the ceo magazine, leadership qualities,
BJ Gallagher, Author, The Leadership Lessons from Oz

“The beauty of metaphor is that it conveys not just information – but meaning.”

        ~ Warren Bennis, leadership expert

Every once in a great while, a metaphorical story comes along that captures the human experience in such a perfect way that it becomes a timeless classic. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is just such a story – it is the tale of Everyman and Everywoman.

First published in 1900, Frank L Baum’s tale echoes the stuff of ancient myth ­– powerful, compelling, and dramatic. It is the Hero’s Journey – with a lead character who leaves home in search of happiness in a better world; who travels hither and yon on a personal quest; who ultimately comes full circle, arriving back home to discover that the treasure they sought was right there all along.

In the tale of Oz, our hero is not a solitary seeker, but a band of seekers – each feeling something lacking in themselves, each yearning for what was missing from their lives. The Scarecrow was convinced his life would be different, if only he had a brain; the Tin Woodsman thought his life would be so much better, if only he had a heart; and the Cowardly Lion just knew he could fulfill his destiny to be King of the Jungle, if only he had courage. Can’t we all identify with them? How often do we think our lives would be better, if only we had more intelligence, more love, more courage … more something?

The Hero’s Journey is the Leader’s Journey – it is ultimately a quest to discover and develop our own leadership talents and skills. It is about building our brains, cultivating courage, and heeding our hearts.

As with all journeys, this one isn’t as much about the destination as it is about the journey itself. Dorothy and her companions travel the yellow brick road, encountering a multitude of hazards and obstacles along the way – challenges we can all identify with –flying monkeys of fear who can carry us away, wicked witches of jealousy and resentment, alluring detours of poppy fields that can easily sidetrack us from our goal, and militant soldiers standing in the way of our liberation from insecurity and self-doubt. These are metaphors for the threats and dangers we all face in traveling the yellow brick road of our own leadership journey.

But becoming a leader isn’t all about peril and obstacles – there are also good witches and wise mentors to call on when we need assistance – as well as Munchkin friends and fans to cheer us on our way. We are not alone on our leadership journey – support and encouragement are available at every turn.

The story of Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion – and Toto, too – is the story of all who seek to become leaders in their own lives. It is the quest to discover our true self – to develop our own brains, heart, and courage – and to help others do the same. Here’s how we do that…

WISE LEADERS BUILD BRAINS:

  • Creative leaders practice divergent thinking and look for alternative solutions to problems.
  • Smart leaders learn from experience, especially mistakes.
  • Savvy leaders know how and when to speak … and when it’s wise to keep quiet.
  • Insightful leaders understand that everyone is born with certain mental capacities and levels of intelligence. There’s no one to thank, no one to blame. It’s what you do with your mental capacity that counts.
  • Sometimes even the brainiest leader needs a little acknowledgement, recognition, and affirmation.

AUTHENTIC LEADERS HEED THEIR OWN HEART:

  • Experienced leaders know themselves. They know who they are … and who they aren’t.
  • Skillful leaders know that good colleagues and coworkers – each with unique talents and skills – make a world of difference in achieving success.
  • Powerful leaders know that there is strength in vulnerability.
  • Flexible leaders know that change is a normal part of everyone’s work life and career. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to deal with it.
  • The greatest leaders know that at the end of the day, what counts is not just the dollars you make – it’s the difference you make.

SUCCESSFUL LEADERS CULTIVATE COURAGE:

  • Courage doesn’t mean having no fear. Courage means feeling the fear and taking action anyway.
  • Smart leaders have the ability to discern between real dangers and imaginary ones.
  • Respected leaders know that courage and wisdom are not the same. Wisdom means knowing which battle to fight – courage means fighting the battle you’ve chosen.
  • Effective leaders ask others for candid advice to ensure their decisions are smart and do-able. They don’t surround themselves with “yes men.”
  • Great leaders show courage when they step in and stand up for those who cannot defend themselves.

And last but not least, there are the shoes – those magic slippers that take us where we want to go. Whether they are wonderful wingtips or powerful pumps, leadership loafers or stellar stilettos, super steel-toed boots or creative clogs, our own favorite “ruby red slippers” are the mythical equivalent of wings on our feet – transporting us into the future of our dreams. We each have our own favorite “magic slippers” – those traveling shoes that represent the power of belief, the power of affirming what we really want, the power of claiming our heart’s desire. Leadership begins when we take the first step.


About the Author

BJ Gallagher is a workplace expert and author of over 30 books, including an international best-seller, “A Peacock in the Land of Penguins” (published in 23 languages). BJ’s new book is “The Leadership Lessons from Oz” (Simple Truths; March 2017).

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