Munchkins, Monkeys, Toto, & Glinda: Why Leaders Can’t Lead Alone

Cross-posted from WinWinWorkplace.com.

“Won’t you go with me?” pleaded the girl, who had begun to look upon … [the good witch] as her … friend. “No, I cannot do that,” she replied; “but I will give you my kiss, and no one will dare injure a person who had been kissed by the Witch of the North.”
— L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

When I heard what Gail was going to write about this month — “looking around corners” to stay innovative and competitive — I put off my article on Increasing Bottom Line thru Employee Engagement and “Happiness@Work” (something to look forward to in next month’s newsletter).

As a way of introducing myself to the Win-Win family earlier this year, I took an idea from my first book — Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst — and applied it to the world of organizations and leadership. This month, I want to present my fifth principle from the book: We don’t change by ourselves.

Of course, no one else can go on our personal journeys for us. As a leader or a business owner, no one can lead for us. The buck stops with us. The Wizard of Oz is primarily a story about personal responsibility. The Wizard did not give Scarecrow a brain, Tin Man a heart, nor Lion his courage; rather, they developed each attribute themselves. Likewise, it was up to Dorothy to face and melt her own Wicked Witch and fire her fraudulent Wizard. The trip to the Land of Oz was Dorothy’s journey; it was about Dorothy’s personal responsibility. Our commission to lead is our responsibility.

However, no one can lead alone.

Joseph Campbell, the renowned American mythologist, introduced his idea of the hero’s journey in his article entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  The Hero’s Journey refers to a basic pattern found in many narratives throughout the world of epic stories. Campbell writes: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”  Along with stories of Odysseus, Prometheus, Moses, and Buddha, Campbell also includes the story of Dorothy, a little common farm girl who ventures off into an unknown world, the Land of Oz.  I mention the hero’s journey because Campbell suggests that although the Hero has to go through their journey on their own, they can never do it without the help of others placed, found, or sought along the way.

Dorothy had several encounters that made it possible for her sojourn to be successful. We need analogous resources to complete our Hero’s Journey. I introduce them here:

  • The Munchkins welcome Dorothy and orient her to the strange land they call Oz. They applaud her for killing someone — they explain that she was a wicked witch who had enslaved them. They encourage Dorothy as she leaves to go to the Emerald City. At their most basic, the Munchkins represent our community. For those of us who are leaders, the Munchkins represent the board that directs us, the team that we surround ourselves with, and the resources that we employ from the outside. One of the main things that we at Win-Win do is build and develop an effective executive team to surround leaders within their organization. As for outside the organization, Vistage is a great example of external Munchkins. It is based on the premise of peer leaders mutually advising each other, assisted by exceptional facilitators (like Gail). If you don’t have at least one team advising and surrounding you both internally and externally, find one … today.
  • Toto, Dorothy’s dog, is a constant companion and best friend. Toto accompanies Dorothy from Kansas to Oz and back again. All of us need a loyal friend like little Toto in our life, especially when we are in the throes of an Oz experience. Typically, our Toto is not directly related to the practice of our leadership. Toto had an indirect role in Dorothy’s success (even as Frodo had with Samwise in Lord of the Rings), yet he never left her side. Who are the Totos in a leader’s life? If you are fortunate, it could be your spouse, a parent, or good friend. If you want to be successful in life, it helps to be loved and supported. Be sure to thank the Totos in your life.
  • Glinda was the “good witch” who advised Dorothy as she traveled the Yellow Brick Road. In ancient times “good witches” were wise women or priestesses thought to have powers of healing or wisdom. To me, Glinda represents our mentors. She is a sage, there on occasion, who functions more as a trusted advisor than as a peer. Though she is friendly, she is not a friend like Toto. She might be part of the community, like the Munchkins; but she is not the community per se. Who are the good witches for leaders today? Any successful leader no doubt can name people in their life who strongly influenced them. Sometimes they come to us naturally, a boss or leader in the community who takes us under their wing. Other times we seek them out. One of my favorite things to do as a business psychologist is executive coaching. I never presume that I know more about their business than they do. I just know that none of us can see past our own blind spots or easily transcend our habits. With the help of a coach, executives can do both. It is also important to remember that the principle of Glinda cuts both ways: Not only do all of us as leaders need an outside positive influence, but someday we need to step up and mentor others who come into our lives. Whom do you mentor in your organization? Which talent in your company do you provide coaching for?
  • The Flying Monkeys. Yes, I said flying monkeys — those winged creatures that frightened us as children. In the book version of the Wizard of Oz, the monkeys were “guns for hire.”  With a magic hat and a few secret phrases they were yours for the bidding (Well, you got three wishes). In the beginning of the book, the monkeys were under the employ of the Wicked Witch. But after she used up her stipend of three wishes, the hat fell into the hands of Dorothy, who used the monkeys to get her through some otherwise impossible situations. I see Flying Monkeys as our outside consultants. They are not part of our organization, but they are called in when we need them. As a respected consulting group, we at Win-Win are, in that sense, “flying monkeys,” willing and able to join you collaboratively in fulfilling your (three or more) wishes.

Many of us are tempted by the delusion that we can lead solely on our own; we falsely believe that strong leaders do not need outside help. Our species evolved to where we are today not because we are strong on our own — like lions, tigers, and bears (Oh, my) — but because we are smart. And we are truly smart leaders when we belong to a community of peer advisors (Munchkins), have healthy and supportive relationships (Toto), have mentors and coaches (Glinda), and know when to call on resources outside of our self and our organization (Flying Monkeys).

Have a happy holiday!

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