Like many others (maybe you?), I count C.S. Lewis as one of the greatest thinkers, writers, and communicators ever. The author of over 30 books spanning genres of poetry, fantasy, apologetics, and literature, Lewis’s intellect was unmatched. But Lewis the genius recognized the limits of intellect. In fact, he believed our intellect and reason guarded the soul, preventing truth from entering into our hearts and will.
Lewis used imaginative stories as a means for bypassing the watchful dragon. His Narnian fairy tales lull the reader into a world more real than our own, subtly introducing us to a beautiful rendering of Christ (Aslan). In his satirical Screwtape Letters, Lewis concocts demonic correspondences that spell out far more truth concerning spiritual battle than any lecture or prose could ever accomplish. You probably know of many other ways Lewis used story, fantasy, and poetry to touch your heart and sneak truth past your rational gatekeeper.
What’s all this have to do with coaching? After all, this is a coaching blog!
Lewis’s use of imagination echoes the reason coaches need to be skillful story tellers, masters of metaphors, and proficient with parables. While we don’t necessarily strive to “teach” our clients, we are charged with the responsibility of helping our clients engage and embrace new awareness. Sometimes new awareness is born of logic, but other times we need to exercise imagination – our own and the client’s.
Imagination in Action
So how do we do this? Very few of us coaches have the imagination of a science fiction writer. Okay, I’m being overly nice with that sentence – truth is that none of us is all that imaginative! But while we lack the imaginative horsepower to create Narnia, we do have enough imagination to serve our clients. Here are four simple ways to employ imagination and tip toe past your client’s dragon.
- Creative Questions. A fantastic way to improve the efficacy of your questions is by combining them with story and imagination. A perfectly appropriate question is, “What’s a good way to deal with this?” That question can be super-charged when turned into a bit of a story: “If some sort of gamma radiation something-another blessed you a super power that could help you deal with this, what power would you want?”
Questions that invite your client into a story have the power to suspend the client’s disbelief and allow greater creativity, problem-solving, and optimism. It might be fantasy to imagine three wishes, winning the lottery, or being made queen for a day, but those fantastical forays can bear a lot of real-world fruit.
- Metaphors. Instead of tackling an issue head on, sometimes it’s far more helpful to come at it from a different angle. Metaphors help us do just that. A metaphor takes the client’s unknown or unfamiliar issue and connects it to something that is known and familiar. The light of the known illuminates the unknown, allowing the client to address their challenge with more confidence and expertise.
- Parables. Jesus loved using parables as a way to side-step the dragons of what we think we know. Coaches can do the same. We can employ biblical parables, Aesop’s fables, or make up our own short stories that poke and provoke. I’ve been surprised how many clients (especially young ones) have never heard about the goose who laid the golden eggs, the boy who cried wolf, the good Samaritan, or the stewardship of three servants. And even when your client does know the parable, the parable can still have a powerful effect, perhaps even more powerful!
- Stories. I often introduce stories into my coaching. These stories can come from history, my own life, movies, books, or even TV sitcoms. The world is full of stories that coaches can bring into the coaching relationship in order to serve our clients. About twice a year I share with a client how Winston Churchill chose people who often disagreed with him to be part of his war cabinet. Why? Because the success of the team required having people who would stand up to him. The story is about war with Hitler, which allows the client to step out of her own challenge and learn from one of history’s most challenging episodes.
If you want to up your game as a coach, up your imagination and use of imagination-based tools. If you’re not yet confident (or competent), find ways to start small. For example, following a coaching session, use your imagination to imagine ways you could have used more imagination in the coaching conversation that just occurred. Also, be willing to take some risks and experiment. Your use of imagination is never going to produce a hole-in-one, but the more you do it, the closer to the hole you’ll get.
You and I are not going to become the C.S. Lewis of coaching, but we can wield tools of imagination. BTW, that voice of doubt convincing you that you aren’t all that imaginative is, in fact, your own dragon of “reasonable” doubt.