Oswald Letter

It’s better to be Dorothy than the Wizard

Over the weekend, an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz was released. If you’re like me, you grew up watching the 1939 classic. The new film got me thinking about those wonderful characters created by L. Frank Baum. There’s the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and of course Dorothy. Each one is etched into my memory from years of watching the film, even if I had to cover my eyes when the evil Wicked Witch of the West appeared on the screen.

As with many movies, there is much to be learned as a manager and employee from the characters in The Wizard of Oz. Each one teaches us something about what it takes to be a productive and successful businessperson.

The Cowardly Lion. You might recall that the Cowardly Lion is looking for courage. As the king of beasts, lions are supposed to be brave and fear nothing. But that’s not the case with the lion in The Wizard of Oz. The Cowardly Lion understands his shortcomings and sets out with Dorothy to see the Wizard so he can find courage. As managers, we need courage each and every day to do what’s expected of us. Like the Cowardly Lion, we may be fearful of what we must do, but we still have to move forward. We might have to have a difficult conversation, stand up for an unpopular position, or even fire someone. None of those things is easy or fun, but sometimes being a manager takes courage, and you must be willing to step up to that challenge.

The Scarecrow. The Scarecrow joins Dorothy on her quest to meet the Wizard because he is seeking brains. He had been told he wasn’t smart enough to do his job of scaring away the crows. To be an effective manager, intelligence is important. The ability to think critically, analyze problems, and come up with thoughtful solutions is necessary for every manager. But so is the intelligence that comes from experience. The most effective leader isn’t always the smartest person in the room but the one who has learned from years on the job. He has learned the secrets that are often the difference between success and failure. Intelligence is important to the success of every manager, whether it be pure brain power or the intelligence that comes from experience.

The Tin Man. The reason the Tin Man decides to join Dorothy on her journey is that he is looking for a heart. Like the other characters, there’s some irony in the quest of the Tin Man, as he repeatedly displays emotion on the journey. But a manager must also have a heart. Not all decisions are based in logic. Being able to connect with people to understand their passions, fears, and desires is also important. Sometimes a small act of concern or caring can gain the trust and loyalty of those you work with. No one wants to work for a heartless bastard. No one. Showing people that you have a heart—that you really care about them and what is important to them—can go a long way in cementing your position as a leader.

The Wizard. There’s even a lesson we can learn from the Wizard. If you recall, the Wizard turns out to be a kindly old man, but he was hiding behind a curtain. To Dorothy and the others, he was pretending to be something he was not. He wanted them to see him as the “Great and Powerful Oz.” Sometimes we as managers think we must be invincible and perfect and that if we show any sign of weakness, others won’t follow us. We’re plagued by the same thinking that affected that kind man from Omaha—that somehow we’re not worthy, and like him, we resort to tricks in order to deceive. But in the end, the curtain is always going to be pulled away to reveal exactly who we are. It’s better to be ourselves and be honest with others. People will follow those who are genuine and trustworthy.

Dorothy. Dorothy Gale finds herself in a strange land and wants only one thing—to go home. What can we learn from this little girl that we can use as managers? How about the importance of unwavering focus on a single goal? Dorothy sets out to find the Wizard because she is told that he can help her get home. She sets off on the path that will take her to the Wizard and, ultimately, home. She refuses to be deterred. Nothing can keep her from reaching her goal—not even a wicked witch or flying monkeys. We need to be like Dorothy. We need to determine exactly what our mission is and then absolutely refuse to allow anything to stand in our way. It’s what Dorothy did, and she was able to achieve her ultimate goal.

It may seem odd to find lessons for managers in a book or movie made for children, but I think it’s completely appropriate. Being a manager isn’t easy, but it’s also not very complicated. If you have the courage of your convictions, the intelligence that comes from experience, enough heart to connect with people, and an unwavering commitment to the things that are most important to your success, then you will be an effective leader. Like I said, it’s not complicated—but that doesn’t make it easy.