Leadership Lessons from The Wizard of Oz

 Guest Blog post by Kevin Fickenscher

Author-Toto’s Reflections: The Leadership Lessons from The Wizard of Oz

Stories are a very powerful source of metaphors for commentary on life.  Leadership represents an area where there is a plethora of material – some useful and much forgotten – with too few stories. The confluence of a story that is beloved by all and filled with poignant observations on leadership lessons from which we could all benefit is embodied in The Wizard of Oz.

In particular, I've always been struck by the power of little Toto who – aside from Dorothy – is the only other character in the story who is literally present throughout the entire journey from beginning to end.  More importantly, he was an observer.  He listened.  He allowed – even encouraged – those around him to be active leaders at various points in the story.  Toto exemplified the very best in leadership.  In fact, he was a leader’s leader! 

In writing Toto’s Reflections: The Leadership Lessons from The Wizard of Oz my intent was to capture the essential elements of leadership from the story so that leaders everywhere and at all levels can use it as a metaphor for “making a difference”.  The leadership lessons start with On Why and the admonition that, “If you don’t pursue your dreams, you’ll never get there…”  Dorothy clearly had a dream – to get back home to Kansas.  It was her focus throughout the story of Oz.  It was powerful and compelling.  Vision serves as the beginning point for effective leadership because it mobilizes the people around you by offering a compelling direction on where you want to go.  Vision is the why.  What is your “getting back to Kansas” vision? 

But, the lessons from The Wizard of Oz do not stop there.  In every new venture, in every turnaround, in every initiative; there comes a point where the leader and the followers need to take a “leap”.  Toto was taught very early on as a young pup to embrace the world and have no fear.  So, when he saw the opportunity he took the leap from the basket on the back of Ms. Gulch’s bicycle.  Toto recognized that leadership is more than rhetoric.  It is a cause of action and if we fail to take a leap at the right moment as a leader what can we expect from followers?

The Munchkins as a support team had their own set of leadership lessons to offer us.  Lead characters without a support cast can very easily go off in the wrong direction.  That’s the lesson of the Munchkins!  Their contribution was subtle.  First, they only appeared after it seemed to be safe.  But, when they did appear, they helped Dorothy and the team get on the right road toward the Emerald City – the Yellow Brick Road.  Without their guidance, without their involvement, without their energy – Dorothy and the team could have just as easily gone down the wrong road.

The many characters from Oz provide other compelling leadership lessons as well.  The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Lion offer obvious lessons.  The Scarecrow starts by showing us that we need to think!  He’s clear: leadership is not about brains, but rather thought that comes from reflection within the soul.  Leaders need to listen to themselves, to one another and to their followers to gain an understanding of the situation and effectively step up to the plate with perspective and guidance that provides real solutions.

Then, there’s the next obvious lesson from The Tin Man – On Heart.  Leaders need to show their heart to the people they want to be following them. While data and analysis are often crucial elements in making the right decisions, results are often derived from relationships that come by sharing our heart! 

Rounding out the top list of leadership lessons from Oz are The Lion’s considerations of couragean attribute every leader aspires to convey but, few impart. True courage comes when we are able to convey our commitments by igniting the souls of followers by encouraging them to embrace a sense of higher purpose or belief conveyed by leaders because they share their courage openly. 

These are the obvious, up front lessons from The Wizard of Oz. There are also leadership lessons on collaboration where working together is stronger than working alone; on trust which is built through our genuine, vulnerable and open relationship with followers;and, on focus which allows us to lean into our fears by stepping out of our comfort zone – an attribute that leadership frequently requires. 

But, the most compelling lesson from the story is persistenceLeaders need to be prepared in their leadership journeys to respond to all of the challenges with a sense of humility if they are to be successful in capturing the leadership Lessons from The Wizard of Oz.  Persistence in the face of obstacles – which will inevitably accumulate on the horizons of our life – is one of the most difficult, yet important, lessons of leadership.  Persistence is the epicenter and the fulcrum of this simple but powerful list of lessons captured from The Wizard of Oz

We should keep the lessons in front of us in the form of the story – which we all remember –so that just in case a storm comes through during our leadership tenure, we’ll be prepared to offer the right lessons.  And, in the end, the final lesson to learn from the story from the series of lessons is that we as leader need to remember the importance of persistence in leading change!

About the Author:

Kevin Fickenscher, MD, CPE, FACPE, FAAP, is author of TOTO'S REFLECTIONS:  The Leadership Lessons From The Wizard Of Oz, and a dynamic, visionary healthcare leader with worldwide experience.  He serves as the President of the Healthcare Division and Chief Medical Officer of AMC Health, Inc., and is the former President/CEO of AMIA.  He is consistently ranked among the Most Powerful Physician Executives in the U.S.

For more information please visit www.totosreflections.com.


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