Follow the yellow brick road: Dorothy as a role model for leadership

Since leadership and management books were first written, we have been looking to the world to identify leadership role models. People like Gail Kelly, Sheryl Sanberg, Richard Branson, Tony Hsieh, Barack Obama, Steve Waugh or Paul Gallen often come to mind – depending on the context of the discussion.

So what makes a great leader?

I recently discussed this question with a colleague. Some of the common elements we agreed on were empathy, compassion, fairness, resilience. Strength of character and commitment to a purpose.

We discussed that leadership is not about a role, position or level—although, the people I suggested earlier all have or had positional leadership—it is about having the skill to create a vision and engage their team to join them on a journey, whatever that journey is; and an ability to foster collaboration and loyalty from what are essentially a bunch of strangers.

This got me thinking about Dorothy (yes, from the Wizard of Oz) as a role model for leadership.

Let’s consider her story.

A young girl, dropped into a strange place, with no connections, no support. She learns what she has to do to reach her goal (of getting home), and sets on her path, to follow the yellow brick road.

Along the way, she meets new people (well, a talking lion is a person for this purpose of this story!), who listen to her story (her mission) and they decide to join her, both as support and to meet a personal need.

Although someone who may not come immediately to mind when asked “Who is a role model for leadership?”, the way Dorothy engaged with her team, encouraged them, supported them and developed them, shows true leadership.  And here is why:

  • Throughout her journey, Dorothy was unwavering in her vision/mission. In the face of adversity, uncertainty and unspeakable danger, she stayed true to her purpose to reach the city of Oz.
  • Dorothy gained the trust and faith of her team. She saw their strengths (even when they could not) and sought to support and validate these, so they could build their own courage and confidence.
  • Dorothy continuously found ways to overcome problems, rising to every occasion, finding new and innovative ways to overcome any challenge and adversity and looked to her team for support and advice. Although not always right, Dorothy learnt from her mistakes.
  • Dorothy showed her team gratitude for their efforts, seeking ways and opportunities to praise and recognise them throughout the journey. She inspired her team to be better, do more, and develop their skills. 
  • Despite her initial disappointment in the Wizard, Dorothy showed empathy and ultimately helped him to grow. 

What Dorothy’s story tells us is that great leaders are everywhere. Sometimes they’re in places you wouldn’t dream of; and sometimes,
in people you wouldn’t expect. But then, great leadership is not about status, power or control.

Great Leadership is about inspiring your team to do more, be more and to continuously grow in everything they do.

It’s about creating a vision and purpose and being there every step of the way. 
In good times, bad times and even when there’s a wicked witch trying to thwart every effort.

Perhaps it is time that we, instead of looking to business leaders as role models for leadership, look closer to home; wherever that home is.

NB: This blog was first posted on LinkedIn January 2017 by Jenni Walke.

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