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25 Aug, 2009

The Turtle and the Cat: How rewarding coaching can be

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coaching Articles|Life Coaching Articles

The Turtle and the Cat - Coaching Blog

It took Hillary a tremendous effort to contact me. For a long time close friends had suggested he should see a therapist, a consultant, an expert in reflexology or even a psychiatrist. Hillary, deep down, knew that none of these people could really help him. He often repeated to whomever would listen that he was utterly convinced he had the answers to his own problems. He just did not know where to find them.

One day a long-time friend called Mary rang him from the States. She had not been in touch for quite a while but said she thought of him often. Their relationship was platonic but strong, and based on the rare ability they shared to be able to say everything to each other without shame, embarrassment or offence. Hillary had supported Mary a lot in the past. Older than her, it was he who had helped her to make the right decision between one boyfriend and another as she embarked on her first serious relationship with the opposite sex. For this and other guidance, Mary had formed an immense respect for Hillary and always hoped that one day the time would come when she would be able to help him in return. That time had come. Hillary was in bad shape. With a failing marriage, work woes and no vision for his future, his usual confidence was sapped and at an all time low.

Mary listened Hillary patiently before finally concluding: “You need a Coach!”

“A what?” said Hillary?

Mary explained that she had seen a Coach from ‘The Coaching Academy’ when she was in London. She told him that life after that took on a new dimension. After a good hour’s talk, Hillary, still sceptical, said to Mary that he would consider contacting one in the Oxford area where he lived. Mary was happy to have been able to convince him.

Hillary contacted me one morning, having found me via Google. He said he chose me because of my fascinating life and I immediately answered that his life was just as fascinating. He laughed. “No!!!”, before adding glumly; “I have done nothing, me”. So I replied: “Yes you have!”. “You have been breathing for many years, don’t you think that that is fascinating?” Hillary remained silent. From the other end of the phone, I could sense his emotions and feel the unbidden tears slowly running down his cheeks. With a bit of imagination I could have become him and tasted them as they reached his lips. I could feel how desperate this man was to be heard and understood. Sometimes it was painful how much my NLP knowledge accentuated my ability to empathise so and an effort to maintain a professional distance.

Hillary was silent.

Our first dialogue may have only lasted for around 30 seconds, but in that time I had the impression that for Hillary, his entire life had been reviewed on some level. The rapport between us was now established. Proof if proof were needed, that a Coach does not necessarily need to have the client in the room in front of him for something to begin happening, or for an essential and fundamental rapport to form.

It was a dismal day, I recall, and the weather in its grey coat began weeping tears down my windows, not dissimilar to Hillary’s. My positive instinct wanted to say “ Rain is good for the plants and the ducks!” But for Hillary it was just a miserable day in a miserable life. Nothing was positive in the manner of his narrative to me. Every sentence was spoken extremely slowly, not through choice, but because every word he forced out was perceived by him as painful and useless. I imagined, then, seeing a turtle carrying the entire world on its carapace. As I continued listening to him, it was clear to me that Hillary’s life was based on a turtle attitude. The only difference between him and the animal being that the reptile is actually happy. Hillary was not…

I was, of course, aware that, as a coach, you have to be careful to not be judgmental. And never would Ihave mentioned this to Hillary. It was just, at this stage, my first humble and secret impression.

We decided to meet in my Oxford club. Private and cosy, the ideal place to make people feel comfortable. My instincts were right; Hillary looked like a turtle, head plunging into the neck, shoulders collapsing and round pebble glasses perched above two round eyes mainly fixated upon the floor as if in search of possible answers. I still discerned in him a glimpse of relaxation though, as if to secretly convey that he was gladder to meet me than he might like to admit. Aided by the Club atmosphere, our telephone rapport was soon re-established and Hillary knew that anything we might care to discuss could be heard. We had a long chat, during the course of which he managed to empty a truly burdensome bag of negativity. My task was simple; I just listened and then listened even more. It did not occur that I was going to charge him for this service. When we left he asked me: “How much do I owe you?” I answered “Nothing, All I would like you to do is write me an email and tell me if you benefited from this session.” He left me, wondering why such an emotional experience was free but promised to contact me.

