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Cancer’s Gifts

‘CANCER’S GIFTS’
Two Vistage Chairs lean on their years-long friendship as one deals with a terminal illness
Les Whitney (left) with Lindon Crow (right).

When he learned that he was going to die, Les Whitney says he realized that he was finally, truly alive.

In 2019, the longtime executive coach and Chair Emeritus was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and decided to deal with his disease the same way he has other moments in his professional and personal life: with strength and perseverance. He framed it as an opportunity and peppered in humor throughout.

In between chemotherapy treatments, Whitney and his wife, Teresa, traversed the globe. At home in San Clemente, California, Whitney started a blog documenting what he calls the “worst news imaginable.” He wrote a book called “Cancer’s Gifts, a Loving Journey Toward the Final Chapter” that has inspired others fighting the disease along with survivors, their families and even members of his Vistage group.

And when it was time, Whitney made the difficult-but-necessary decision to take care of his CEO group by transitioning them to a fellow Chair. What made the move easier, though, was who he brought in: his friend Lindon Crow.

FINDING SOMEONE TO ‘PEEL THE ONION’

The two met 11 years ago as fellow Orange County, California, Chairs and soon became good friends. After Whitney disclosed his illness, Crow says they spent months planning the group transition process.

By then, Whitney’s members were aware of his illness and his plans to bring in someone new. They also knew that this would be a different kind of Chair. “I said, ‘I’m going to find somebody to take over this group. But it has to be somebody who I feel will resonate with you. I also want it to be someone who I feel will challenge you as much as I challenge you in a bold and loving way,’” Whitney says.

What was it about Crow that made him both the perfect replacement and friend? His ability to dig deep into issues. “I wanted someone who could peel the onion to about halfway,” Whitney says. “There’s actually no onion left when Lindon’s done. And I love that in him, and I wanted that for the members. They were getting a sense that this guy was different from me. And I’m OK with that.”

“Are you, really, Les?” teases Crow during a visit to Whitney’s home. Replies Whitney: “My job is to create that emotional connection and to get them to understand that this relationship is one of the most important relationships in their life.”

That emotional connection between Whitney and Crow has been key in building a successful group transition and an enduring friendship. After introducing Crow to the group, Whitney stepped back from Chairing. But the two talked nearly every day for more than a year as the group acclimated, wanting to make sure the members were adjusting well to the change. They also wanted to check in on each other.

“Sometimes in a friendship there are moments of need or opportunities that galvanize or deepen the importance of showing up for each other,” Crow adds. “The group’s handoff and the following year took the friendship deeper.”

To transition [into his Chair Practice] and honor Les, speak highly of Les, and be filled with gratitude for Les, I didn’t have to prepare. It was natural.
AVAILABLE AND STILL INVOLVED

What now bonds Whitney and Crow is their close friendship with one another along with their commitment to members. That’s why Whitney continues to share input and advice, either via a text, a phone call or stopping by a group meeting.

“Les is still available, around and involved,” says Crow. “There’s great value there, a feeling of security and safety and familiarity that’s maintained. I did get some feedback from a few members saying, ‘Hey, are you OK with Les being there?’ I said, ‘I don’t have that issue.’ And if I need to tell him to be quiet, I’ll just tell him to be quiet.” The two chuckle at the tease. “But you know, that’s all right,” Crow adds.

That familiarity certainly helped with the transition, but it goes beyond that, Crow says. “My respect, my love, my admiration for Les pre-existed. So to transition in and honor Les, speak highly of Les, and be filled with gratitude for Les, I didn’t have to prepare. It was natural.”

Watch Chairs Les Whitney and Lindon Crow share their thoughts on Chairing and friendship.

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