Why the Wizard of Oz Kills Entrepreneurship

CEOs of fast growth tech businesses face a unique set of challenges; focusing on growth, new opportunities and cash flow, attracting the right talent, and establishing a company culture which assimilates a new set of personalities into the fold to enable them to perform at their peak. However, particularly amongst organisations which have experienced spectacular exponential growth, the CEO can spend much of his or her time simply overseeing day-to-day activities and forgetting about the big picture. We take a look at how ‘Wizard of Oz’ syndrome can kill entrepreneurship.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

The 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, stars Judy Garland as a simple Kansas girl transported by a tornado to the Land of Oz. There she meets three travelling companions, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, who help her journey to the Emerald City in order to achieve her dream of returning home. To get there, however, she must perform a task set by the ‘Great and Powerful Oz, Wizard of the Emerald City’ whom no-one has ever met. He performs his magic behind a curtain of concealment and is only outed as a ‘humbug’ by Dorothy’s small dog, Toto, near the end of the movie. When Dorothy accuses him of being a very bad man in maintaining his campaign of deception, he replies, “No, my dear, I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad wizard.”

For a young CEO of a company that has succeeded rapidly, this can feel like the story of their life; hiding away behind a curtain, pushing buttons and pulling levers, simply to maintain the illusion of control, while projecting a mask of power and authority to the outside world. It can be overwhelming and it’s certainly bad for business.

The Wizard also displays a lack of trust in his own judgement, as many new CEOs do. It’s not that they are incapable of making decisions as they are able to make these quickly and effectively, it’s more about a lack of trust in themselves and others who are tasked to complete the job in hand. This part of the syndrome is also linked to another confidence killer, Imposter Syndrome.

"Nobody's Ever Seen The Great Oz! Even I've Never Seen Him!"

There’s no doubt that the Wizard of Oz seems to run Emerald City beautifully – its citizens are happy, welcoming and productive, but its leader is distant and removed from the day-to-day life of the city. Moreover, he inspires fear into the population, and engenders a ‘do not disturb’ ethos, in order to maintain his anonymity.

If this all sounds familiar, it could be that you have Wizard of Oz syndrome. Of course, not everyone who takes an idea and works hard to make it successful is meant to be a business leader and some are happier being a COO rather than a CEO.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be.

Remember the gifts which the Wizard gives to the cowardly Lion, the heartless Tin Man and the stupid Scarecrow? And at the end of the film, it turns out that these gifts (a diploma for the Scarecrow, a heart-shaped clock for the Tin Man and a medal for the Lion) were symbolic of the qualities which they already possessed but of which they were unaware – courage, love and the ability to think deeply. 

We all have the ability to achieve something greater than we thought possible. Sometimes, however, it’s only when others believe in us and inspire us that we can begin to see our potential and trust enough in ourselves to fulfil that. In short, we can come out from behind our curtain of intimidation and begin to interact with the real world again. And in the words of the Great and Powerful Oz, “… remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”


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Fiona McKay