Lessons From the Yellow Brick Road

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a book I used to read over again as a child.   As I recollect fondly about my three imaginary companions – Cowardly Lion, Tin Woodman and Scarecrow, it dawned on me that their adventures along the yellow brick road contains some endearing lessons on relationships and a leader’s journey.

Cowardly Lion was on a journey in search of courage.  While, he finds himself intimidated by the fierce beasts of the forest, it was through moments when his companion’s lives were endangered that he found courage to risk his own and and take a stand.  Tin Woodman was in search  of a heart and it was through the supportive relationships around him that brought out compassion, conviction, and a concern for others.   As in the words of a song “Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have.”  The adorable scarecrow was in doubt of his own intellect and it was through tribulations, not of his own, that he demonstrated remarkable insight and wisdom together with his friends.

Like Cowardly Lion, one may feel intimidated by stronger forces or negativity at the workplace.  Yet courage is found in standing up for one’s companions and acting on behalf of those who may not be able to defend themselves.  Like Tin Woodman, leaders may feel that the demands of work have turned them into hard taskmasters.  Yet compassion can be found in relationships that draw out the positive rather than the negative.  Like the Scarecrow, we may feel that we’re never smart enough for the task.  Yet wisdom is found when tested in challenging circumstances and developed in solving challenges together with others.

The journey of the yellow brick road may resonate with our own dilemmas and struggle as leaders.  The endearing lesson is how the journey is enriched with diverse travel companions.  Our ongoing research at CCL on how leaders in different parts of the world develop, reveals a salient truth to leader development – relationships play a critical role in supporting, provoking, and drawing out development.  It is through such relationships that one develops courage, compassion, and wisdom, even when the ideal seems to be far from reality.


About Jeff Yip

Jeffrey is research associate with the Center for Creative Leadership®, and based at CCL®’s Asia campus in Singapore. His current research is focused on leadership development in Asia and the question of how leaders and organizations can be effective in bridging cultural boundaries. He is the author of Youth.Sg: The State of Youth in Singapore (2003), and a certified trainer in the Leadership Challenge and the Bar-On Emotional Intelligence assessment.
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3 Responses to Lessons From the Yellow Brick Road

  1. avatar Chris Deaver says:

    Great article. Very enlightening. It’s interesting how it is the experiences themselves that provide leadership development opportunities. And often it is the paradox of personal growth from the depths of weakness (lion=lack of courage, tinman=lack of heart) where the most powerful leadership lessons are gained. Thus, I’ve found in interviewing leaders that the best questions are not related to their greatest successes, but in their greatest struggles to overcome personal limitations or weaknesses and how they led their way out of it.

  2. avatar Jeff Yip says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for your good insight. I like your comment on the paradox of personal growth. Building on that, I would like to suggest a paradox of priviledge – that leaders who are priviledged by their environment or have sailed effortlessly through life may be missing the struggle needed to become great leaders. One can however, confront that priviledge and turn it on it’s head by becoming an advocate for others or acting on behalf of people who are in great struggle. Mahatma Gandhi’s life as a successful lawyer turned community organizer is an example. On the debate of leadership by nature or nurture, I would have to say leadership is born of struggle. Like Scarecrow, Tinman, or Cowardly Lion, it is in the struggle with oneself and on behalf of others that one finds strength to lead through difficult times. It’s a humbling to think how life’s priviledges numbs us to the struggles of life within and around us.

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