Useful Coaching Metaphors: You as a Ship

What if you were a ship?

  • Where would you be going?  (General direction – long term port)
  • How accurate are all of the instruments for ascertaining location?  (How well tuned is your ability to understand and be clear about where you are?)
  • How accurate are the instruments you use to detect threats? Weather, pirates, underwater obstacles?
  • What ports are you welcome at? (Where are you supported, where can you go to re-fuel/re-group? what is your community, where are you most comfortable?)
  • Who is your crew (Who works on your behalf? Who are your friends?)
  • What kind of ship are you? (What is your purpose? I.e.: pleasure, work, save the whales, generate income)
  • How strong is your hull?
  • Are you part of a fleet?  (What are your roles in life?)
  • How many lifeboats do you have?  (Are you prepared for contingencies at all times)?

More food for thought:

The things that you tolerate in life are like barnacles on a ship: one or two is no problem, a couple of hundred are a huge problem.  The moment, at which the barnacle situation crosses over from being a slight “drag” to being a factor in fuel efficiency and speed, the ships need to be dry docked for a scrub down and overhaul.  Everyone needs a couple of scrub down days per year to keep the ship barnacle free. Stowaways can also be a metaphor for Tolerations or crossed boundaries.


The larger and stronger the ship, the longer it takes to turnaround.  Often people think they need a 180-degree turnaround when what they really need is a tiny adjustment in course, which over time and distance makes a radical difference in where they end up.  Dramatic change is often difficult, costly and not particularly useful.  A small shift makes a big long term difference.

17 thoughts on “Useful Coaching Metaphors: You as a Ship

  1. The encouragement to realize a “small shift makes a big long term difference” is profound. Many times my 180-degree turnaround plans have been short lived! I just need to keep on making those “small shifts” and holding onto the ones already made!

  2. I love the comparison of tolerations being like barnacles on a ship. It’s my favorite concept from Leverage Your Best: Ditch the Rest. My first list of tolerations had about 40 items on it. I was shocked! After about a week I knocked it down to 11. What a difference! It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.

  3. I love the metaphor of a ship.. all of it makes so much sense.. There certainly are a lot of white caps out there in the ocean of life these days.. we need to stay on course, and anyone who can help us do that( a coach) is a gift to be sure…

  4. This is an interesting metaphor. Two thoughts come to mind. 1. A ship is really hard to turn – so knowing where you are going is important. 2. When you get near to port -who helps you get that last 1000 yards??? Like a tugboat…

  5. I gotta Admit that I really LIKE the Metaphor, for It’s Very Symbolic, Simple & Close to REALITY. Keep-up the Good Work Madeleine.

  6. If I was a ship I would be a 35 ft. sailboat made for racing. That way I could move with the wind, be challenged to find the best tack, and be energy efficient. Plus, sailing is just a lot of fun.

  7. If I were a ship, I would be a Malibu ski boat, because I would be able to get where I’m going fast, pull my friends along for a fun ride, I’d have good tunes, and a sleek and sporty physique!

    • ooooh. How delightful. Not handy for the big storms, but if you have excellent storage options, you;d be good!

  8. I find I am two ships – one ship in my personal life and a different shipt in my professional life. Is that just me?

    In my professional life I am now an iceberg-breaking ship. The instruments only work with the right operators at them! My team members are fabulous operators. Welcome ports are those where people desire change. Professionally I am most comfortable with those who think expansively and consider most things possible. My crew includes smart team members, friends who let me call on them and leaders who believe in me.

    We all have to face pirates out there too, don’t we? Who/what are the pirates we must deal with?

    • It is true that your ship will different depending on your role – defining all of the different aspects for each role is really smart. Only you can know who the pirates are – great extension of the metaphor. If you really don’t know, that would be a good reason to find a mentor in your work area who has some more ocean miles than you who can advise you what to look out for!

  9. I constantly emailed this blog post page to all my contacts, for the reason that if like to read it afterward my contacts will too.

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