Inspiration through metaphors from nature

How nature created one of my best coaching experiences

In my work as a coach in organisations I usually meet my clients in meeting rooms or in a virtual setting also indoors. Very early on I learned to be cautious in the selection of such rooms in order to create a good atmosphere for reflection and learning.

An unusual request – at least for me

One of my recent clients, I will just call him Frank (obviously not his real name), requested that we have our coaching conversations whilst walking in the woods. It was the first time such a request came up and I admit, I was rather sceptical. Could we really have a conversation as effective as when sitting in a quiet place somewhere indoors? I had heard of walking coaches, but I was reasonably suspicious about the effectiveness of that approach. Despite all that, and because I am always happy to try something new and learn from it, Frank and I agreed to meet in the parking lot of a walking trail in a close-by forest. And I certainly didn’t regret that decision.

Nature’s metaphors can have strong effects

The area we agreed for the walk was unfamiliar to me and I was curious to learn how this was going to work. This, to me, already is a metaphor for the role of a coach: I don’t have to be knowledgeable about the area my clients want to work on, but have to be present and deeply engaged with their reflection.

Con-TACT: get inspiration through metaphors from nature

Some examples of how nature supported the reflection process of my client.

Whilst reflecting on a particular aspect that Frank had no idea how to deal with, we actually got lost in the middle of the forest. Frank intuitively knew which direction to go -physically in the woods- but was unsure whether we would find the trail again.
In the further reflection he admitted that instinctively he also had an idea how to deal with his challenge but was afraid that it might not work. We just kept walking and Frank found approaches how to make things work regarding his business challenge, while at the same time and without any conscious effort, we got back onto the correct trail.

At another instance we ended up in front of a huge tree that had been brought down by a recent storm. It blocked our way and the forest was too dense on either side of the path to get around it. Again, in his reflection process Frank just saw himself confronted with a big wall blocking his thought process. The physical solution to move forward in our walk was in fact to climb on top of the tree trunk so that we could scan the landscape determining the best way forward, then jumped off and continued our walk. The mental solution to Frank’s impasse was to take a step aside to look around this imagined wall. This actually allowed him to see how to overcome his obstacle and enabled him to move forward in his thinking.

For the rest of our coaching walks I often asked Frank to consciously look around to see what was there when he got stuck in his reflections. And 9 out of 10 times he found a metaphor in his surroundings which helped him to find new solutions for the challenges we were reflecting about.

Now, what is my learning from this experience?

When you need inspiration and new ideas get up and go for a walk in nature! It changes your perspective through a different context. Be aware of things, even small ones, that capture your attention. Consciously reflect how this connects to your problem or challenge. Sometimes nature has more to offer than nice scenery and fresh air. You have heard that before? So had I, but I still didn’t realise how well it actually works until I experienced it myself.

As a consequence of this experience I am definitely much more in favour of going for a walk whilst coaching than I was before.

And I am not even talking about the added health benefits of this exercise in fresh air …

Do you feel curious and/or inspired by this then, please, do not hesitate to get in touch with me. I am sure we can find a way to replicate finding inspiration through metaphors.


And if you are interested in sharing experiences with others while learning from theirs then we have something for you.


Join us online! You can even do it while you’re in the woods

– provided you have reception, that is.logo virtual leaders lounge

We explore this and other business relevant subjects in our Virtual Leaders Lounge. This is an informal online meeting of maximum 10 business leaders where we discuss challenges in virtual teams and organisations and share best practices. No PowerPoint is used, no prep work required!

Check it out here or register direct so you get the invitations and have a chance to get one of the 10 seats available for a lounge session.

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