Skip to content

The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability


Follow the yellow brick road.  It seems like a simple instruction.  However, sometimes, we wander.  Sometimes, we feel as if there needs to be a wizard to rescue us instead of recognizing that we’ve had the power to change our circumstances all along.  That’s the message at the core of The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability.  The first challenge is getting out of victimhood.


Dorothy landed in Oz after killing one evil witch and meeting another.  She eventually met singing little people and a good witch named Glenda.  The neighborhood that she landed in could have easily imprisoned her.  It could have imprisoned her with the sense that she was out of control, that she was a victim.  After all, a twister had picked up the entire house and transported it to a strange land – what could she do?

Instead of giving up and accepting her fate of being separated from her family forever, she chose to stand up and find her way towards a solution even when she didn’t know exactly how – or if – she’d be successful.

There are lots of reasons to not build a house in victimhood.  It keeps us trapped, and it limits us.  At some level, we can’t help feeing that we’ve been a victim at some point.  (See Hostage at the Table for more.)  There is, however, a vast distance between having been victimized as a historic event and the idea that we’re a victim as a badge of honor or as a part of our identity.

In America, according to The Coddling of the American Mind, we’ve somehow cultivated a mentality that the world should be handed to us and our children on a silver platter.  When it isn’t, we’re disappointed.  We need to build the ability to accept setbacks as a part of the process in ourselves and our children.  (See Antifragile, Mindset, and Peak for reasons.)

One of the best ways to help address the tendency to get stuck in victimhood is to develop a plan for how to recover.  In The Psychology of Hope, Rick Snyder explains that hope is a cognitive process that includes willpower and waypower.  (See Willpower for more on willpower.)  Waypower is simply know-how or a plan for how to move forward.  It doesn’t have to be right, it just has to be something worth trying.

Other People

We need other people – and they need us.  We’re fundamentally a social species, and it’s what has allowed us to become the dominant biomass on the planet.  (See The Righteous Mind.)  However, we can sometimes take for granted that other people aren’t just here for our amusement and advancement.  (See Give and Take.)  If we want to work in an organization, we need to learn how to work with others so that everyone’s needs are met, not just ours.

It wasn’t just Dorothy getting everything she wanted – all of her companions needed to get what they wanted as well.

Gradually then Suddenly

Organizations don’t really fail suddenly.  It’s how we perceive it.  The organization was around one day and then gone the next.  However, if we look deeply into the pattern of the organization, there was a slow decline that preceded the fall off the cliff.  The important part in ensuring the health of an organization is recognizing the slow decline and taking actions to address it – before you reach the cliff.

More than My Job

True success comes from teamwork, and that means stepping outside of the box on the organizational chart that you sit in.  It means being committed to the whole organization and its health instead of the pieces written in our job description.  Sometimes organizations lament about their customers being whiny or needy – but the organization needs those customers.

Range explains how we can develop broader skills that allow for more overlap and how those overlaps can lead to better performance.  Even knowing the language and lexicon of another discipline can dramatically reduce the overall friction – and get to better results.

What Can I Do?

Invariably, other people are at least partially responsible for whatever state we find ourselves in.  We didn’t create the problem on our own.  External circumstances have conspired to lead us to this place.  However, the important question is how do we get out of this spot and to the place that we want to be?  While others have contributed, we need to accept the responsibility for what we can do to make it better.


People associate accountability with getting in trouble.  We’ll only be held accountable when we’ve done something wrong.  However, it’s really more about accepting our roles in the outcomes.  No one has complete control, but did you – or didn’t you – meet the objective?  Often, we fail to separate the actions we took to produce the best outcomes and the results that we see.

In the good times, when we don’t do our best work and still succeed, we’re happy to accept the accolades.  However, in times when we’ve done our best work and we still fail, we resent the accountability.  We are frustrated that we couldn’t have done anything better.  However, there are lessons to be learned with the accountability.  Maybe it’s what we could do better, or maybe it’s what resources we need to be successful.  Accountability teaches us – if we let it.

The Oz Principle isn’t the only book to focus on accountability.  Change the Culture, Change the Game, The Advantage, The Four Disciplines of Execution, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety, No Ego, and more all share the core belief that accountability is essential in every organization.

Mustering the Courage to See

For the most part, we believe that we all see.  We can’t recognize that we have blind spots.  (See Incognito.)  Seeing the situation as it really is rather than as we want it to be is very difficult, as Phil Tetlock demonstrates in Superforecasting.  It takes listening carefully to feedback.  (See Thanks for the Feedback.)  Why do we allow so many delusions to creep in and distort our perceptions?  (See The Halo Effect.)  The short answer is because it prevents the need to face hard truths.  No one wants to face hard truths.

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

“Still, baby boomers are four times likelier to say they’re not satisfied with their lives than are people of their parents’ generation, according to an Associated Press poll.”  Material comfort for baby boomers is almost certainly better than 95% of the population just a century ago.  (See The How of Happiness for more.)  It’s not objective material comfort.  Perhaps the challenge is that we compare our circumstances to the circumstances of others.  (See Thinking, Fast and Slow.)  Perhaps it’s that we’ve come to expect more.  We’ve decided that we must have the best rather than just good enough.  (See The Paradox of Choice.)

One of the greatest challenges in society today is a part of the Declaration of Independence.  “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” is perhaps one of the best known passages, but finding happiness is difficult.  Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness explains how bad we are at estimating our future happiness, while others, like Rick Hanson, is focused on Hardwiring Happiness.  There doesn’t seem to be any formula to finding happiness, despite books like Happier?, The How of Happiness, Happiness, Flourish, and two by the Dalai Lama, The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness and The Book of Joy.  Perhaps the problem with finding happiness is that we need to first find ways to be satisfied with our jobs and our lives.

Disposable Careers

It’s no secret that the promise made decades ago, that one would have a job for life, is almost gone.  Organizations lay off people with regular abandon, and professionals feel as if changing jobs is required if you’re going to continue to develop.  The old contract between employer and employee is gone.  However, the problem over the past few decades has become even more profound.

Imagine yourself as an elevator operator.  With very few exceptions, the career has gone away.  Today, we have push button elevators and destination elevators, where you pre-enter your destinations.  The milkman is a thing of the past.  While these professions died out over the course of decades due to inventions, the greater pace of change has meant that professions we found essential just last year may be out of need in less than a decade.  The result is that we all must consider how our profession may need to change during our career.

How do we, as professionals, prepare ourselves for the inevitable obsolescence of our entire profession?  It’s a reminder of the question: Should You Be a Fox or a Hedgehog?  No matter what you choose, your shouldn’t forget The Oz Principle.