The Yellow Brick Road of Coaching


When I tell people I am a Life Coach, they get a quizzical look on their faces. . “What is a Life Coach?” the brave ones ask. And that’s where the trouble begins. How to explain coaching when it is so much better to experience it?

I could say: “As your coach, I will help you find your own answers for how to get the life you want, whether it means fulfilling specific goals, uncovering your personal vision and manifesting it in your life, considering varied perspectives on challenges in your life, or finding a way to be with what is now present in your life.” or “Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

I told you there’d be trouble.

The other day I woke up with a thought flashing in my head–or an intuition which is one of the five contexts of Co-Active Coaching, the coaching discipline I studied under the auspices of The Coaches Training Institute (

“Use the “Wizard of Oz” to explain coaching!” I loved the movie as a child, anxiously awaiting its broadcast every year between Thanksgiving and Chanukah. Ah, I date myself to the pre-historic, pre-VHS era. In fact, I didn’t see the Emerald Kingdom in all its splendid color until I was a teen. 

But, I digress. In Co-Active coaching there are three fundamental principles: Fulfillment, Balance, and Process. People move toward more or less of these three things in their lives. The intention of Co-Active Coaching is for clients to maximize their lives in these three principle areas. While week to week the client may bring specific tasks and topics for coaching for the doing of his/her life, the coach holds the connection to the bigger picture of the client being in a fulfilled, balanced and fully experienced life. Much like Dorothy who had a lot to do on the yellow brick road: getting the scarecrow off his pole, getting the Tin Man un-rusty and standing up to a Cowardly Lion, not to mention liquidating wicked witches. Dorothy did all this while on her bigger quest to get back HOME. Home being the life each client truly wants for him/herself. 

Dorothy begins her journey with the blessings of Glinda the Good Witch of the North.  They decide on a goal: To get Dorothy back to Kansas. To achieve that goal they decide Dorothy must speak to the Wizard. The Wizard is in the Emerald City. “But how do I start for the Emerald City?” Dorothy asks.

And Glinda, the coach, I mean witch responds, “It’s always best to start at the beginning–and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.” 

The original idea of getting Dorothy back to Kansas was quite daunting, she couldn’t go back the way she came and she didn’t even have a broomstick. Glinda and Dorothy came up with a step-by-step (pun intended) plan for Dorothy to reach her goal. 

With a coach you define your goals, visions, dreams. You then create a plan to reach those goals. On the way, you identify and overcome obstacles. You begin to see possibilities instead of being stuck in circumstances. 

 As I mentioned, the principles Fulfillment, Process and Balance are used in the coaching. I’ll use the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow to illustrate these principles. 

We often kick-off coaching with a discovery of the client’s values. The stuff that makes life worth living, the things that make your spine tingle and put a spring in your step. When we live in alignment with our values we feel fulfilled, no matter what our circumstances. And when we don’t we are frustrated, angry and unhappy (no matter how comfy our circumstances may be.) In coaching we use values to create visions and goals.

When Dorothy first met the Lion he was living in dissonance with his values of courage, leadership and “being the KING.”  He was miserable, covering his cowardly behavior with false bravado. “My life has been simply unbearable,” Lion admits to Dorothy. Later on, in the Emerald City, the Lion puts forth his vision: “If I were King of the Forest….I’d command each thing either fish or fowl… Each rabbit would show respect for me… the chipmunks genuflect to me…I’d be the monarch of all I survey.”

Now, we know it takes the Lion a long time to discover his courage, but, despite set-backs, he does, and as he enters the Wicked Witch’s castle to save Dorothy, he steps into his magnificent-self.

And he had it in him all the time, as the Wizard points out when he bestows a medal upon the Lion. 

The Tin Man realized there was a gift in being able to experience emotions to the fullest. He yearned to feel sadness and joy, love and despair. He relished the experience, unlike many of us who fear our strong emotions and try to quell them in many ways such as using food, alcohol, over-busyness or plain old dismissal-not allowing ourselves to feel the full spectrum of emotion. For me the Tin Man symbolizes Process. In general, Fulfillment and Balance focus on moving forward, and Process focuses on what is happening in the here and now. While we are busy planning and doing things to improve our future we also happen to be in the middles of our lives. We may be breezing along or feeling like we are struggling against a twister. We may wish we were somewhere else (Kansas) but we are where we are (Oz) …now. We are in the process (Yellow Brick Road) of our lives…now. The coach’s job is to gauge the level of turbulence and examine with the client the impact on the client’s life. This awareness leads to a fully experienced and expressed life. As the Tin Man said, “Now I know I’ve got a heart–‘cause it’s breaking.” The coach creates a safe place to experience the highs and the lows and to just be…here…now.

Balance is not about reaching a constant equilibrium. Life is dynamic and full of surprises. Balance is about juggling priorities to create a satisfying and flowing life. It’s about tools to manage activities and relationships in a harmonious manner. The client chooses what weight to give to each element of his life, and it very well might not be even. The emphasis may shift over time. In balance the client decides how smooth (or excitingly bumpy) his journey through life will be.

A client may come to coaching stuck at a crossroads, or feeling out of options. Sometimes a change in point of view will get him moving again.

Dorothy: “Follow the yellow brick road? Now which way do we go?”

Scarecrow: “That is a very nice way….It’s pleasant down that way, too….Of course, people do go both ways!”

In coaching for balance we often explore new ways to look at a given topic. The client has an opportunity to break out of old assumptions and preconceived notions. The coach invites the client to examine a topic in innovative ways. The client chooses the perspective that resonates with him the most (sometimes indeed combining two perspectives– “both ways”) and brainstorms possibilities from the new perspective. 

Balance is about living a life of choice and possibilities rather than being a victim of circumstance or other people’s expectations. 

“I could while away the hours,

Conferrin’ with the flowers,

Consultin’ with the rain.

I would dance and be merry,

Life would be a ding-a-derry…If I only had a brain(storm)!”

Living a ding-a-derry kind of life comes from living out our values in day-to-day life. It comes from living a life of choice and possibilities with values as our compass. It is fully experiencing where we are now with all the accompanying emotions.

Sure, there will be flying monkeys trying to scoop the client up off her yellow brick road and doing their best to keep her from a life of happiness. All those gremlins and saboteurs, preconceived notions and limiting beliefs trying their darndest to keep the client stuck and “safe.” But there are ways to give the monkey a banana and send him on his way.

And, in the end, the client will discover through coaching that s/he had it in her all the time. That she is the expert of her own life and has the power to get to where she wants to go.

As Glinda tells Dorothy,” You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.”

Scarecrow: “Then why didn’t you tell her?”

Glinda: “Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.”

And, remember, “There’s no place like home!”



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