Coaching Questions for George Bailey (Yes, the one from It's a Wonderful Life!)


December 24, 2012

First of all the most important thing… On this Christmas Eve, let me say:  Merry Christmas to you and your family. This is the most important season of the year, and it's exciting to be able to share a little piece of it with you. Merry Christmas.

Like most families, my family has a tradition or two at this time of year. One of the biggest ones--in my mind at least--is the annual viewing of It's A Wonderful Life. It's a classic film, made in 1947 by Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart.

Bailey FamilyEveryone of the classic storylines is there…Big plans that don't happen the way you want them to, an impact on other people's lives that you overlooked, or weren't even aware of. Being so close to the trees of your life that you don't see the forest.

There's family issues, relational issues and there's the ever-so-painful "other people see your path more clearly than you do" storyline.

All of it centers around a young man named George Bailey, and through all George always makes the right decision. That's what makes the movie so exceptional.

This year's viewing got me to thinking… If I were George's coach, what would I say to him in the situations the movie presents. Well, that's the subject of today's blog.

In the first few minutes of the movie we meet George is a little boy. He's got big dreams already, and through the first 30 minutes of the movie, George dreams of big and impressive things. This is the first opportunity to insert some coaching into the storyline. I would ask questions like: 

  • What do you want to do with your life?
  • Who will go with you?
  • How do your goals make life better for other people?
  • What might God be stirring in your heart?
  • What keeps you awake at night?

George seems to be well on his way to big things. But then his plans for college get foiled when his father passes away unexpectedly. He had to take action, even though it wasn't his plan.

George has to put his plans to go to college on hold, for four years, while his brother Harry attends school.  If George had a coach at this point, the questions might go something like this:

  • How will you know what to do?
  • What is really at risk if you don't jump in?
  • Who can help you?
  • What can you do to help Uncle Billy during this time? (You have to see the movie to understand this one. But, the best coaching questions are highly contextual… So if you haven't done your homework, don't ask the question. More on this in a future post.)
  • What will you do to ensure that you do get to go to college at the end of Harry's time?
  • How is this changing you?

Again, the plan seems to work, and George seems to be poised to have off to school and begin to make the big impact in this life that he been dreaming up. But then, his brother Harry comes back from school…and he's married with a job with his in laws. And, no college for George and ANOTHER change in plans.

George starts feeling sorry for himself and end up at Mary Hatch's house. This might be a great point for another set of coaching questions for young George Bailey.

On the topic of feeling sorry for himself: George & Mary

  • How long will you let yourself feel like this?
  • How will you know if it's becoming unhealthy?
  • What can you do to pull yourself out of it?
  • What other areas of your life are being affected by this?
  • Who can help you get out of it?
  • How are you changing because of feeling like this?

Feeling sorry for himself doesn't last long, in fact pretty soon George and Mary Hatch are falling in love. The next scene is the two of them getting married! Ready for some coaching?

  • What would be the worst thing that happened if you let Mary care for you?
  • What would be the best?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • How might you change because of being married to Mary?
  • How does your vision look different now?

But just as George and Mary are leaving on their honeymoon… There's a run at the bank and George's business is in jeopardy. How wouA Run on the bankld you coach a business leader in crisis?

  • What do you need to say to your customers?
  • How can you treat your customers like neighbors?
  • What examples can you put in front of the Building & Loan customers to illustrate a survivor's mentality?
  • What do you have to work with? (This is another set of questions that will make a lot more sense if you check out the movie.)

In a grand Hollywood gesture, George spent his honeymoon money to keep his business afloat. I have to admit, this is the scene in the movie where I really, really wish George had a coach. Although, I'm not sure things would've turned out as nicely as they did in the movie if George had someone alongside of him asking him questions like these:

  • What's motivating you to invest like this?
  • What does your wife say?

And that's all we have to say about that… Harry Bailey Toasts George

Without giving away the ending to the movie, let's summarize by saying that his vision didn't happen exactly the way to George originally thought it would. He does end up well, and in fact he's surrounded by friends at the end of the movie. That's a huge victory for young George.

But it does beg some solid coaching questions.  For example:

  • How will you handle the changes to your vision?
  • What grieving do you have to do about the loss of your original idea?
  • What did you learn from the adaptation of your plans?
  • How can you learn to adapt more effectively next time?

 In true Hollywood fashion the movie has a happy ending. And that's all I'll say. But let's ask one last set of coaching questions.

  • What will be your response to the circumstances in your life?
  • What did you learn?
  • How will you celebrate?

The EndGeorge Bailey is a classic holiday character, who proves time and time again that life is pretty wonderful, if you let it be.  My prayer is for you that all of your clients will make exactly the right decision every time, just like George did. May you as a coach ask exactly the right question to help make it happen.

  May your holiday season be blessed. And happy new year for the best year ever in 2013.


For more from Jonathan Reitz, please click here.

Jonathan ReitzJonathan Reitz has a number of impressive titles at CoachNet Global (Chairman/CEO/Guy with Coffee).  Jonathan has been coaching since 1996 and has worked with over 500 clients in the church, the non-profit sector and the business world. 

  “Coaching plays a part in the kind of leadership the world needs,” says Jonathan Reitz.  “I want to be a part of that.”

Contact Jonathan Reitz at or by phone at 440.550.4374.  Follow him on Twitter @jonathanreitz

Comments (2) - Post a Comment
Great example of real life and the skill is required by leaders.
Julian Bailey at 9:09pm EST - January 9, 2013
Awesome post with great questions for the end of the year/beginning of the year. Thanks for all you do to make so many of us get better....
Donald Christian at 6:53pm EST - December 24, 2012

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