A Very Wicked Leadership Lesson

Several years ago, my family and I were in Chicago. A tourist’s day of shopping and sightseeing was capped off with a night of theater. We chose –Wicked – the touring Broadway musical.

  • If you are familiar with the show, I’ve probably just made a song pop into your head.
  • If you have no idea about Wicked, it’s an alternative telling of the famous Wizard of Oz story and takes place both prior to and shortly after the original storyline.
  • If you are unfamiliar with either Wicked or the Wizard of Oz, don’t worry the point of this article should still be of use.

We enjoyed the show, but what stuck with me from the performance was a line from the song, Wonderful. In the song, the Wizard makes an intriguing pronouncement, “The most celebrated are the rehabilitated.” Not only did the line jump out at me the night of the show, but I’ve thought about it often over the years.

“The most celebrated are the rehabilitated.” – The Wizard

Why would this line stick with me?

I believe there is truth to the Wizard’s words.

Think about it; we love a turnaround story. It’s the type of stuff that makes for great literature, amazing lyrics, and compelling movies.

  • Perhaps hearing of someone rebounding from a low point speaks to an innate desire in most of us to help others.
  • Maybe it’s less altruistic and merely informs us that if (and when) we fall down, redemption is still within our grasp.

Whatever the reason, we root for others to recover from addiction, overcome adversity, and mend broken relationships.

The same is true at work.

  • We celebrate the team member who turns around his performance.
  • We praise the once disengaged employee who found her voice in a new project or initiative.
  • We tell stories of the struggling team member who stepped up and delivered an amazing result.

The problem isn’t in celebrating someone who is rehabilitated. We should. As a leader, when you find someone doing the right thing, especially with a history of not doing the right thing, you should make a big deal out of it.

The problem is the word most as in, “The most celebrated are the rehabilitated.’

Why is the word ‘most’ concerning?

Consider your team or organization. You likely have three groups of performers:

  1. Top performers. They always deliver.
  2. Under performers. They are struggling or are fully disengaged.
  3. Solid citizens. They come to work day-after-day and do a good job.

I would bet that if you assigned your team members to these three groups, the bulk of them would reside in group three. Most people are solid citizens. Most people come to work every day and do a good job. They deliver good results. They make a solid effort. And, they are often the backbone of the organization.

Yet, they are rarely celebrated.

Sure, we recognize them when they hit a major milestone like 20 years of service or they decide to retire, but shouldn’t we celebrate them more often for their daily contributions? True, the story may not be as exciting as the top performer, who closed the big deal, or the under performer, who came back from hard times, but it is still important to the overall success of the team.

A few questions to consider about you and your team:

  • Who are the solid citizens in your organization – the ones that seek no glory, but do a good job day after day?
  • What makes them good performers? Be specific.
  • When was the last time you recognized them for their efforts?
  • What do you think it feels like to them when they are walked past daily, taken for granted, and rarely recognized?
  • How might you begin to better acknowledge the efforts of the solid citizens in your midst?


Photo by Nils Stahl on Unsplash