Provision #393: Coaching Metaphors

Laser Provision

Today’s Provision concludes our series of 23 interviews with current and former coaching clients. It provides a great perspective not only on the coaching process but also on the more profound question of how and why people change. If you are contemplating making some changes, then perhaps this Provision will enable you to get going in the right direction. And please don’t hesitate to give us a call if you think we can lend a hand.

LifeTrek Provision

There is considerable debate raging under the surface of the coaching profession as to how coaching actually assists people to do learn and grow. The prevailing model, codified in the International Coach Federation’s Core Coaching Competencies, is that coaches are process rather than content experts. We do not instruct, teach, and advise as much as we listen, inquire, and inspire. “The client has the answers” and “the client does the work” are two mantras of the coaching profession.

Other voices beg to differ. Consider the following definition of coaching put forward by Dave Buck, the President and Chief Experience Officer of CoachVille: Coaching is the process of “inspiring an individual or team to produce a desired result through personalized teaching, expanding awareness, and designing environments.” In other words, sometimes the client does not have the answers and sometimes the coach does the work of leading the way.

So when do we lead and when do we follow? When do we teach and when do we get out of the way, so clients can teach themselves? These questions go to the heart of transformational coaching. And the answers are as varied as the clients themselves. At its best, coaching is an intuitive dance, with the coach serving as a masterful partner on the dance floor of life. We know when to push and when to pull, when to speak and when to listen, in order to move as one with the client in the cause of human development.

The 23 interviews we conducted with current and former clients in this series, and the metaphors they generated, demonstrate the uniqueness of how coaching works in the rough and tumble realm of real life. To survey all the metaphors at once provides a breathtaking view of what coaching means not only to individuals but to our world today.

1. Coaching as Art Appreciation. We started off interviewing a physician, who spoke of coaching in terms of art appreciation. “When you and I talk,” he observed, “it’s as though there are three people in the room. You, me, and my story. Together, like students, we step back to observe and to study my story as though it were a piece of art. By getting me to step back, you enable me to see things I might otherwise have missed. By keeping the tone appreciative, you enable me to keep working on my goals even when I am not doing as well as I would like. The poems you shared with me really impacted my morning routine.”

2. Coaching as Scenic Overlook. From the doctor’s office we turned to a realtor, who also appreciated the big picture perspective that coaching brings to life and work. As an essentially self-employed sales professional, she of course wanted to improve her production. But she also wanted to improve her life. “I needed to learn how to stop working so hard and to enjoy life more,” she reflected. “I discovered it was all connected. The better I felt about myself and the more risks I took personally, the better I did professionally. Through coaching I learned how to make my own luck.”

3. Coaching as Purposeful Change. Improved production is not, of course, a balanced measure of success • not even for a corporate Vice-President of sales. He came to coaching to get in shape and to better organize his work life. Through coaching he identified other, more life-changing goals that have made his heart sing. “My original goals were ‘straw dogs,'” he noted, “to take steps toward something different without taking risks. Once I got clear about my values and my future self, I went in a completely different direction. I am now a paid actor with dreams of one day doing that full time.” Now that’s purposeful change.

4. Coaching as Safety Net. Big changes are scary changes. Since no one knows for sure what the future holds, we can let our imagination go wild. When that happens, coaching provides a safety net enabling us to let go and to jump. It anchors us in the present moment so we can embrace the flow of what’s happening, and what’s required, in the here and now. “I came to coaching because I had had a rough experience in my last position and I wanted to find a new position where I could excel,” said a public school superintendent. “Between all the second guessing and nervous waiting, it was easy to get paralyzed let alone to take good care of myself. Coaching provided the support I needed to go for my dream with greater self-awareness and healthier daily habits.”

5. Coaching as Philosopher’s Stone. The notion of going for a dream often conjures up images of changing positions or doing something completely different. And, indeed, that often leads to and follows from effective coaching. But not always. The philosopher’s stone, to borrow an image both from our interview with the relationship marketing director of a major pharmaceutical company and from the ancient Myth of Sisyphus, is to find new meaning and purpose in the tasks we have been working at all along. “It’s tough in business today,” notes our client, “and it’s a challenge to perform optimally without engaging in self-destructive behavior. Whether it’s working too much or eating too much, it’s easy to compromise ourselves. I know I have succumbed to both temptations, and I also know that coaching has assisted me to gain perspective and to do better.”