I very often recall my first ever meeting with Hillary in the club. It was one year ago. When I started working with him, it was clear to me, I had a ‘turtle’ in front of me. I could see the benefit for Hillary to change his attitude from a turtle to a cat but I had to cleverly making him discovering this fact. Cats fascinate me. They are independent and generally self –sufficient. They ask for affection but they refuse it if they decide that it is not the right affection at the right time. Cats are quick, bounce back at lightning speed, always land on their feet and react to any aggression in a very strong and positive way. For a cat, losing is not an option. Everything Hillary was actually missing, really. Therefore, it was going to be my role, as a coach to find out if Hillary would feel comfortable being a cat.

An ecology check was definitely needed and this is what I did…

Through coaching I discovered that actually there was a cat sleeping in Hillary’s body. All I had to do was help him find and unleash his inner cat and it would spring into life. Hillary was right. He had the answers inside him all along but did not know how to find them. My role was to help him to unlock the doors to find them, though I never directly told him how or what to do so. I simply kept him on track and helped steer him to focus on his main goal. After two months Hillary realised that he had to go outside of his comfort zone in order to see what the territory looked like. In order that he felt less told than advised, I kept repeating, at least once a week: “Coaching is not about challenging your established intelligence. Coaching is about challenging the intelligence that you might not even know you possess”.

Hillary has been using my service for a year now. He is a different man; the turtle does not exist anymore. He is confident and charming and his power to seduce has multiplied several-fold.

Coaching is communicating, and exchanging experiences, and ‘Hillary the cat’ had more to offer me than he ever imagined. He is clever, intelligent, and skilful, but behaving like a turtle had prevented him from persuading potential clients to use his services. Now the cat is collecting new contracts. He has asked me to work closely to him in his new venture. He plans a massive project not only in his professional life but also for his private life. He has introduced me to a beautiful feline of a girl, and he looks feels and shines happy. The last time he rang was to tell me how much I had changed his life. I almost cried. He said he could feel my tears and asked me to look out of my office’s windows. “What do you see?” he demanded. I answered: “It’s raining”. He said “It is only raining if you want it”.

I would like to share how rewarding this experience with Hillary was with all The Coaching Academy students. Perhaps he will never know how much his case helped me to become an even better Coach. If after reading this true story, you have any doubts about your capacities to coach, all you have to do is think about how much you have inside you and how much you can give to others. The rewards are phenomenal not only for the Coachee but also for you. If you want to be a great coach, from now on, be a cat! All the best to you!

By Dominique Ventura

5 Responses to "The Turtle and the Cat: How rewarding coaching can be"

1 | Lee

August 26th, 2009 at 10:46 am


I love this story- the turtle and cat is a great metaphor and I could empathise with Dominique’s feelings of fulfillment at having helped someone to realise their full potential- That’s such a rewarding feeling and what drives me and many others I am sure to coach people!

2 | Jon Daniels

August 26th, 2009 at 1:02 pm


Thats a great way of putting it, but why limit yourself to just to animals when you can have as many as you want. Maybe you could be the playful Dog when socialising, the Dragon when negotiating or the Tortoise when reading important terms and conditions.

Top Stuff!


3 | Jennifer Hampson

August 26th, 2009 at 1:25 pm


An inspiring article with useful imagery.


4 | Dominique Ventura

August 27th, 2009 at 5:03 pm


Fair comment Jon ! I’ ll try that next time !

Take care !


5 | Oma

September 16th, 2009 at 4:50 am


Great article! Very encouraging to me as a coach. Sometimes we experience self-doubt just like our clients. It’s great when a client bounces back with a testimonial like Hillary’s. It’s the evidence we need that we’re doing such a great job! I especially liked the statement that “It is only raining if you want it.” We can’t stop the rain from falling outside, but we can choose whether it rains or not on the inside of us!

Thanks Dominique!

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