Leadership qualities from 'The Wizard of Oz'

Most of you probably remember that timeless masterpiece, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. After she is swept into the land of Oz by a tornado, she soon discovers that the only way to find her way back home to Kansas is to seek out the Wizard for help. Along the way, she encounters three interesting characters: the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man. Just like her, each of them is searching for something that only the Wizard can provide. The scatter-brained Scarecrow needs a brain, the Cowardly Lion needs courage, and the rusty Tin Man needs a heart. As I reflected on these three characters and their needs, it was the three qualities that struck me. Brains, courage, and heart are a solid foundation for any effective leader. To have one or two of these qualities without the other(s) makes for an incomplete leader. Let’s look at each of them individually.

Brains

The fundamental ticket to get in the door as a leader in any organization is to have a deep understanding of the business — or at the very least, a deep understanding of business systems and processes, and how they might apply to any business. When Alan Mulally took the helm at Ford several years ago, he was venturing into the automobile/truck business for the first time. However, his depth of experience at Boeing gave him a very workable template in his new role. Even with that template, he spent many, many hours immersing himself in Ford, its products, and its culture.

The current CEO of our worldwide Dale Carnegie Training organization in New York brought both a legal and entrepreneurial background to his new role. He also brought a passion for our business and his impact after just a couple of years on the job is being felt throughout our franchisee network. The point is that brains are the foundation of effective leaders. The other two qualities build on them.

Courage

Even after all the due diligence is complete, a leader often has to make a decision that could lead an organization down a hazardous, but potentially prosperous path. In other words, even with all the data at their disposal, leaders are the ones who have to stop analyzing and make a move. While not easy, it is courageous. Sometimes, people are not happy with a decision.

Colin Powell once said, “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off. Good leadership involves responsibility to the group, which means people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable if you’re honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: you’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone “nicely” regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.”

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Heart

As tough as Colin Powell’s words are, effective leaders must also bring a strong set of people skills to the workplace. As noted above, it takes courage to make the tough decisions. It also takes heart, sensitivity, and genuine interest in others to create and maintain an engaged and committed workforce.

I will never forget the first meeting of one of our training programs. We had a leader, whose depth of knowledge in her organization was invaluable. However, things had reached a possible point of no return due to her autocratic, in-your-face management style. She ran the highest turnover rate in her company. She proudly stated at that first meeting, “I’m from the East Coast and I believe that the direct approach is the only way to deal with employees.” She also understood that she needed to change. She was definitely one of the more challenging individuals I ever dealt with. However, with a combination of our coaching and strong reinforcement from her boss, she turned the corner.

In the make-believe world, Oz might be the place to find a brain, courage, and a heart. However, in the real world of leading people and organizations, it takes all three to add up to effectiveness.

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