6. Coaching as Booster Rocket. Our next interviewee, an aspiring business and life coach, has used coaching as an apprenticeship to jumpstart both his coaching skills and his practice. “I think of coaching as a booster rocket,” he notes, “and also as a great, cosmic workout machine. It’s the best way I know to put feet under your dreams. If you have something you want to do, that’s gnawing at you, that you’ve been procrastinating about, or that you’ve been working at but are not being as successful at as you would like, then give coaching a try. It will stretch you and assist you to build muscle for the challenges and opportunities of life.”

7. Coaching as Dancing Freely. All work and no play not only “makes Jack a dull boy,” it also makes coaching ineffective. After several weeks of being focused on productivity and performance, we turned our attention in this interview to a project manager who needed to lighten up. “Not only was my profession intense,” she remembers, “but so was my approach to self-improvement. I read all I could and worked really hard. Coaching enables me to let that go and to dance more freely in the direction of my dreams. Everything else is now secondary to loving myself and living without fear. It’s as though I can finally hear the music, after years of feeling like I was trapped in a car with no radio. The music I hear now has a beat that makes me want to jump into the street, dancing all out, for everyone to see.”

8. Coaching as Trusted Friend. Some coaches limit their work with clients to 90 days or less. LifeTrek invites clients to work with their coaches for as long as they want, and to start and stop along the way. That’s because coaching has many similarities to a trusting friendship, as experienced by a medical doctor who came to coaching with dreams of retirement in about a decade. “In running my own practice,” he observed, “it’s hard to find people to talk with on a peer-to-peer basis. I wanted to talk with someone about my plans, my practice, my anxieties, my finances, and even my marriage, but I wasn’t sure where to turn. These are not things I normally talk about with anyone! Nevertheless, as a long-time reader of LifeTrek Provisions, I contacted you for coaching with the hope that such a conversation would be possible. And, indeed, you became a trusted friend, outside my everyday world, with whom I could ventilate, develop my half-baked ideas, and discus my plans. Your book recommendations really enhanced my learning. Having now purchased and begun construction on our retirement property, we’ve moved from contemplating the future to taking action.”

9. Coaching as Breath Work. Ironically, we sometimes have to slow down and even to stop in order to take that action. We have to jettison our baggage and break our negative thinking patterns in order to move forward on a different track. Coaching, like breath work, can introduce the mindful pause that releases our pain and opens the door to possibility. “I find it easy to be self-critical and to beat myself up,” confided an electrical contractor, “and that creates quite a haze through which to live, work, see, and move. Coaching enabled me to clear the air and to develop a clean intention of my future self. From there, finding a new position in my current field, in a more desirable geographical location, fell right into place. It would not have happened without the intentioning work we did together.”

10. Coaching as Couples Campfire. But what happens when the client is a married couple, each of whom have different intentions for the future? That’s when it’s time to sit before at least a metaphorical, if not a real, campfire, together with a competent coach, in order to sort things out and work things through. “I came to coaching first,” remembers the husband and CEO of a small, family-owned business, “but it quickly became apparent that my wife • who also served as our Sales Manager • needed to join the conversation. We had different visions for the company and even for our relationship as a couple.” “In reality,” noted the wife, “there was lots of tension and we were hardly talking to each other. Coaching assisted us to become less critical and more caring. We listen more attentively and share more intimately. I ended up leaving the company and we are now working on a vision for retiring to the Caribbean.”

11. Coaching as Adventure Gear. How’s that for an adventure! It’s no less exotic than the other couple we interviewed who ended up selling their home, and most of their belongings, after two successful careers in information technology. “Coaching assisted us to take the plunge on something we had been talking about a for a long time,” observed the husband. “We decided to buy a recreational vehicle and to travel around North America for a year. Since we knew this would be an intense and critical time for our relationship, we also decided to take our coach along on the adventure. Regardless of where we were, we could still call in for our telephone coaching sessions.” “And those calls did assist us to focus on our identity, vision, and communication patterns as a couple,” continued the wife. “The coaching made us more respectful, attentive and sensitive to each other. It was the gear that made the trip work even when it became challenging, difficult, and strenuous. It set us up for life.”

