Ding Dong The Wizard Is Dead

For the past few years my eldest niece and I have developed a tradition. Once a year, for her birthday, we go to London. I exchange a kidney and a small part of my soul for lunch and sensory overload at the Rainforest Cafe or similar and then we go and see a West End show. 

The first year we went to see Matilda and the messages in there about not being afraid to be smart, to speak up for the things that matter to you, and to challenge authority affected both the 6 year old and the 37 year old equally. 

Last year, after seeing School of Rock, I quit my job. Honestly, that's how it happened. I thought 'do I want to become Miss Mullins, or do I want to be Dewey?'. Why aren't I doing more of the things I love? What happened to the little girl with big dreams? So the next day (which just happened to be the only day that quarter we were in the same country) I met my graciously supportive boss for a coffee and resigned. "I'm happy for you" he said, even though we both knew I'd landed him with yet another conundrum to fix. What an absolute gent. I'll never forget walking away down the south bank feeling that lightness and thrill of anticipation. It felt so Rock & Roll. Thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber I was going to be self employed!

This year it was Wicked. I bloody love that show. It's a rich mine of meaning for someone who spends her time thinking about humanity and perception and change and why we do what we do. 

There's a solo by the Wizard early in the second act that plays a little bit like an old-time music-hall soft-shoe-shuffle. He has been (yet again) exposed as not being the magical guru that his PR would have you believe. The song, 'Wonderful', is his accepting reflection on this. 

"I was one of your dime a dozen mediocrities, then suddenly I'm here respected, worshipped even. Just because the folks in Oz needed someone to believe in" 

We do this a lot, Ozian or Human. We look for someone to believe in, to light the way, to give us the answers and fix the problems. Look at how full the business world and social media is of commentary on leaders and gurus and geniuses (oh my!). Normal human people held up as Jedi masters, even as the latest Star Wars instalment shows us that the Jedi masters are also fallible and imperfect. 

There ain't such a thing as a guru. It's a myth. A comforting myth, sure. But a myth. Your coach, your CEO, your inspirational leader? All people. All with hang ups and foibles and imperfections. All of them have at some point been in a public loo that won't flush and panicked about what to do. Human. Every last one of them. 

The myth of the guru is as unhelpful in the world of business as it is in the land of Oz. It disenfranchises everyone else - if we need a Wizard, we must surely be munchkins? It places unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on mere people who just happen to be at the top of the org chart. Whenever I hear media or a baying crowd call for the head of a football manager or Chief Executive I think of the Wizard, and reflect on this being the flip side of our obsessive need for inspirational leaders as all-powerful gurus. 

They myth of leadership lets us off the hook. Have a difficult problem to solve? Let's appoint a Czar! What a chuffing stupid and imagination-free thing to do. When we appoint a 'big hitter' to swoop in and solve our big problem we are avoiding the reality that big problems are often systemic, cultural, complex and require more than a charismatic front man to really resolve them. 

The myth of leadership creates whole industries designed to tell us how to build our own yellow brick road, and fashion our own big green curtain. It reinforces the hokum that effective leaders are Wizards, and kids us that if we just buy the right book of spells we can be Wizards too. But the magic (as I learned from Dewey Finn) doesn't come from the front man - it's about the collective endeavours, talents and contributions of the band.

There's no such thing as gurus. The Wizard is dead. 

Lorna Leeson