A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
December 28th, 2012 by William

The Wizard of Oz Syndrome

Ever notice how people who achieve high status in an organization begin to become aloof and start acting as if without them the organization couldn’t possibly survive and function. These people all suffer from what’s called “The Wizard of Oz Syndrome.”

“The Wizard of Oz Syndrome” finds its roots in the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum; however most people are probably more familiar with The Wizard of Oz, a 1939 film starring Judy Garland.

The story tells of a young girl–Dorothy–who’s house gets picked up by a tornado and gets carried from her Kansas farm to a fantasy land. In landing Dorothy’s house falls on and kills the Wicked Witch in Munchkin Land and is welcomed to the new land by the Munchkins. The nice witch–Glinda–explains to Dorothy that to find out how to get back home she needs to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and ask the Wizard of Oz. Along her way down the yellow brick road Dorothy meets the three characters the cowardly lion, the scarecrow and the tin man, who all have something they want to ask the great wizard. However, when they finally get to the Emerald City and meet the wizard, they discover he is just a fraud.

The Wizard in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is this unseen ruler of the Land of Oz who has the characters believing that he rules with an iron fist by the way he manifests himself to them in the story. In the movie the Wizard appears to all of the characters in the same way but in L. Frank Baum’s original story he appears differently to each of the characters. Depending on whom he’s appearing to, the Wizard manifests in different forms−once as a giant head (the omnipotent one), once as a beautiful woman (to be adored), once as ball of fire (the dictator), and once as a horrible monster (the bully). His real name is Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmanuel Ambroise Diggs, for short: OZ-PINHEAD.

According to the author L Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz is just a fairy tale for the enjoyment of children. But there are those who see within Baum’s work representations and symbolism that aren’t acknowledged by him.  There are many opinions about the symbolism of the Land of Oz and what each of the characters represent, but it seems the most popular is that it is a political and monetary allegory of the times.

I’m not going to go down that path in detail here, but I will offer another, more focused, look at the symbolism of one of the main characters in the story–the Wizard. I believe there are parallels between the behavior of the Wizard and today’s corporate world of management.

My premise is that the typical workplace sociopathic management acts no differently than the Wizard. They can exhibit many personalities that manifest themselves depending on whom they are targeting at the time. To the organization as a whole, they are the giant head; to the loyal sycophants they are like a beautiful woman; to those being bullied they’re a horrible monster, and to all others (who get in their way or challenge them) they are a ball of fire–a dictator. This then is The Wizard of Oz Syndrome.

People in management that suffer with this syndrome begin to believe they are behind the metaphorical curtain, pulling all the strings and that without them the organization just can’t function.

A person exhibiting The Wizard of Oz Syndrome is usually your typical sociopath suffering a severe psychological issue called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Psychiatrists describe it as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.” People will rationalize the behavior of these wizards by saying they just have a “big personality,” or charisma. However they are dangerous when in management positions as they are excessively preoccupied with personal gain, power and prestige. And let us not forget those pesky flying monkeys–the sycophants that surround your typical sociopathic management and do their bidding.

While everyone has some need for attention, managers with The Wizard of Oz Syndrome are pathologically obsessed by it, when in reality they’re just little people behind a curtain pulling the levers. Is your organization run by a wizard?

There’s another side to The Wizard of Oz Syndrome that’s much more personal to the average person fighting their way through their careers. Maybe, you, yourself, are most like the Wizard. Maybe you find yourself hiding behind a curtain of your own doing, pulling the levers and pushing the buttons just so that you can keep up appearances–what you want people to think of you–or to just maintain the status quo, all the while really wanting something more in your career?

In my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw, I talk about “authenticity’ being one of the keys to effective servant leadership. If more people where to strive for authenticity–simply being trustworthy, or genuine–in their everyday dealings with peers and subordinates, more people would realize they don’t need to put up a false persona. They might be prone to open up and come out from behind the curtain. Then maybe the universal organizational problem of “perception being more important than reality” wouldn’t be so rampant and the typical workplace just might become a better place for all.


6 Responses to “The Wizard of Oz Syndrome”
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