Articles // May 17,2022

6 Metaphors That Define Who Is An Executive Coach

By Rupal Choudhary Sudrania , Editor - Swetha Sitaraman

A lot has been said and heard about Executive Coaches and coaching in recent times. It has emerged as a popular term, evolving from its various meanings. While in the West, people saw it as a great developmental opportunity, in the East it was looked upon as a way to enhance performance wherever it came across as an issue.

When we refer to the word “Coach”, you would think of it as someone who belongs to the academia or the sports and fitness world. It was earlier defined as a means of carrying someone from where they were to where they wanted to be. Figuratively speaking, the meaning remains the same.

Today, coaching is not restricted to the educational or vocational world, it has extended to individuals, organizations, couples, families and myriads of other contexts. A coach could be a relationship coach, spiritual coach, psychological coach, CxO coach, accountability coach, executive coach, career coach, leadership coach and the list could go on and on.

So, who is an executive coach? An executive coach is someone who specializes in developing an executive to optimize their leadership performance and more effectively manage increased stress. They provide a safe, structured, and trustworthy environment to offer support to the individual. Executive Coaching is the highest form of customization available for leadership development.

A Coach not only helps leaders understand their competencies but also enables them to see how others perceive them, focussing, identifying, and clarifying their current goals in the process.

In this article, we have attempted to define Executive Coaching with the help of 6 different metaphors. In our interviews with highly experienced coaches, they came up with various analogies that have been presented here for a better understanding of how executive coaching works.

1. Smoke & Mirrors

Let us take the example of smoke and mirrors to understand coaching.  This metaphor talks about gaining clarity in terms of the problems a coach is solving or the opportunities they are enabling for the individual, and in turn, for the organization. They help clear the smoke from the minds of the coachee that is clouding their vision, preventing them from seeing the opportunities that lie ahead.

Showing the mirror is like showcasing the opportunities that lie in front of the coachees. After the smoke has cleared, they are able to identify those opportunities and work towards making the best out of them.

2. Looking under the Bonnet

In the context of coaching, “Looking Under the Bonnet” is a metaphor that is all about looking beneath the surface. The coach identifies some of the developmental areas and looks for opportunities to improve, for instance, small behaviours which could lead to bigger outcomes.

They help their coachees to look beyond the obvious, identify the behavioural loopholes that can be closed and move forward in the track of leadership.

3. Looking at the Mirror

Here, looking at the mirror refers to establishing a level of trust and psychological safety between the Coach and the Coachee in such a way that the coachees can be themselves during the conversations. There are moments during the session, where the coach shows the mirror to the coachee, pointing out the events that are currently happening.

Then, the coach encourages them to make sense of what they see in the mirror. This puts them in a reflective space which is how they gain insights into what is driving them or the current events and what they can do to change/improve them.

4. The Fishing Analogy

We have heard the quote – If you give a fish to an individual, you feed him for a day. If you teach him fishing, you feed him for a lifetime. But coaching takes this quote a step further. When you teach someone to fish, they learn your way of doing it and they might thrive if they do it right. But a coach is someone who goes fishing with you and helps you discover your own style of fishing.

This way, new skills, and techniques are discovered together. You discover what you had within but were not aware of. This helps you move forward in your career, steering your team and yourself to common and personal goals.

5. The Third Eye

Our Executive Coach Venkataraman Subramanyan creatively describes coaching as “The Third Eye.” He further goes on to explain that our third eye is the seat of Insight, Foresight and Intuition and the window to our full potential. Your coach opens up your third eye that takes you further towards your goal.

6. The Lamp, The Ladder & The Lifeboat

Coaches are compared to three different elements in this very interesting metaphor. Depending on the coachee’s needs and situation, a coach could become the lamp, the ladder or the lifeboat to pull them out of an adverse situation.

When there is darkness and an individual is unable to look ahead, the coach becomes a lamp, lighting the way ahead, guiding them towards their goals. As the individual moves forward, the lamp gets brighter and brighter, providing better vision of what is ahead.

Another situation is when the individual is struggling or drowning. In that situation, they need to be rescued. That’s when the coach morphs into a lifeboat and with his coaching tools and techniques, saves the individual from sinking.

Often a leader requires support to rise in the hierarchy of leadership. Be it from manager to senior manager or from a director to a partner, they need someone to help them during the transition. In such a scenario, a coach comes around as a ladder and helps you rise in your profession in a psychologically safe environment. Sometimes, you have a big idea, but you need help in growing it and building a business out of it. That is where your coach helps you and enables you to execute what you dream to become.

Thus, a coach makes you walk comfortably into your grey areas, enduring the storms and being mindful about everything you do. They don’t just teach you to win one game, they make you habituated to win all the games.

Coaches are often confused with mentors, consultants and therapists. But none of them are same. While a mentor tells you the solution and a consultant tells you the problem, a therapist/doctor asks you what the problem is. Standing out and apart are coaches, who nudge you towards a solution instead of handing it over to you.

As per the Neuro-leadership Institute, coaching refers to facilitating positive change by improving one’s thinking.

Apart from gaining personal and professional insights, our various clients have also claimed that coaching enabled them to come out with better social skills. They not only became more self-aware, but also experienced enhanced self-regulation, higher motivation and greater empathy for their teams.

Our coaching experiences and acknowledgements from our coachees re-iterate that Executive Coaching helps you:

  • Build Executive Presence
  • Amplify your Personal Brand
  • Overcome behavioural blind spots
  • Enhance Team Effectiveness
  • Lead through Change & Lead in times of crisis

Whether you desire to lead by example, take your team to the summit, provide growth opportunities for your leaders to become better leaders, or help them build a multiplier mindset, coaching is the answer.

No time is better than the present to take action. So, fasten your seatbelts and we wish you good luck in the fulfilling journey of discovering a newer you to achieve greater outcomes and accomplish bigger goals.

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In my career leading and building high-performing teams, I enjoy inspiring & coaching employees to unlock their potential for maximum performance. The team's success is my deepest delight. Global Coaching Lab provides the platform to put this into practice every day and fulfill my passion of making others great.




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