Wizard of Oz leadership lessons

I found this article from Tom Stevens recently which, combined one of my favourite childhood films with my passion for leadership development. It captured many of the ideas and challenges that come up time and again with the people and businesses that we at VA Consultants work with. ~Rob~

Wizard of Oz Leadership Lessons

Seventy years ago MGM produced one of the best and most beloved movies of all time, based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The original book was published in 1900, the first of 14 Oz books written by Baum, to be followed by dozens more from other authors. The 1939 film, starring Judy Garland, is so well crafted it continues to enchant audiences today… and also offers some important leadership lessons.

There’s no place like home, and no motivator like clarity of purpose.

You have to hand it to Dorothy. She fully engages the wonders, adventures, friendships, and dangers she encounters in Oz, but she is never deterred from her purpose of finding her way home. Does your organisation have that clarity of purpose and vision? How, as a leader, do you keep yourself, and your followers, focused on that purpose?

Exceptional Teamwork derives from aligned WIIFM.

What’s In It For Me? The reasons why each of the protagonists want to go to Oz are different, but the destination is the same. Everyone needs to get to the Emerald City to see the Wizard. The journey is safer and more productive traveling together, and ultimately the Scarecrow, Tin-Man, Lion and Dorothy become a powerful team that defeats their nemesis and creates a better future for Oz.

Great causes must accommodate individual purposes. Effective leaders seek to understand the personal needs and motivations of followers, and help to align individual purposes with the higher purpose of the organisation.

Head, Heart, Courage, and Spirit are cornerstones of character.

The Scarecrow needs a brain. The Tin Man a heart. The Lion, courage. Dorothy, her home. One reason the Wizard of Oz endures is because it deeply resonates with our experience of the human condition. We recognise that to be our best as a human, or team, or leader, we must draw from head, heart, courage, and spirit. Yet none of us are fully complete in these respects, and our endeavours are often interdependent.

The leaders we need for today’s world, not to mention tomorrow’s, are those who have significant mastery of these four “meta-factors” of character: wisdom, humanity, courage, and resilience – and who also recognise their limitations.

Deal with what comes at you, but don’t lose faith.

Just when you think it can’t get worse, here come the flying monkeys. So deal with it.

Companies that sustain success face brutal reality head on, while at the same time never lose faith in their ability to prevail, notes Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great. Collins observes, “The good-to-great companies faced just as much adversity as the comparison companies, but responded to that adversity differently. They hit the realities of their situation head-on. As a result, they emerged from adversity even stronger.”

The world is full of lions and tigers and bears. Oh my! Wise leaders keep their people moving down the yellow brick road – they deal head-on with obstacles, stay true to their values and mission, and always expect and give help along the way.

Understand the difference between a role and who you really are.

The Wizard manipulates trappings of wizardly power to evoke, fear, awe, and respect, but is able to provide genuine help only after he is engaged as a real person. Both wizards and leaders do well to present a powerful facade of office to the world, and at the same time cultivate personal authenticity that sustains engagement with followers. Believe your own press clippings and ignore that person behind the curtain at your peril. It is in authentically connecting to other people that real leadership magic begins.

Framing can be magical.

Exceptional leaders can foster change by reframing how their followers look at the world. With the right frame, doors that seemed closed are open, paths appear in the wilderness, and people suddenly possess what seemed out of reach. The Scarecrow seeks a brain, but the Wizard reframes the circumstances and produces a positive outcome.

Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma. Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitartus Committiartum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of ThD. (Doctor of Thinkology, the Wizard explains.)

Framing based on smoke and mirrors ultimately is exposed as a sham. Framing based on substance – true wisdom, humanity, and courage – provides deep value that changes lives.

No one else can do it for you.

At the end of the movie Glinda the Good Witch informs Dorothy she has always had the power to go home. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Dorothy rightly inquires, only to be told, “Because you have to find out for yourself.” Some things you simply have to experience for yourself. Leadership is one of them.

While perhaps informative, reading a book does not fully equip someone to ride a bike, drive a car, fly a plane, or be a leader. All these things require experience. Reflection on experience in a way that informs how to handle future experiences is the fundamental key to development. Leadership is a developmental process. Help along the way is essential, but no one else can develop for you.

Leadership is much more than telling people to go down the yellow brick road. It’s about authentically engaging them in the adventure.

by Tom Stevens (c)2009


(This article may be freely reprinted in your company, association, or commercial publication (or website) under the following terms: that the author attribution, copyright notice, contact information, and this reprint notice be included; and that you inform us that you are using the article.)

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