#educoachOC Chat 22: Metaphors for Coaching

In this month’s chat we’d like to try something a little different and explore our metaphors for coaching.

The use of metaphor within coaching conversations can be a powerful way of helping the coachee to gain insight into their challenge and clarity around what they would like to be different going forward. Often, a coachee will use a metaphor when discussing their situation and the astute coach will pick this up and run with it. Leaders in particular, will use metaphors such as “drowning in admin” or “the pot boiling over” to describe their workload. In talking about their roles, they will often use a metaphor such as “steering a ship” or having a “view from the bridge”, or taking a “balcony view” of what’s going on. These can be very fruitful territory for the coach to tease out with the coachee. Recently I had a conversation with a newly appointed coach in a school who had “opened up shop but couldn’t generate any customers”. The exploration of this metaphor proved very helpful indeed! By the end of the conversation we had explored what her “product range” was and how she promoted this, special offers, sales theme weeks/months, coupons, and even walking down the corridor wearing a sandwich board! She ended up with a wide range of options that might not otherwise have come to mind, not to mention significantly more energy and motivation.

Metaphor can also be very helpful in trying to explain coaching to others. Friend of #educoachOC, Christian van Nieuwerburgh draws on Sir John Whitmore’s classic coaching definition “unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance” (Whitmore, 2009: 11), when he describes the central essence of coaching as helping the coachee to find their own “key” (van Nieuwerburgh, 2014: 18). van Nieuwerburgh goes on to explore the notions of co-creating the key, having too many keys, and not being able to find any keys at all (at first).

Keys cover

The idea for this chat topic was planted well over a year ago by another #educoachOC regular, Jo Prestia. Jo blogged about how coaching is like glitter. This blog post spawned a series of tweets suggesting other metaphors for coaching.


Some of the other suggestions that came up were:

  • Navigation – maps v GPS
  • Jump-leads
  • Searchlights/beacons/spotlights
  • Lucozade (substitute any energy drink here)
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Glue to make PD stick
  • WD40 (or the less polite Aussie version)
  • Super Unleaded fuel
  • Night vision goggles
  • Co-driver/pilot
  • Growing metaphors – planting seeds, helping to thrive, etc.
  • And various versions of well-known stories – the Wizard of Oz was a common one

Elena Aguilar discusses metaphor in coaching and proposes coach as farmer, coach as chiropractor, and coach as tour guide in this helpful blog post.

Here are the questions for the chat:

  1. Share an example of the use of metaphor in a coaching conversation (as coach or coachee). How did it help?
  2. Why would you spend time on learning the meaning of the coachee’s metaphor?
  3. What metaphor would you suggest to describe coaching? Tell us more.
  4. From the metaphors suggested, which ones resonate most strongly with you? Why?
  5. Please share any useful links or resources to help build the capacity of the #educoachOC network.

Please join us on Monday 2 October at 8.30pm Australian EDT.

That’s 5.30am New York, 10.30am London, 1.30pm Dubai, 4.30pm Jakarta, 5.30pm Singapore, 7.30pm Brisbane, and 10.30pm Auckland.

We hope to see you there!


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