The Cardboard Dog Metaphor

This week, I actually lived out the Cardboard Dog metaphor in real life.  Here’s what happened:

The Story of the Cardboard Dog

When I was training to become a coach, a friend in big data asked me what I coaches really do.  When I told her, she said “That sounds like being a Cardboard Dog.”  I didn’t know the reference and asked her to elaborate.

Once upon a time in a big tech company, when engineers got stuck they would go to the CEO to talk through the problem.  After a bit of talking, they would find an answer to their problem and get back to their work.

This was taking too much of the CEO’s time, so they tried something different.  Now, when engineers were stuck, they went to one of the cleaning staff to talk through their problem.  It turned out that the engineers’ problems were solved even more quickly because the cleaning staff paid much closer attention than the CEO did, which engaged the engineers more deeply.  

The company tried a third experiment.  This time, engineers could either go to one of the cleaning staff, or they could sit and talk with the company dog.  It turns out, the engineers found their solutions the quickest when talking to the company dog. The dog’s 100% attention on the storyteller helped pull out the fix from the engineers’ brain fastest.  

After a good long life, the company dog died, and in memoriam workers were each given a cardboard cutout of the dog.  The engineers realized that when they spoke to the Cardboard Dog, they would remember the attention and support their company dog had given them, and they could work through their problems on their own.  

As a coach, I am your Cardboard Dog.  I listen attentively and with support.  I help you discover your own answers and next steps.  And then, because of our work together, you are able to continue this work even when we are not in a session together.  

Real Life Application

This week I was visiting a friend, who was also one of my practice clients during my training.  When I arrived, she had been invited for a next-step interview with a large company.  This step included a few computer brain games and timed recording of questions with 30 seconds to prepare and 3 minutes to answer.  

For some reason, my client’s anxiety was getting the best of her as she tried to prepare herself for these recorded interviews.  The more preparation she did, the further she felt from being ready.  When I arrived at her house, she had a 40-page document she had created and still did not feel at all prepared for the interview.  

I sat in on a session she had with a highly acclaimed job coach who typically works with 6-figure salary clients.  I watched my friend shrink and crumble and lose more and more confidence as the session went on.  My friend needed to end the session because of a panic attack.

She and I then talked through what was going on and uncovered the truth that her 40-page document was something that made sense to her.  She could easily find her way around it, everything was organized in a way that made sense to her, and it was her grounding.  As the acclaimed job coach encouraged my friend to change formats to a form that works well for most 6-figure earners, it took away my friend’s grounding.  

Once we had figured that out, my friend/client turned from panic to hope.  Her demeanor changed.  She could breathe again.  And we began again to prepare – in a way that grounded and made sense to her.  

She printed out her version of notes and we rehearsed a bit to ensure her timing and pace.  And then it was time to record.  She was so, so, so much more ready than she had been a few hours earlier – but she was still really nervous.   

The Plan in Action

I became her Living Cardboard Dog.  I stood right behind the camera as she answered and recorded these questions.  When she began to panic, she could simply look at me.  I did not need to say anything, I was simply there, 100% supporting her.  And that gave her the confidence to continue with the question.

And in 30 short minutes, it was all over.  My friend/client did really well.  She showed up as herself, told truth-filled stories that highlighted what she would bring to this company, and let a bit of her delightful personality show through.  

I won’t be physically there behind her camera for every interview – but she will remember the work we have done together, and she can draw on that to give her an extra boost of support and confidence as she continues her interview process.  

This is how I coach:  

  • Listening deeply.
  • Helping you articulate where you are stuck.
  • Collaborating to find authentic, exciting next steps for you to take.
  • Supporting you as you move forward.
  • Cheering you on your way.

If you would like to experience this type of coaching yourself please contact me or sign up for an individual or 2023 group coaching package.

Leave a Comment