For John Waldbauer, bringing out the best in people came easily

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm

For John Waldbauer, bringing out the best in people came easily

By Jo Hawkins Donovan, for SBT

A major light went out earlier this month in my city, for hundreds if not thousands of people. Our friend and hero John Waldbauer died last Saturday, suddenly and way too soon. John was the most evolved person I’ve met; he knew how to live this earthly life exceedingly well.
My heart has been heavy ever since, and of course my mind full of memories of his strong presence. It really is a privilege to have been in John’s large circle of friends. I realized two things as I sat to write this column. One is that when this writer’s mind, heart and soul are full of one thing, it’s impossible to write about something else. The other thing I realized is that John was a natural-born coach, even though his professional life was spent first as a priest, then as a Rolfer.
We train coaches to elicit greatness. Our belief is that everyone has greatness, brilliance, beauty within — and everyone has blind spots. Often the two get together, and we become blind to our unique talents, our greatness. When John was with you, he saw right through whatever “costume” you might be wearing, one of modesty or preoccupation or self-deprecation. After a few minutes with him, you walked away taller, more aware of your greatness. Well, sometimes you walked away feeling more real and relaxed just because he made you laugh your head off. Laughing together is a vibrant connection too, and nurtures the level of relatedness that we coaches must have to help our clients get extraordinary results.
Robin Sharma, in his wonderful fable, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, talks about coaching leaders to start thinking what no one else is thinking, though they might see what every other leader in the business world sees. Coaches encourage clients to trust their natural curiosity and find again the creativity they had as children. Sharma says, “Never forget that deep within the body of every truly visionary leader lives the spirit of a little child, full of excitement and wonder: The sense of energy, optimism and hope you will generate will be contagious.” Any of you reading this who knew John — well I know you’re nodding your heads, yes; he was so full of excitement and wonder.
We teach coaches to engage in provocative conversations. That is, to know the client so deeply, that you move quickly to talking about things she values highly, big deal issues, often bringing into awareness a level of direction — or self-sabotage — that the client has hidden from herself. John Waldbauer, the natural coach, was never afraid to enter this territory. Even on the golf course he was just as likely to talk about Golf In The Kingdom as how in the world he missed that last putt. Everyone yearns for these real conversations.
Coaches acknowledge their clients like crazy and teach them to acknowledge others freely. We just never get enough sincere praise. I don’t know how many employees have said sincere praise means more to them than anything. And as John knew instinctively, we all want to be acknowledged in our own preferred ways; yet we all want the acknowledgement to be from the heart and to make it clear that we were noticed! One of my clients said once, “I need acclaim!” John never missed a chance to spread acclaim around, to applaud his family and friends. If ever you did anything for him, he torpedoed a big fat thank you to you so fast and so fully that you knew without question that you added delight to his life.
John’s wife Karen Vernal and I have traveled many roads together and I will continue to walk close beside her as she finds her way from now on.
My “Quote for the Day” that came through e-mail the morning this column was written seems fitting as we all continue to say our wrenching goodbye’s to John:
“At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service.” — Mister Rogers.

Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay, and can be reached at 414-332-0300, or The firm’s Web site is Hawkins Donovan will respond to your questions in this column. Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.

Nov. 28, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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