Oz on Leaders- Lessons From A Fairytale

Oh, that wonderful wizard of Oz.  What profound lessons in leadership he teaches us through the characters in this classic 1939 tale of three misfits, a lost girl and her dog.  As you recall, the movie chronicles the journey of a lion, scarecrow and a tin man as they accompany Dorothy and her dog Toto on her journey to see the all-powerful Wizard of Oz.  It is a mesmerizing tale that has captured the hearts of audiences more than a half century.  But have you ever considered the lessons in management and leadership that it teaches? 


The Lion– lacking the courage that his status as “king of the jungle” commands.  The crippling effects of which make him incapable of living out his reign as sovereign of the jungle.  How often have you see “lack of courage” destroy the effectiveness of an otherwise competent manager?  Leading others requires making unpopular decisions, taking calculated risks and trusting in yourself as well as others.  It takes courage to follow your convictions in the face of uncertainty and discord.  It also takes courage to advocate for the needs, wants and rights of your followers.  All too often, this function of acting as “advocate” for our employees is forgotten.  Does your leader display the courage that instills confidence in their followers?


The Tin Man– missing the heart!  The heart is the catalyst for goodwill toward others.  And the passionate pursuit of excellence cannot endure without a genuine desire to enhance the lives of those around you.  Genuine goodwill toward others is not only noticed by followers, it is felt!  It is the life-stream of any good leader/member relationship.  People respond to you based on your intentions as much as your actions.


The Scarecrow– Without a brain!   There is no substitute for competence!  Training and hard work are the solution here.  But managers may also appear dense because they suffer from a sense of helplessness (a future blog topic- learned helplessness).  All too often, it is the organization that creates these inept “mindless” managers.  This often happens when leaders are charged with responsibility for completing work that they have not been given the resources to achieve.  Some literature actually calls these “straw bosses” (which gave me the initial idea for this post).   Anyone who feels completely helpless and ineffectual in acquiring the resources needed to get work done and  reward employees for good work is acting out the straw boss syndrome”.  

The term Straw Boss came from a farming reality.  Hay is dried grass used as feed for horses and cattle (it is what you primarily plant, cultivate and harvest and it is of the greatest value).  Straw, on the other hand, is a by-product of hay.  It comes from the stalks of wheat or other grains left over after harvesting the good parts, and is used primarily for livestock bedding.  So, a “straw boss” rarely wields any real power aside from the ability to make those under them miserable.  He is a “byproduct” of an organization that is malfunctioning. 

So, what does the wonderful wizard of oz have to say about this?  Get help!  And recognize that the winding yellow brick road most often leads to a person outside of your own social/professional circles.  In land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.  What is perplexing to you is often crystal clear to someone who can see outside of the context of your working world.  Search long and hard for solutions, be open to suggestions, and make sure you have the heart, courage and brains needed to lead others.


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