Four Lessons from the Wizard of Oz about Leading Generation Y


While I was writing this blog a strange memory returned … the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls the curtain back to reveal that the great Wizard of Oz is just an average man hiding behind an imposing image.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The great Oz has spoken,” said the Wizard in the 1939 classic movie. Then it hit me! I have been led by a Wizard or two during my career, but the leaders that truly inspired me to greatness were more like Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion all fused together. This Oz-type leader may be just what Generation Y is looking for.

The days of leading from behind the corporate title or curtain (door) are over. Being “real” is important to Generation Y—they can detect a fake or insincere leader very quickly. They are less tolerant than their parents’ generation (Baby Boomers) and will be the first to expose the wizard in their office.

Leadership Lessons from Oz

Can a movie released in 1939 teach us lessons in leadership that can be applied in the new workplace? A workplace soon to be dominated by Generation Y? Yes. Here’s why.

Generation Y:

  • Values integrity in their supervisor
  • Will change jobs at a moment’s notice to be on a team they find more meaningful
  • Is loyal to those they see walking the talk
  • Values teamwork and open communication
  • Values the example set more than the advice. They value action
  • Doesn’t like the corporate hierarchy. They were often treated as partners with their parents, not as children. This resulted in them seeing themselves equal in decision-making authority at a young age and why they may expect equitable relationships with their supervisors

Each of these points can be supported by a scene found in this timeless movie. Leaders with vision, brains, heart, and courage not only appeal to Generation Y but can inspire anyone to greatness. So, grab your Monday Morning Coffee and maybe some popcorn and join me as we travel down The Yellow Brick Road.

1. Vision

“To grasp and hold a vision, that is the very essence of successful leadership—not only on the movie set where I learned it, but everywhere.” — Ronald Reagan

When you think of Dorothy as a leader it seems all wrong—or does it? She was a young girl, far from home, lost, vulnerable, and at times bewildered. She did not have the knowledge to avoid all the problems and dangers along the Yellow Brick Road but she didn’t give up. She set her sights on getting to OZ and stayed the course when times got tough.

  • Dorothy gathered her team’s concerns and input while practicing the art of collaborative leadership
  • Her vision was clear enough to give direction and compelling enough to entice others to join her on her journey
  • Dorothy was on a quest to fulfill her own needs and the needs of others that joined her

Some leaders try hard to be something they are not. Dorothy did not consider herself a leader. She was real and her vision was clear. She allowed her team the freedom and opportunity to grow during their journey down The Yellow Brick Road.

2. Brains

“By three methods we learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is the noblest; second, by imitation, which is the easiest, and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” — Confucius

The Scarecrow is my favorite character. There is a scene in the forest where Dorothy and the Scarecrow stop to pick some apples but the apple tree does not want to hand over the fruit and puts up a fight. The scarecrow creates a plan to taunt the tree until it becomes so angry it starts to throw apples at him, letting go of the very thing it desperately wanted to hold on to. In the end, it is the scarecrow that also puts together the plan to rescue Dorothy from the castle of the Wicked Witch.

  • The scarecrow becomes smarter as he travels through Oz with the group
  • He does not realize his full potential, yet others see it in him
  • Throughout the movie the scarecrow not only shows his intelligence even though he lacks a brain, but he also shows his leadership
  • He learns by reflecting

At the end, The Wizard gives him a degree, but it comes only after he has done plenty of great thinking.

3. Heart

“Leadership is not so much about technique and a method as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human — Lance Secretan

The Tin Man didn’t have a heart, but he still had the ability to care. In fact, he is the most caring character in the story. He cared so much that he shed tears that caused him to rust. He had compassion for others as well as the passion to stand up for what he believed, often facing his fears to do the right thing.

  • The Tin Man was in search of a heart. It was through the supportive relationships around him that brought out his compassion, conviction, and a concern for others
  • He showed his emotion—everything flowed out of his heart.
  • He understood that above experience, knowledge and skills it was his heart that was the most important
  • The Tin Man’s heart kept the team going down the road even when times seemed uncertain

All leaders should have their heart checked once in a while. A heart is foundational to building a healthy team and organization. This could be the leader’s most important work.

4. Courage

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” — Mike Jones

The Cowardly Lion was on a journey in search of courage. He was a big talker and appeared confident, yet finds himself intimidated by both small and large beasts of the forest. It was through moments when his friend’s lives were endangered that he found courage to risk his own and take a stand.

  • “All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there.” – The Lion
  • The Lion always keeps his eyes on the prize through each obstacle he encountered. He set out determined to do what the Wizard asked in order to receive his courage
  • Over and over again the Lion pushed through his fear. His driving motivation was that no matter what, he must do what the Wizard asked to attain his dream. In the end he found the courage within himself.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to control it. It is found in standing up and acting on behalf of those who may not be able to defend themselves. Doing what is right and at times against all odds.

Oz Leaders Never Go Out of Style

If you want to know what type of leadership inspires Generation Y—ask them! I would bet the characteristics they share with you will mirror a few if not all that have been listed above. OZ leaders foster a culture that not only wants to keep their employees but one that results in employees wanting to stay. The bottom line is that Oz leaders never goes out of style!

Do you have a story to share? We would love to hear what you have to say!

The Monday Morning Meeting with Joanna Ellis is a monthly series examining the impact of Generation Y on the multifamily industry and discussing how to successfully do business with them.


President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

4 responses to “Four Lessons from the Wizard of Oz about Leading Generation Y”

  1. Terrific analogies and very informative. I had a sociology course on movie themes and them a great source of lessons to learn. TV was that way once, too. Thanks

  2. Four Lessons from the Wizard of Oz about Leading Generation Y via @AddThis

  3. I am the Tin Man.. Excellent article and proves that art does imitate life!

  4. Scott Hyland says:

    Great article, to which I agree. My favorite character is the underrated Scarecrow as well. Here is a team member who underestimates his own level of critical and strategic thinking… not only does he fool the trees into give up the apples, but devises a rather elaborate three-step plan to rescue Dorothy from the witch’s castle. While the others despair, the supposedly brainless Scarecrow uses analytical skills to assess a given situation and concoct a solution. Wizard of Oz is a great movie to view as an adult, with an eye to the dynamics of leadership. The team would never have reached its objective, were the Scarecrow not aboard.

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