12. Coaching as Talking Mirror. If one couple took coaching with them on a trip around North America, then others can call in from around the world. And that’s exactly what makes us an international coaching company. Take, for example, our work with an Irish entrepreneur with grand designs on the U.S. market. “For my dream to come true, I needed to attract a large amount of venture capital,” he remembers. “But I never would have done that without the positive habits, systems, and attitudes we worked on together. With your assistance, I was able to eliminate much of the frustration, clutter, and delay in my life. I was able to increase my success by decreasing my stress. I was also able to identify and focus on the leadership challenges that success would bring. That includes not only my professional challenges, as CEO, but also my personal challenges, as husband, father, and friend. I live a more balanced life now than ever before, and coaching was part of making that happen. It was like looking in a mirror that would talk back; I got to see myself with new eyes, warts and all. It got to the guts of who I am and enabled me to move on.”

13. Coaching as Sounding Board. So too for the finance director of a large pharmaceutical factory in Puerto Rico. “I signed up for coaching because I needed a sounding board,” he recalls. “After being in the corporate world for many years, I started my own system implementation consulting business in 1996. But that was growing old and I needed to catch wind of a new vision for my life. I didn’t want therapy. I wanted someone who could assist me to design and organize my life around my passion. I knew that if I got really excited about something, the rest would fall into place. And sure enough, I quickly made huge transitions. I left my apartment in San Juan and moved full time to a mountain home in the country. From there, my relationships as well as my profession changed dramatically. Your out-of-the-box perspective, not to mention your contacts and wisdom, were exactly what I needed to reengage with the corporate world and to disengage from my significant other. It was great to have a coach by my side through those important transitions.”

14. Coaching as Noise Reduction. Others have described the same coaching dynamic in terms of getting out of our own way. It’s as though coaching lowers the volume on all the internal and external noise that we live with everyday so we can hear and speak the voice of our own, true self. “I knew that I wanted an exit strategy from my position at the bank and that I wanted to decipher my options for the future,” noted our next interviewee, “but I did not know how much had to be weeded out in order for me to be successful. We did an enormous amount of work on the things that were getting in the way, the things I was tolerating, and I became very proficient at saying, ‘No, I don’t need that.’ Now, I’ve rid myself of tolerations and things that don’t add value. I worry less and I smile more. I’ve gotten more connected to the things that matter.”

15. Coaching as Employee Benefit. Not every coaching client is an individual. Sometimes, the client is a company or an organization which retains a coach to work with one or more people who may be identified as high-potential, at-risk, in-conflict, stressed-out, or otherwise able to benefit from working with an external coaching resource. “I decided to make coaching available to the top 30 people in the company,” the CEO of a mid-size engineering company told us, “because we had been through a tough reorganization and everyone was feeling the pressure. Morale had become an issue.” “Bad attitudes can come from so many directions,” observed the CFO, “we needed someone who could help us look not only at the work environment but at the whole environment of our lives. Fortunately, that was the perspective you brought to the coaching process.” “And it really made a difference,” concluded one of the Engineer Managers who worked with a LifeTrek coach for three months. “Life balance issues are not things we normally talk about as a company. Performance rules when it comes to business. Coaching elevated both the acceptability and the importance of life balance issues, thereby assisting us to do better and to feel better all the way around.”

16. Coaching as HR On Call. Another company, in the consumer products industry, has used LifeTrek Coaching as an adjunct HR resource over a period of many years. Through cross-cultural projects, organizational restructuring, succession planning, team building, performance improvement, and crisis management, LifeTrek Coaching has been called upon to render assistance as needed. “At this point, we have worked together for so long,” notes the Vice President of Human Resources, “that our trust level is high. Knowing that you are only a phone call away, when it seems like a situation would benefit from your coaching, makes our HR program both more effective and creative. We have sometimes called you in by design, as a first response, and other times we have brought you in to help with a difficult situation, almost as a last resort. But either way coaching has been a welcome and effective intervention with our executives and directors.”

17. Coaching as 3-D Glasses. As an intervention, coaching often enables people to see things in new ways. That was certainly the experience of our next interviewee, a senior project analyst for a major U.S. corporation. It was, for her, like putting on those special glasses to watch a 3-D movie • things suddenly came into focus and jumped out at her in fresh and surprising ways. “Since I worked with my coach for 18 months, we had plenty of material to work with,” she recalls. “From health and fitness, to career development, to relationship work we covered all the bases, generating many “light bulb” moments along the way. My self-talk, my daily habits, and my overall perspective have all improved. The coaching process has assisted me to get where I want to go.”

