal lives…I’m thinking about humanity rather than individuals.” This is not a rational, logical, or measurable SMART goal, but instead is an inspirational vision and a system wide courageous goal.

Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring is edited by Susan David, David Clutterbuck and David Megginson, published by Gower 2013.

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