Leading Today’s Exodus Out of OZ

Guest post by Julie Overholt:

A $6.25 billion corporation brought me on board about five years ago to work with a director as his leadership coach. My assignment was to help him recover from losing a contract that he and his team were charged with pursuing.

As the lead on this objective, he held himself strictly accountable for the failure of this initiative. My role was to help him synthesize that experience and support him re-engaging into a new leadership role.  When I first met him, he felt very defeated and withdrawn.

Interviewing key stakeholders, I was amazed and touched at how his peers expressed total respect for how he leads. Repeatedly I heard his reputation to be: 

·       Very straightforward. Always know where you stand with him.

·       Incorporates everyone and treats them as a part of his team.

·       Clear thinker. Organized. Collaborative. Forthcoming. Egoless. Warm personality.

·       Encourages and holds people responsible.

·       Even tempered. Good or bad results are treated the same.

In addition, his peers told me that he took an impossible task further than anyone else could have. Their consensus: His people would “walk through fire for him” because they respect him that much.

Imagine my surprise when the president of this same organization told me, “That guy doesn’t have a leadership bone in his entire body!”

How does this kind of disconnect happen inside an organization? (We might also wonder, “What planet has this guy been living on?”)

Welcome to the land of the OZ workplace. Oz organizations embrace processes, policies, procedures, rules and regulations. They believe that rules should define people rather than people defining the rules.

In an OZ company, the leaders operate from behind a curtain of ego, entitlement and demands. It is typical, in an OZ company, for a CEO to be so clueless about the true leadership qualities of his top executives.

The younger Gen-Xers and Millennials — today’s emerging talent— have more professional latitude than any other generation and they know it. They are in no hurry to pledge their commitment to a cause that leaves them indifferent. They also aren’t eager to sell their talents and skills to an organization that’s going to marginalize them the way it did their parents.

The OZ company, in other words. The dysfunctional organization ruled by fear and exploitation instead of inspired by great leadership.  With four generations crowding the workplace, corporate disconnect and dysfunction are a global issue.

In contrast to OZ, leaders who build a respectful, loyal, and values-based organization attract and keep emotionally intelligent, self-motivated, and uniquely talented professionals. This type of environment will inspire all generations, not just the youngest.

This is leadership that moves into the future instead of looking to the past, and it is in high demand today. This is great leadership, helping all of us deal with the truth and realities of our unpredictable world.

The youngest members of the workforce have been immersed from birth in the need for a pragmatic reality. They have seen and accept that things don’t always work the way they are supposed to.

Ironically, it is exactly that pragmatic focus that leads the youngest Gen-Xers and the Millennials to walk out the door when they perceive they are in a no-win situation. They stick with something as long as it works, but it’s “game over” if it’s no longer working.

This attitude is not about lack of loyalty. It’s quite the contrary. Millennials are dedicated to what works, not to being right or knowing the truth of something.

Without great leaders who promote a healthy corporate culture, no company can survive for long. OZ-like dysfunction is not a sustainable corporate M.O.

Here’s the bottom line. Leaders who know that they don’t have a culture that can attract and retain the best and the brightest for their organizations had better start building it immediately! If needed, find help.

Don’t, however, pay some self-proclaimed wizard a big fee to fix it. Stop throwing money at the problem. Instead, build a visionary leadership team to identify stakeholders for collaboration and reputation.

Remember my client above? He went on to take a pivotal leadership role for the organization. The president retired eight months later.

In retrospect, both individuals are exactly where they need to be.


Julie Overholt is Dallas based executive coach who may be contacted through her website. www.julieoverholt.com. She is also co-author of the newly published book, www.exitingoz.com.  Julie is an internationally recognized coach to leaders of Fortune 100 Companies. She has been used as an expert resource for Men’s Health, Entrepreneur Magazine, and numerous technology and media outlets across the country.