Like most people, I’ve watched the movie Wizard of Oz since I was a very young girl. Like many, I’ve also read all of the L. Frank Baum books. More recently, as an adult I’ve read all of The Wicked Years book series by Gregory Maguire and have seen the Broadway play adaptation of Wicked twice. That either makes me a huge fan or slightly obsessed (laughing)! Eh, a little of both, actually. I always cried near the end of Wizard of Oz, long before Dorothy ever made it back to Kansas. When I was about 8, Mommy asked me why; some people still do.

I learned a lot about leadership and people from the characters in the film, books (both sets) and musical play. Recently, I discovered a great article by Sharon Kruse and Sandra Spickard Prettyman that also deals with leadership. Here’s what I learned from the collective “Ozian” tales.

The Wizard was the kind of leader who pretends to be more than they are, while using others to do the things they are afraid and incapable of doing themselves... having Dorothy kill the Witch of the West. They change appearance and behaviors to compensate for their fear and have no real ability, just trinkets they use to keep others distracted or complacent. Remember, in the film the Wizard was also the gatekeeper, carriage driver and guard. He proclaimed himself to be “the great and powerful,” (Kruse & Prettyman, p. 459) but did nothing about providing solutions for the social and cultural injustice present in the Wicked books and play. In fact, this type of leader will turn popular opinion against those who point out their shortcomings in an effort to destroy credibility... Wicked. Just like the Wizard’s balloon, this kind of leader is full of hot air with no substance.

Glinda is the kind of leader who uses appearance and charm to gain “position and power,” (Kruse & Prettyman, p. 457). They use popularity (Wicked) as a way to establish and maintain their status, while never really doing more than building a “power base” through charming others to do their bidding. In the film, Glinda didn’t go take the shoes for herself, she charmed Dorothy into doing it for her. Then, because she wanted the Witch of the West gone to solidify her position as the only Witch in Oz, she “neglected” to tell Dorothy that the shoes could immediately take her home. Again, Glinda used her appearance, “little girl voice,” and popularity with the Munchkins to convince Dorothy to travel to Oz for help when she could have helped her right then. This kind of leader is always, always about maintaining popularity and appearance... doesn’t matter that nothing is accomplished and people sometimes get hurt.

That brings me to Dorothy. Ugh! She led by using others to get what she wanted. The Scarecrow was needed for all of the planning that had to be done. Getting from Munchkinland to Oz, getting to the Witch’s castle, figuring out that Glinda could help Dorothy after the Wizard took off. The Tin Man was willing to sacrifice himself to keep her safe. Putting out the fire, rusting in the poppy field, fighting off the Winkie soldiers. And the lion, of course, was useful because of his size and strength. Sometimes I think this kind of leader is most dangerous because they get people committed to the goal, then leave behind the very ones who got them “there” once the goal is reached.

Last, but not least to me, is the Witch of the West/Elphaba. She represents the kind of leader who doesn’t seek attention or fame, doesn’t really “fit in” with the other leadership types, and refuses to remain silent about the injustice or oppression of others. They are “outsiders,” (Kruse & Prettyman, p. 459) and, eventually, they like it that way. The trouble with this type of leader is that they are usually vilified by those who are in power and loved by those who are also oppressed. Frequently, they are on the receiving end of plans to “bring her down,” (Kruse & Prettyman, p. 459). These people step into leadership roles, not because they seek power and popularity, or have their own agenda/goal but to meet a present and persistent need of others. All too often, they achieve the end of the injustice or oppression only to be brought down for their efforts.

Do I read/watch too much into the books, movie and play? Maybe. Then again, there are lessons everywhere if we pay attention (smile). Think about the leaders you know, I’ll bet you could categorize each into one or more of these four types if you are honest.

So, when did I cry during the movie, books, and play? I cried when the Witch of the West/Elphaba was “liquified,” of course! Buy why the Witch? Well, if someone killed your sibling, stole your inheritance, then acted like you were the wicked one... you’d be angry and go after them too!

I like to play with words and their definitions. It’s fun to tear something apart to see how it works, then put it back together in a different way so that it’s exactly what I need rather than what someone wants me to have. If you want to be technical, it’s called analysis and synthesis. Or, just making it fit. I do it with words . . . machines. . . relationships . . . crafts . . . you name it.

So, of course I played with the words in the title of my leadership book Why Are They Following Me? to see why they fit . . .

Why Are They Following Me? Because you take time to know them. Because they know you will protect them and make sure they feel included.

