Workplace lessons from the Wizard of Oz


Many workplace lessons can be learned by considering the characters in the Wizard of Oz. Although author L. Frank Baum said his books were written to please children and generate income for his family, the richness of Baum's characters provide us a wealth of imagery from which we can make workplace comparisons.

In a moment I'll make workplace analogies to the story's main characters, but let's start with an event near the opening of the story, the Twister.

The Twister. The analogy is simple: No matter what business you're in, storms will come and go. Such storms might be violent upheavals of employee turnover, tumultuous economic conditions, or some serious event that endangers the organization in some way.

The hope I want to convey is that although these storms come, they also go. And, with a plan and a dedication to persevere, an organization can survive turbulent times. Like most residents of Kansas, the characters in the Wizard of Oz knew what to do when a storm came along. Likewise, your organization should have plans for what to do when trouble comes upon your business.

The Wicked Witch. Think of the Wicked Witch as the type of person who wants to see you fail. They're the bullies ... the power-hungry types who get a kick out of preventing you from achieving your goals. Like in the movie, they often amass a group of supporters to do their bidding.

Wicked Witches don't listen to reason. They're plotters and schemers who assume they know the reasons behind everyone's actions (and they are usually wrong). Therefore, it's best to ignore Wicked Witches as much as possible. They often pick fights, but dealing with them logically is usually futile. Finding a way around them is often your best bet, saving outright confrontation as your last option.

The Wizard. Picture someone in a position of leadership who hasn't been trained for the job and you have the Wizard. Like in the movie, Wizards rely on loud voices, pompous statements, and smoke and mirrors because they know they're not qualified, and they want to intimidate anyone who might see behind the curtain.

When a Wizard's cover is finally blown, there's no need to ride the person out of town. Instead, help such people learn the true requirements of their job. Your kindness in this will likely be repaid to you, and your effort will help the entire team.

The Scarecrow. Some people are raised by parents who don't believe in them. I cringe whenever I hear a parent tell a child that he or she is not good at something, or worse yet, calling a child stupid. Unfortunately, children raised with such talk often adopt these statements as true and carry these beliefs with them into adulthood. Even more sad, bullies (Wicked Witches) often pick on Scarecrows because they are seen as easy targets.

The Scarecrow believed he didn't have a brain, when in fact he had good ideas all along. Our lesson is to look for where Scarecrows are contributing and point that out to them. Show them how their ideas are useful and how they save the organization time, money, and effort. In other words, openly acknowledge their brain power!

The Tin Man. Imagine someone left on the outskirts of a team, working alone and never being shown how his or her work contributes to a bigger picture. Such a person can easily become a Tin Man; rusted, stuck, and devoid of "heart"—that is, working without passion.

To revive people who've become like the Tin Man you must get them more involved in team efforts. Include them in planning and encourage their participation on the team, not just as an individual. A Tin Man's passion can be revived!

The Cowardly Lion. People who could be compared to Cowardly Lions are those afraid to take risks. Like Scarecrows, they may actually display much of what they claim they don't have, but their mindset tends to obscure their confidence.

Therefore, when working with Cowardly Lions, positively reinforce them whenever they take a risk. Also, show them how potential rewards can outweigh the risks. You might also include how inaction can be even more painful than doing nothing at all.

Dorothy. People like Dorothy are adept at looking for ways around the obstacles that inevitably appear. They're also excellent at gathering a team of people to help on projects (despite any perceived weaknesses), showing them how their participation will benefit them, too. Dorothy is the ultimate team builder. Her "can-do" attitude is contagious, even in the face of enormous fears and obstacles.

From a workplace perspective, the moral of this story is to plan for the Twisters, protect yourself against Wicked Witches and help out the Wizards. Then be like Dorothy and gather up your team, involving them and encouraging them along the way.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.