Forget Oz! What’s Wrong with the Old Man Behind the Curtain?

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We are all familiar with the famous phrase from The Wizard of Oz, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” After all, Oz is awesome. So why look at any other image? At some level don’t we all want to be perceived as this omnipotent presence? Wouldn’t that be lovely? And don’t we all feel that magnanimous when we start a new venture or even fall in love? There are those flashes in time where we actually see and believe in the best version of ourselves and for just a moment we buy into the omniscience. At those times, impediments, challenges, and flaws are barely visible, and if they are, they are tolerated as potential opportunities and rendered charming. Don’t we all want to be seen as a brilliant compilation of our potential assets so that for a brief time, that brightness actually blinds us (and we hope others) to our liabilities? Thus, we are urged to emulate the eminence of Oz.

Unfortunately, it just isn’t realistic to sustain that image. At some point, the curtain will be unceremoniously pulled back and the “little old man” will be exposed. It happens in leadership, new ventures, and even personal relationships. Reality will filter in, challenges become true encumbrances, and all those charming little quirks become exasperating irritants. So some will try like hell to preserve the image of the great and powerful OZ, and that’s where too many leaders go so very wrong. Maintaining the illusion errs on a lot of levels, but mostly fails because in our wildest fantasies we don’t have that kind of influence to control how others perceive us. In the process of tirelessly saving the Oz illusion, we lose ourselves, generally offend others without knowing it, and inevitably diminish the value in our ventures and our relationships.

The aberration of Oz can be seductive and addictive. For those who lack the strength of character and intellect, they will be dragged into the useless vortex of consummately feeding the delusion. Value will be eroded and opportunity lost. So why waste precious thought and resources sustaining the mirage of Oz? What’s wrong with lauding the authentic image we see (if we are courageous enough) in the mirror every day?

In my last commentary (I know it was quite a while ago,) I suggested that everyone walks into a room with one or several strikes against you before you’ve said or done anything. I urged you to be more prepared by accepting your ‘strikes’ rather than hide them or denying their existence. While we’d like to think we walk into the room as Oz, it is almost certain that you are far more exposed than that by your mere presence. So wouldn’t it be a far more optimal strategy to utilize your time and resources on your substance and product rather than futilely trying to project some image you think others might find powerful?

While most of us strive to be diplomatic yet still stumble on political correctness, most cannot eradicate over override their internal prejudices. Yet, we waste incalculable amounts of our time and intellectual capacities trying to get people to ‘feel’ or think in a certain way. Talk about a complete waste of time! People are going to feel and believe what they will.  You aren’t going to change a lifetime of conditioning because you need to demand your ‘rightness.’

How about evolving to an acceptance of ourselves as whatever image is behind the curtain? That way, we can strive to be smarter about our development needs, and learn to leverage the power in the genuine strengths that we have. After all, there is a reason they tell you on airlines to put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others. Be secure enough and smart enough to know what you don’t know, so you don’t get exposed as ignorant. Instead, learn from the expertise in others so you can be a good thinker about deriving meaningful solutions. And for that which you do know, be thoughtful enough to understand that you couldn’t possibly know it all. Then you are open to the evolution and dynamics that experience and changing marketplaces can bring. That will make you an effective leader who stokes innovation and builds significant long-term value. And isn’t that so much better than Oz?

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