The Wizard of Oz was on television over the Thanksgiving weekend, and every time I watch, I learn something new or am reminded of ideas that have gotten buried. This time I was struck by the triumvirate who were Dorothy’s companions and support on her journey. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion represent three qualities necessary for leadership: brain, heart, and courage. You need Brains to plan. Your Heart guides you and brings you the relationships that strengthen you. And then there is Courage. Courage makes it possible for you to take the risks to change what is and go forward into unknown territory.
As the avatar for Courage, the Cowardly Lion is frightened most of the time. He often wants to retreat, but the Scarecrow and Tin Man haul him back. In the end, his true courage comes through because his commitment to Dorothy is so strong. Like the Cowardly Lion, you need to be courageous in the face of fear and your commitment to your Mission will be what helps pull you forward into leadership, change and whatever risks may be necessary for both.
Summoning that courage is not always easy, even when you have the brains and heart to know you must leave your comfort zone. In her post, “Why Courage Is Essential If You Want Power Over Your Life,” LaRay Que notes we all fear the unknown. Fear can paralyze us, keeping us huddled safely within the walls of our library. But in the long run, the walls won’t keep you safe. Staying hidden is the behavior of prey. While I am not suggesting you be a predator, you do need to soar.
How do you soar? How do you get past the grip of fear? Que says you begin doing it by acknowledging your emotions. Trying to pretend they are not there doesn’t work. Fear is a strong emotion that brings out our bodies response to threat. Our cerebral cortex, the logical processing part of the brain, cuts out. Our lower-level brain (commonly referred to as our lizard brain) takes over, and we go into flight/fight/freeze. Professionally, freeze means we stay quietly where we are.Que says, “Courage begins by examining your emotions.” She recommends making a two-column list of pros and cons. As you see where the gains are and what might hold you back, you can begin to make a reasoned decision about what you should do. She recommends these three ways to make this work for you:
- Identify the call or challenge that is in front of you – What is the “why” for doing this? What will it give you as a result? How will you grow as a leader? As a person? What might you lose or miss out on if you don’t do it? One example might be stepping up for a leadership position in your state school library association. Or moving up to a national association for librarians. You could gain experience, connections, confidence – or miss out on all of this if you freeze.
- Pinpoint when emotional courage is needed – Where is fear rooted? What will you need to do that is creating your high-level anxiety? Consider where or to whom you can go to talk this out. Plan how you might handle it if and when it occurs. With a plan or support in place, your mind becomes calmer about the possible situations, and your fears diminish. They won’t go away entirely, but like the Cowardly Lion (and Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch), you will push through it.
- Claim power over your own life – I love this idea. We do what we can to not to let others control us (professional and personal responsibilities we cannot avoid not withstanding). The same should be true of fear. Don’t let it decide for you. You can control your reactions and behaviors when fear comes up. There will always be something to fear. Don’t let that stop you from doing what you know you should do or from the results you are looking to have.
Part of the magic obvious to the viewer in The Wizard of Oz, is that all of Dorothy’s friends already have what it is they think they want – brains, heart and courage – and she needs all three to get what she needs. This is true for you as well. You’ve got big goals. Your head and your heart know the way forward. Embrace your courage – it’s definitely in there – and if necessary, give yourself a medal.