Leadership lessons from the Wizard of Oz

‘All the wonders that you seek are within yourself.’ – Sir Thomas Brown

I remember as a very young boy (I was about six) my Mom taking me to see the movie The Wizard of Oz. The film follows Dorothy, a schoolgirl who lives on a Kansas farm, but dreams of a better place ‘somewhere over the rainbow.’ After being struck unconscious during a tornado by a window that had come loose from its frame, Dorothy dreams that she, her dog Toto, and the farmhouse are transported to the magical Land of Oz. There, the Good Witch of the North, advises Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and meet the Wizard of Oz, who can return her to Kansas. During her journey, she meets a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion, who join her, hoping to receive what they lack themselves (a brain, a heart, and courage, respectively). This journey is done while trying to avoid the Wicked Witch of the West.

Last Sunday afternoon, as I was flicking through the TV channels, I stumbled across the movie on the classics channel and watched it again. I was amazed at how good it was and how it contained such a profound, yet simple and important message.

Firstly, the overarching message is that everything that you require to enjoy this life is inside you right this moment. Most of us spend too much time focusing on what we lack and on our weaknesses. We are continuously searching on the outside for something more that will add to ourselves, instead of realizing that all we are, and all we need is inside of us. Our outer world will always be a reflection or mirror of our inner thoughts, so all self-improvement starts with nurturing and empowering our inner thoughts. There is simply no other way. All improvement starts on the inside.

In the movie, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion were wonderful examples of the fact that we do possess the values and strengths on the inside that we believe that we lack. Sometimes we need to be challenged or tested, maybe look a bit deeper, to realize that we possess all that we need.

These three characters also provided us with three vital leadership lessons:

The Scarecrow felt that he lacked a brain (knowledge and wisdom)

What does it mean to be intelligent? I believe that all humans are blessed with at least one level of genius. There are at least eight levels of intelligence: image, logic, word, body, sound, nature, people and self. In which of these areas are you smart?

It is often felt that, above everything else, success is hindered by a lack of intelligence. Which person has the better chance of succeeding? The person with above average intelligence who is burdened with self-doubt and who hesitantly tackles tasks, or the one with average intelligence who has a positive focus, continuously sets goals and is a ‘person of action’?

More than intelligence itself, your thoughts and patterns of thought are the decisive elements that guide your intelligence and lead to your success. Research indicates that a positive mindset, rather than intelligence, is the essential element of success. In fact, a Harvard study showed that students credited eighty-five per cent of what they achieved to their mindset and only fifteen per cent to their abilities, skills and inborn talent. Every day I see people with average intelligence, but who have focus and run circles around so-called intelligent people who lack clarity and purpose.

The Tin Man felt that he lacked a heart (compassion)

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘people are our most important asset’ from the lips of a corporate manager? Most of the time it’s nonsense! Truly putting your people first is to treat them with empathy and compassion. Acquire a love for people. In reality, we do not lead organisations or businesses. No. We lead people. We are successful if we know how to lead people. People are the name of the game and the best way to become a leader of people is to love people. Your people can tell instinctively whether or not you have their best interests at heart. If they feel that you don’t care for them, they will not follow. Leadership is the art of directing people we care for to achieve a common desired goal. Leadership is also not about title; we are all leaders.

The Lion felt that he lacked courage

The word courage is derived from a French word meaning ‘from the heart’. Every day I meet people of great courage. They have often experienced the worst of life, such as illness, personal heartbreak and financial disaster. I admire these people because they have distinguished themselves. They have faced their personal nightmare, endured the dark nights and chosen to live.

In all leadership studies conducted there is always one common denominator – the quality of courage. Winston Churchill once said, ‘Courage is rightly considered the foremost of the virtues, for upon it, all others depend.’

Fear immobilizes us. It’s an obstacle to success and makes us followers instead of leaders. It diminishes our initiative, enthusiasm and desire to succeed. At the end of the movie when the Lion is awarded his medal for courage, he still felt the fear but understood that even courageous people feel fear. He thought that he was courageous and consequently he became so. His medal became an outward validation for an inner change.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s powerful Great Depression statement says it all: ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’

So the three distinct qualities you need to be an effective leader are a never-ending commitment to improving your knowledge, heartfelt compassion for others and the courage to face your every fear.

‘Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’
– Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh