Stories Of Wizards And Leadership

Stories Of Wizards And Leadership

Joseph Campbell who was an American mythologist, lecturer and writer said once that anyone standing on a street corner waiting for the light to turn green is waiting to step into the world of heroic deeds and mythic action.  What are those myths that rule our action, and what are the role models or characters that we choose for ourselves? Role models are archetypal figures. These hold a certain set of characteristics that we would like to have for ourselves. Role models are important as they help us become the person we want to be and inspire us to make a difference and engage in a process of transformation. Archetypes can also be seen as states of consciousness, energy, and information.

Understanding what are the role models that resonate with your personality and trying to access their specific state of energy and information, directly affects your behavior and who you become.

An interesting archetype is the one of the wizard. A wizard is not just someone that can perform magic, but someone that can cause transformation. Every society has its teachers, healers and seers, its gurus, its wizards. In the West, a wizard is primarily seen as a magician who practices alchemy, turning base metal into gold.  Our traditions have various stories of wizards and in this article I will write about two of these. I invite you to reflect upon these.


The most famous wizard coming from the Western tradition is Merlin.  Merlin was the mentor of young Arthur that would grow to become the legendary British leader King Arthur that according to Medieval History led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders during the sixth century. Arthurian legends were astounding. In Arthurian times, they would call their journeys a quest, and the supreme object of such questing was the Holy Grail, which can be seen as well as a powerful symbol for gold, taken as pure spirit.

One might ask what is the relevance of the figure of the wizard to current times. The wizard can be a powerful metaphor that holds in itself various valuable lessons of leadership. What I am proposing here is to take the archetypal mythological figure of the wizard, as a role model of leadership. The wizard can embody certain characteristics that help us to deal with our daily lives and job challenges. The purpose of learning from a wizard such as Merlin is to find the wizard within ourselves, as our inner guide, realizing that the journey of the wizard is possible to everyone.

Stories of wizards can also be used to discover valuable lessons that can help us in the world of leadership and business.  In Project Leadership: From Theory to Practice by Jeffrey K. Pinto describes us for example: The Merlin Exercise .

According to one of the various legends about Merlin, he knew what was going to happen since he was living his life backwards. This allowed King Arthur to avoid obstacles and prevent enemy plots before they happened or were even schemed of. What valuable lessons leaders, project managers and the people in general can take from this story, is to engage in backwards planning. This means to move backwards from the desire end goal, through the required steps that lead you to where you are today.

The Merlin Exercise begins by describing the completed solution to your business model, with all the components and success criteria in place. Then, through the process of moving backwards, you and your team brainstorm each successful step that must occur to produce the desired outcome. The real power of the Merlin Exercise comes from a detailed visualization of what is desire, and the anticipation of  solutions to the potential roadblocks that may occur.

Another useful insights about the archetypal figure of the wizard is the one brought to us by one of the most beloved movies of all time, that is based on L. Frank Baum’s  book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The original book was published in 1900, and it was adapted to the screen in 1939 having as the main lead character Judy Garland.

Screen Shot from the film The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is a thought provoking story, that is  so well crafted that it has enchanted generations of audiences until today. This fantastic fable can be seen as offering seven important leadership lessons:

1.There’s no place like home, and the best way to motivate ourselves is to be clear about our  purpose.

The first lesson conveyed by this film, is brought to us by the marvelous character of Dorothy brings us: Even though she fully engages in the wonders, adventures, friendships, and dangers she encounters in Oz, she is never discouraged from her purpose of finding her way home. As a leader or a single individual, you can ask to yourself if your organization has a strong clarity of purpose and vision.

2.Great projects and causes must be able to contain individual purposes

The fable reminds us that we hold  the wizard within us. It is as if everyone needs to get to the Emerald City to see the Wizard. The journey is safer and more fun, by traveling together. The characters of the fable, the Scarecrow, Tin-Man, the Lion and transform themselves in a powerful team that defeats their nemesis and all together create a better future for Oz. The lesson of this part of the story is that great causes must accommodate individual purposes. Effective leaders seek to understand the personal needs and motivations of followers, and help to align individual purposes with the higher purpose of the organization.

3. Head, Heart, Courage, and Spirit are cornerstones of character.

The Scarecrow needs a brain. The Tin Man a heart. The Lion, courage. Dorothy, her home. One reason the Wizard of Oz endures is because it deeply resonates with our experience of the human condition. We recognize that to be our best as a human, or team, or leader, we must draw from head, heart, courage, and spirit. Yet none of us are fully complete in these respects and our endeavors are often interdependent. The leaders and individuals we need for today’s world, are those who are in touch with these four qualities: wisdom, humanity, courage, and resilience. They are also aware of their limitations.

4.Be prepared to  what comes, as whatever comes  holds some important lesson,  but never lose faith.

To deal with whatever comes your way is crucial. Jim Collins writes about this in his book Good to Great. Collins observes how: “The good-to-great companies faced just as much adversity as the comparison companies, but responded to that adversity differently. They hit the realities of their situation head-on”. As a result, they emerged from adversity even stronger.  Wise leaders keep their people and themselves moving down the yellow brick road – they deal head-on with obstacles, stay true to their values and mission, and always expect and give help along the way.

5. Understand the difference between a role and who you really are.

The Wizard manipulates trappings of wizardly power to evoke, fear, awe, and respect, but is able to provide genuine help only after he is engaged as a real person. The lesson here is to connect authentically to other people. And to connect in a deep way means that you know yourself very well as a real being. That is the first step from which real leadership magic begins.

6. Framing can be magical

Exceptional leaders are able to “see” the world, and they can implement change by reframing how their followers look at what happens in their lives. With the right frame doors that seem to be closed, become open, and suddenly paths appear. People suddenly achieve what seemed to be so much out of reach. In the Wizard of Oz fable, the Scarecrow seeks a brain that can’t be possibly be attained for real, but the Wizard reframes the circumstances and is able to produce a positive outcome.

Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got: a diploma. Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitartus Committiartum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of ThD. 
(Doctor of Thinkology, the Wizard explains.)

But one needs to think carefully on what and how  to frame. Very easily one can occur  on smoke and mirrors, “light” positive thinking, that ultimately doesn’t work. Framing needs to be based on substance – true wisdom, humanity, and courage. That’s what  provides deep values, the ones that changes lives.

7. You hold in yourself everything

By the end of the movie,  Glinda the Good Witch informs Dorothy she has always had the power to go home. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Dorothy rightly inquires, only to be told, “Because you have to find out for yourself.” The lesson here is that some things you simply have to experience for yourself. Leadership is one of them. In order to do things one needs to be “hands on”, to gain experience. Reflection on experience in a way that informs how to handle future experiences is the fundamental key to development. Leadership is a journey, a developmental process. To go home, means something as well, as the home is your inner world, your soul. You can be “home” in whatever place, as long as you find your own soul, or spirit,  inside yourself.