Why Are They Following Me? Because they want to go where you are going. Because they believe in your vision and that you’ll get there.

Why Are They Following Me? Because they believe in you. You aren’t perfect, but you are consistent . . . even when you don’t know or mess up, you say so, and you talk about why you messed up.

In the same way, I played with the words in the Section Headings of the book: Inclusion & Diversity; Vision & Translation; and Character & Reputation.

“Inclusion and Diversity” are used to talk about who is following you. Knowing and understanding the people in the organization. Learning more than just strengths and areas of need… knowing what motivates or encourages. Knowing what disappoints or engages. Knowing when to push and nudge and when to leave alone for reflection and thought. That takes intention and time. It also requires filling the organization with (or appreciating) people who are not “like” you. Making sure that there is opportunity for different perspectives, opinions, practices, schools of thought… whether you choose and select the followers or you “inherited” them… and making sure they know that they are included in all aspects of the journey toward the goal… not just “tolerated” with eye rolls and snarky humor when they contribute. Knowing Who is following you and including them is the foundation for what I think of as effective leadership.

“Vision and Translation” are the words used to describe the concept of why people follow. For me, they go hand in hand… the leader needs to know clearly where the organization, family, or team is headed. What is the goal? Yet, it’s not enough for her to know it… she must, must, must be able to translate that destination to every single person she wants to follow. No one can be unclear or unsure. No one can “not know” where they are going. She may not know exactly what she’ll find when she gets there or what it will look like… but she must know where and Why they’re headed in that direction and so must her followers.

Finally, the point of the spear is you… “Character and Reputation.” Understanding why people follow you, or don’t, is critical when thinking about what kind of leader you are. There is a Scottish proverb that my Cuban/Scott grandfather would say, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us!” I repeat it to myself frequently because it is so powerful… it doesn’t matter one whit how I see myself as a leader (person), it matters how others see me because they are the ones who will chose to follow… or not! So ask for feedback. Pay attention to the way followers interact with you. Watch how relaxed (or anxious) they are when you’re in the room or in their space. Do they share struggles with you or tell you that everything is “fine” even when it is obviously not? Can they depend on you to keep your word or do they have to guess and second-guess whether or not you’ll come through? These and so many other things either make You a leader worth following or one who is not.

That’s why I like to play with words! They connect and lead to additional thoughts or insights for me… even when my connections don’t make sense to other people.

People ask me why I wrote the book in the format that I did. That’s an easy answer, it’s the way I explain, give talks and speeches, and think! I like to know how things connect to information I already have and to information I don’t yet have or don’t even know that I need. Knowing who is following and then understanding and defining where you want to lead them just naturally connects with whether you are worth following… at least in my mind (laughing).

It really doesn’t matter if you’re leading a large multinational organization or a small local one… a family or an educational institution… someone is leading and if it’s not you, then does he really know who you are and where he is going? If he doesn’t and he’s not someone you want to follow, shame on him. If you’re the one people are supposed to be following but you don’t know who they are as individuals, don’t know where you’re going (and neither do they), and you aren’t worth following, shame on you!


Laura Nall & her little sister at an Auburn football game.


The Young Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP) is a curriculum-based, after school mentor program which pairs young women from Auburn University and young women from Auburn Junior High School. “Through YWLP, the mentors and mentees (also referred to as Big and Little Sisters) will develop leadership and relationship skills that are vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This program provides an opportunity for teen girls to become more educated and aware of their personal values and goals,” according to the website.


Emily Hedrick & her little sister posing with their painted pumpkins for Halloween.

YWLP came to Auburn in 2010 and is modeled after the University of Virginia YWLP which was founded in 1997. YWLP is a nationwide organization dedicated to facilitating the empowerment and autonomy of young school girls. It provides both one-on-one mentoring and structured group activities. Each week bigs attend a one hour human development and family science class about adolescence taught by Dr. Donna Sollie then have an hour meeting with their small group of other bigs. Bigs and littles are paired up at the beginning of the fall semester based on compatibility, after a “speed date.”  Every week there is an on-site meeting at AJHS where small groups of about six pairs meet. Here the group goes over a lesson, connects the lesson with real-world situations and have fun playing games.  Beyond the class and on-site meeting, pairs are required to spend one hour of one-on-one time each week. “My little sister and I went to an Auburn football game in the fall, and that is definitely my favorite thing we've done together,” said Laura Nall, a big in YWLP.