18. Coaching as Guiding Light. Given the forwarding action of the coaching process, and given his profession as an ordained minister, it came as no surprise that our next client came up with “guiding light” as a metaphor for coaching. “When I came to coaching,” he notes, “I was in my first year of employment at a new church. And I wanted to make it the best year possible. So I came with my goals in hand as to what I wanted to accomplish at the church. Much to my surprise, I ended up with a whole new set of goals that were more life-goals than ministry-goals. I came to see how the two worked hand in hand. I spend more time with my wife and children now, including family devotions, and I write in my journal 4-5 times a week. These were things I used to preach, but failed to incorporate in my only daily habits. Now all that has changed. I put people before programs. Coaching has led me to this place like a guiding light, and it is really peaceful.”

19. Coaching as Healthy Relationship. That “peaceful, easy feeling” captures the experience of another LifeTrek Coaching client who is a suburban housewife, homemaker, and home-schooling mom. As someone who is, at times, out of step with the prevailing culture (she describes herself as “an alternative cosmic visionary”), and as someone who has recently suffered a tragic and violent death in the family, this client is more than happy to pay for a healthy relationship with her coach. Especially when it assists her to have healthy relationships with all the other people in her life. “Because I frequently dare to be different, it’s not uncommon for people to challenge me about my choices,” she observes. “That’s why it’s been great to work with a coach who affirms me and who assists me to set and maintain healthy boundaries with those who challenge me. And your support when my dad was murdered proved to be invaluable. There’s no way to say enough about how coaching has kept me going and moved me forward.”

20. Coaching as Spiritual Formation. Another LifeTrek Coaching client has used the coaching process to develop her spiritual life. “Can you assist me to find God?” was the way she put the question during her initial call. Since that time, more than four years ago, we have been on a quest to see life through sacred eyes • and it’s not just been a matter of perspective. “One of the things I enjoy most about the coaching,” she reports, “is the orientation around spiritual practice. It has me doing things in the physical world in order to get me connected to the spiritual world. So we have developed an elaborate set of rituals which I practice faithfully on a daily basis in order to deepen my spiritual life. Given my health challenges, those practices mostly take place within my home. But they open my eyes to the movement of spirit around the world and throughout history. Because of coaching I am more thankful and happy to be alive.”

21. Coaching as Life Raft. The attitude of gratitude also came up in our next client interview, with someone who is both a mother and, with her husband, the owner-operator of a small business. Owning your own business and dealing with the buying public are enough to give anyone a bad attitude. Put that together with a lifelong eating disorder and an existentialist philosophy of life and you have a recipe for both despair and cynicism. So why would someone like this come to coaching? “Because I haven’t completely given up on doing better,” she replied. “Coaching was, for me, a highly personalized, highly individualized, and never “medicalized” learning process. We shared common goals and were figuring things out together. By coaching me through your marathon training and eating programs, you have assisted me to do better in two areas where other programs have failed. I am grateful for that and for life in general. I’m still not a cheery and optimistic person. That’s just not in me. But I do enjoy my good days more now than ever before.”

22. Coaching as Tiger Team. We interviewed another client who feels a lot of pressure from his work as an engineering project manager in the aerospace industry. The more he accomplishes, the more they give him to do, and the more difficult it becomes to live a balanced and purpose-driven life. “What I needed,” he said, “was my own personal Tiger Team. We use that term to refer to a team that analyzes systems in order to identify hidden or heretofore unrecognized problems which might lead to performance declines, boundary violations, workflow interruptions, and decreased earnings. I needed someone to analyze my life that way, before I made too many more compromises. You embraced my Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal • to reduce the dependence of the United States on fossil fuels • and you have carefully worked with me to express that goal in my life and work. I am still a long way from where I want to be, but I am much closer than I would have been without coaching.”

23. Coaching as Family Affair. Our last client was an extended family who has worked together, as a group, with a LifeTrek coach to lose weight and get in shape over the past 18 months. “Our vision was to transform the fat family into the fit family,” reports the inspirational lead sister in the group, “but we ended up with so much more than just fitness. For one thing, since we live in three different states, it was great to start talking with each other again on a weekly basis. The connection was palpable. “And when we met, we didn’t just talk about the same old things,” continued another sibling, “By joining together as a coaching group, we became focused on health and fitness like never before. So now, when we get together for holidays or special occasions, we eat differently and are more likely to look out for each other.” “The whole process has been quite dynamic,” noted the brother and only male in the group. “We modified our environment as well as our habits in order to get going with new habits. The weekly coaching call is a powerful accountability forum that assists us to do better all week long.”

