The Wizard of Ask

December 22, 2011

Leadership Keynote Speaking to audiences globally has given me great opportunity for reflection on leadership. Leaders in the iconic mold of John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Margret Thatcher no longer work. They issue commands that don’t inspire and motivate others the way questions do.

If we go further back in time, to Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, we find a surprisingly effective leader who would succeed in today’s world. The authors of The Oz Principle use the story of The Wizard of Oz to illustrate how people shouldn’t adopt a victim’s mindset and assume that a magical, all-powerful wizard will be able to solve their problems for them. I prefer to focus on Dorothy’s leadership skill and, in particular, her use of question-based leadership.

Despite a litany of obstacles (flying monkeys, an evil witch, a haunted forest), any of which might have easily derailed her quest, Dorothy maintains her values, vision, and drive to accomplish her goals–getting to the Wizard of Oz and returning home safely. She also builds alignment, engagement, and accountability by asking the right questions.

The Scarecrow unsettles Toto, and, for that reason, it would be understandable why Dorothy might dismiss him. Instead, she asks why he acts the way he does. She wants to know his motivation, so she can better understand his actions. He opens up to her–as people often do when they’re asked good, honest, and open-ended questions–and, when she offers to help him solve his problem, he becomes a trusted and valuable member of her team. It helps, of course, that she asks the Scarecrow to imagine how things could be different if he had a brain. Dorothy uses questions to inspire others, not just understand them.

When Dorothy comes across the Tin Man, she asks how she might help him, and, at his prompting, gives him some oil. When he describes his desire for a heart, she helps him see how his goal and her goals might be achieved together.

Later, they confront their fear of the Lion together. Interestingly, it’s the Scarecrow that invites the Lion to join them on their quest. Dorothy is the kind of leader, we learn, that not only knows how to inspire others to join her, but to assert themselves.

Think about how many iconic leaders you have watched over the years. How many are as strong and determined as Dorothy while still engaging others, aligning their interests, and inspiring them to greatness?

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