CHRIS COOPER interviews David Whyte - May 2018. 

Over many years I have heard the name of David Whyte and how his work has impacted the many incredible leaders he works with. To me his work is legendary ... Do join us to hear David's unique perspectives and beautifully articulated commentary on Conversational Leadership. Insight and wisdom that could have an enormous impact on your ability to lead effectively in today’s complex organisational world.

Work is a very serious matter indeed. We freight our work with meaning and identity, and fight hard and long for some kind of purpose in our endeavors. Vocation is a moveable frontier between what we want for ourselves and what the world demands of us.


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David Whyte has been bringing his unique blend of poetry and insight into the world of work for more than twenty years. His work in organizations around the world takes many different forms, from formal dinner talks and conference keynotes, to retreats and seminars. He has an especial affection for his long term work inside specific organizations, often over years, building a critical mass of executives and leaders who have learned through his work, the language, metaphors and urgent necessities of conversational leadership. His sessions have been woven into long term executive leadership programs with organizations such as Mattel, Standard Chartered Bank, The Gap, The Boeing Company, Thames water, Novartis, Astrazenica, RWE and the Royal Air Force. He is a faculty member of Templeton College, Oxford University, where he is an Associate Fellow.

His collaborations include work with Richard Olivier, using Shakespeare's plays, especially Hamlet, as a template for the exploration of some of the difficult dynamics of contemporary leadership. His work has been featured in Leader to Leader, Fast Company, and The Harvard Business Review.


David Whyte participates in theological conferences and retreats through keynote lectures, workshops and discussion panels with practitioners and theologians of many traditions. Using his own and other’s poetry, he brings the understandings of the poetic tradition to bear on many of the great cyclical questions of existence: how we see our lives, and our deaths; how we view others and their presence or absence; and, perhaps most importantly, what we dare to believe and what we are afraid of believing: an honest appraisal of our relationship to God, the natural world, darkness, the appearance and disappearance of form and friendship and the difficult apprenticeship to our own disappearance.


Probably the most inspirational session of the whole course. Whoever decided to include this in the program should be congratulated. David’s view of life and business was a brilliant complement to the rest of the program.
— Participant, Novartis Leadership Program


For more than twenty years, David Whyte has been developing a body of work and a series of seminars focused on the conversational nature of leadership in today’s world. He notes especially that most executives are promoted out of their original core technical competency and into the field of key human relationships, relationships that are mostly sustained through holding necessary and courageous conversations.

David brings the insights, focus and courage in the poetic tradition to bear on these necessary conversations and lays out the precise steps that individuals must take when they attempt to start a real conversation and then keep it alive through time and tide in the life of an organization. His work is compelling; his recitation and explication of poetry creates a physical sense that individuals are grappling with the unspoken truths of life and leadership that are often left unspoken and that many have difficulty articulating.

He especially looks at the necessity for a private but courageous self-examination and self-knowledge. He looks at the way this foundational interior conversation enables those in positions of responsibility to make sense of the hundreds of exterior public conversations, which can entrap and besiege them. His work is not only sustaining and nourishing for individuals irrespective of the organization for which they work, but also revitalizing and emboldening for those who work together day after day and who wish to bring a fresh perspective and a fresh language to their shared endeavors.

David Whyte just gave our firm the best presentation I have ever heard in a television and PR career of 23 years. The feedback has been phenomenal.
— Head of Corporate Affairs, Standard Chartered Bank


David Whyte’s work initially found its way into the world outside of the traditional channels available to poets. Until the last few years, he was unknown in the University English Department or small literary magazines where poets often make their start. His ability to memorize poetry, his own and others, and bring it to bear on the questions that compel human beings made him as much a philosopher as a literary figure. After being invited into the organizational world, where he used poetry to bring a new understanding of conversational leadership, he was even harder to categorize in the literary world.

And yet his poetry has always stood independent of any context in which he has worked, with a readership looking at the poetry for its own sake. For example, despite having spoken on the issue for over twenty years, he has almost no poetry directly written about the workplace. His work looks at the larger, timeless relationship of human beings to their world, to their relationship with creation, with others or with death. He looks at the sufferings and joys that come with revelations and the necessities of belonging to specific families, peoples and places. His work also chronicles a close relationship to landscapes and histories, especially those of his native Yorkshire, Ireland, Wales and his more recent home in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

David Whyte's steadily burgeoning readership and listenership grew organically in almost all corners of the globe until it finally created a critical mass of recognition. In the last few years he has begun to appear at literary gatherings in the US and the UK such as the Oxford, Ledbury, San Miguel and Ojai poetry festivals and his poetry is beginning to be spoken of in the same breath as other major contemporary, Irish American and English poets.