So what have we learned about the coaching process? Perhaps a bulleted definition, based on our interviews, will break it down best. Coaching is a relationship, with two or more persons, that assists people to do better in life and work by getting them to:

1. learn new skills
2. take new actions
3. develop new habits
4. design new environments, and
5. find new resolve in the face of difficulty.

Our interviews also gave us great insight into how the coaching relationship gets people to do all that new stuff. Although the needs of each client are unique, over time most coaching relationships include:

1. reflective thinking
2. storytelling
3. appreciative inquiry
4. provocative dialogue
5. role modeling
6. sharing experiences
7. values clarification
8. project collaboration
9. increasing awareness and gaining perspective
10. cultivating creativity
11. transferring knowledge
12. giving permission
13. setting boundaries
14. expressing feelings
15. releasing attachments
16. eliminating tolerations or energy drains
17. testing hypotheses, and
18. genuine caring.

Those 5 deliverables and 18 ingredients to a successful coaching relationship may one day form a Provisions’ series in their own right. But for now, we bring this series to a close with the simple hope that you too will find the resources and the wherewithal to change and grow in the direction of your dreams.

Coaching Inquiries: Do you want to make some changes in your life? Does it sound like the process of coaching would assist you to shift from contemplating those changes to getting into action? Why not give us a call?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us, use our Contact Form, or give us a call in the U.S.A. at 757-345-3452.

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


Thanks, Bob, for the neat poem. It conjures up much visualization and stimulation around the globe. Best to you and all of your affiliates and family!


Thank you for your poetry wishes. I & my family in India wish you and all the same.


Congratulations on your marathon in Dallas and welcome to the fabulous 50’s. Happy, Healthy Birthday! I too • am doing a Marathon of sorts. I divorced in April and I am “running” the race of my life. Although this can be a very sad transition in life it can also be a very sweet, delicious transition in life. This time, knowing myself, allowing life to unfold with my prayers, wisdom, and faith muscle being built. I have no doubt that I will eventually become one of the blessed souls that gets to do a “redo” with my eyes wide open. There is joy as well. Thanks for all that you write and all that you do to open our eyes.


That’s exciting news about your new diet and weight loss. We want more information on the hunter-gatherer diet. What are the essential items we need to stock up on in order to eat like you? Is there somewhere we can read more? Thanks! (Ed. Note: Watch for an announcement in an upcoming issue of LifeTrek Provisions.)


If we get the weekly email OK, do we also need to receive the weekly “Online Notification”? I’d love to have one less thing to dispose of. Thanks for your journal. I read it each week. (Ed. Note: Unfortunately, our system permits distributions only to the entire list • so we send out both every week. You may want to configure a rule in your e-mail program where email with the subject “LifeTrek Provision Online Notification” gets automatically deleted.)


Happy 50th Birthday! Thank you for your commitment … your commitment to excellence, to determination, to succeed, to teach and to impart knowledge. Thank you for your commitment to others!


Thanks, Bob, for sharing your story about the Dallas Marathon so clearly and encouragingly. And congratulations! Although I’m not sure why any and every moment of grace • whether surprising or not • isn’t pure delight for you. I relish the constancy of grace as much as you relish the surprise. I find both to be wonderful but you seem to believe, or at least imply, that constancy does not work for you. (Ed. Note: I enjoy them both, and see the next reader reply.)


I enjoyed your story titled “Unpublished Grace.” I would note, however, that presumably God is not worried about publishing divine grace since the streets of heaven are not as narrow as the road from Hopkinton to Boston. There’s room enough for everyone there. But after your Provision to 62,000 people, the Boston Marathon may have to curtail the unpublished 2-minute grace period into a 1-minute grace period, to fend off an excess numbers of grace-seekers!


Congratulations on your success in Dallas. You are the most gracious person I know, and it shows in your words and deeds.


I loved your story on “Unpublished Grace.” Grace is a wonderful gift indeed, without exception, published or not.


May you be filled with goodness, peace, love and joy. May you be blessed with all that you need and more. I hope your holiday season was and is merry and bright.


Your readers in Cambodia wish you and your loved ones the very best of holiday seasons and a wealthy, healthy, successful, and happy New Year!



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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