YWLP is beneficial to both bigs and littles. For bigs, you are not only teaching important lessons and skills, but also learning them on the way. Lydia Purcell, a YWLP big sister says, “I have learned how to be more understanding and how to thoroughly listen. Being in a place of leadership like that is intimidating but rewarding.” The mentor program exposes bigs to leadership and friendship roles, the importance of daily choices, knowledge and acceptance of others different from themselves, and a way to give back to the community while still learning and earning college credit!


Lydia Purcell & her little sister on an ice cream outing.

YWLP is open to all female students at Auburn University interested in impacting a life and furthering their leadership experience. YWLP is a two-semester commitment from August to May. The fall semester counts as three credits and the spring semester counts for two. “YWLP is an incredibly rewarding and character-shaping experience, but it can also be challenging. If you want to broaden and deepen your perspectives, develop meaningful relationships with your peers, and have the opportunity to positively impact a younger girl's life then this is the program for you!” said Megan Swanson, a current YWLP big sister. Applications are now being accepted for the 2016-2017 school year. Applications are due by April 8 and can be found online at .  If you have any questions, please contact The Women’s Resource Center 334-844-4399 or email graduate assistant Lindsey Henson at

Positional Leadership gives you positional power. 
It doesn’t make you a leader!

They came from near and far, a migration of young male leadership from Cornell, Purdue, Kentucky, Georgetown, Arkansas, SMU, two HBCUs, (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and many others. In all sixty-nine African American males came to Campaign, Illinois for a weeklong Leadership Conference, with the goal of nurturing their own leadership skills and “to save the world.”

I was honored to be among them.

It was a Leadership Summit for African American college males, the vision of my good friend Dr. Ainsley Carry, Vice Provost for Student Affairs at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Dr. Carry’s vision was to gather African American males in a weeklong session to discuss leadership, visions, personal goals and aspirations. My alma mater sent three young men. I was asked to facilitate one of the sessions.

It was historic, enlightening and exciting!

The organization, Leadershape, conducts these workshops around the country, generally with student leaders from the same college or university.

This would be different.

I arrived at the rural airport in Campaign, Illinois. My well-meaning escort to the hotel gushed about how polite and positive the young men were. While making chitchat, she revealed it was a genuine but pleasant surprise to her. I wondered, what she had expected? After all, their colleges, and universities had selected these young men. I realized that she expected what she had been exposed to, the media stereotype. I started to say these young men were the “normal” ones. But I didn’t. She meant well. Young men like these as a rule don’t exist in her world, not in numbers. They do in mine. These young men were the African American males I’d known most of my life, responsible, diligent, accountable, wanting to make a difference. They had been selected by their universities and colleges, communities and families to represent them. I chuckled, “Sixty-nine, African American young men in rural Illinois, for a week, and they didn’t even make the news cycle.”

Now that is a story.

As a cluster facilitator, I had a group of about twenty young men for an hour-long discussion on any subject the young men wanted to talk about. After some preliminary discussion about my background, acting, writing, consulting and my current role as Chair of the Auburn Foundation Board, we dug into a full-throated discussion on business and social issues. They were bright, giving, respectful of other views, and different depending on their own     individual background and goals.

They summarized that there were two aspects of the session they could never duplicate in their everyday lives. One was to share time with so many other accomplished males like themselves, hear their dreams and aspirations, share time, laugh and hope for a better world. The other was participating in a forum where they could be heard. Where they could say things they wanted to say and not fear reprisal, where they could say things to me that did not shock me but instead they found an understanding ear; an ear of experience, an ear that had lived their experience. That was a highlight for me.

One young man asked me. “Where do you see your life now?”

“Great question,” I shot back, “but an easy one, I’ve paved the road for you guys. Soon I will move over, hand off the baton and watch you guys run with it into your future.”

Several young men wrote me personal letters of thanks. They gave them to me before I left.

…I hope you enjoyed your time experiencing and exploring these enlightened young men at Leadershape.

…It has been so empowering.

…Thank you for coming to Leadershape and offering your knowledge and wisdom. Your contribution elevated my experience to an entirely new level.

When we again gathered as a full group I shared with them an experience from a previous Leadershape session for student leaders on the Auburn University campus. It was, and remains, a memorable experience. Dr. Carry challenged that group to envision that one day a President of the United States would emerge from among them. One young man has taken that challenge to heart.

I laid that challenge on the African American males. Someone in their group would aspire to one-day hold the highest office in the land. Eyes lit up. I watched the idea settle into their young brains. I saw the thought pass through the mental barriers society had placed there and come to rest within their heads, I can do that, I, can be President of the United States.

It was quite an experience.