Leadership Blog

The Oz Principle - Accountability

The Oz Principle[1] brilliantly uses the analogy of "The Wizard of Oz" to discuss a philosophy aimed in propelling individuals and organisations to overcome unfavourable circumstances and achieve desired results. This philosophy can be encompassed in one word: ACCOUNTABILITY.

The principle builds upon the ethos of personal and organisational accountability. It explores the root cause of an organisation's impediments to exceptional performance and productivity, and provides great insight on how to re-establish a business from the bottom up, emphasising on the thin line that separates success from failure. The Above The Line, Below The Line methodology is the driving force behind The Oz Principle.

The Oz Principle: Getting Results through Accountability

Just like Dorothy's search for the Wizard of Oz for enlightenment, individuals and organisations also seek out the wizard that will save them from the maladies that afflict their workplace. However, the wizard is just a distraction, bearing new-fangled business philosophies and management fads that will only create a layer atop the ugly truth that needs to be revealed. When the core problem is not addressed, the ills will 
eventually resurface and the business is back to its sorry state.

Victim Thinking or Failed Accountability

When an organisation suffers from poor performance or unsatisfactory results, individuals from top management all the way to the front line begin finger-pointing, forming excuses, rationalising, and justifying, instead of doing something to alleviate the situation. They foolishly profess that the circumstances have made victims of them, that the events are completely out of their control, and that they shouldn't be blamed for the organisation's current problems. It's always something or someone else, never themselves.

Above The Line, Below The Line

A thin line separates failure and success, greatness and mediocrity.

Above The Line, you'll find the Steps to Accountability which include in chronological order: See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It.



See It

Acknowledge the problem

Own It

Assume responsibility for the problem and the results

Solve It

Formulate solutions to remedy the situation

Do It

Apply the 
 solutions identified


Below The Line is where the self-professed victims play

The Blame Game. Here, crippling attitudes such as Wait and See, Confusion/Tell Me What To Do, It's Not My Job, Ignore/Deny, Finger Pointing, and Cover Your Tail are rampant.  Although the majority of the people found in this dimension are weak in accountability, this does not mean that very accountable individuals are exempt from falling Below The Line. They, too, slip every now and then. The only difference is that they know how to get out of the rut.

A Simple Solution to Victim Thinking

Individuals and organisations Below The Line languish in 
self-pity until they get trapped in the "I Am a Victim" 
mind-set and find it hard to break free from the vicious cycle. Accountability offers a very simple choice to make, albeit a difficult one to act upon: "You can either get stuck or get results." So stark in its simplicity that most people fail to realise that the ball has always been in their court.

Getting Above the Line

The first step to accountability is recognising the problem. 
It takes great courage to admit that you are stuck in a 
difficult situation. Most people, however, fail to view 
reality the way it is because they choose to ignore it or 
they accept the situation as the status quo and go along 
with it.

To commence the march up the Steps to Accountability, you must first muster the courage to See It: a) recognise when you fall Below The Line; b) realise that remaining Below The Line not only ignores the real problem but leads to increasingly poor results; and c) acknowledge and accept reality as the first step toward taking accountability.

Mustering the courage to See It will lead to the next step, 
Owning It. Here, you must have the heart to own the 
circumstances you've recognised in the See It step as well 
as the results that will come from the course of action you 
plan to take.

"What else can I do to rise above my circumstances and achieve the results I want?" That is the question to continually ask yourself when you find yourself stuck in a stubborn situation. Apart from creating solutions, Solving It also involves foresight in determining the worst possible scenario that can happen, and being prepared to battle it head on.

Having solutions is not enough if you neglect practical 
application. You can't Do It unless you make yourself 
accountable not only for immediate circumstances but also for future accomplishment. With this, you are empowering not only yourself but also your organisation.

It's so easy to be pulled back Below The Line, especially if you don't accept full accountability for the situation and the future. A lot people are afraid to become accountable because they fear the risks associated with it. However, know that without taking the big leap, you will never get anywhere.

[1] Connors, R., Smith, T., & Hickman, C. R. (2004). The Oz principle: getting results through individual and organizational accountability. New York, N.Y., Portfolio.


Leaders Need Action and Results

Leadership without action is incomplete and ineffective.  We need action and results to complete the circle.  Without the ability to deliver, all other attributes of leadership become meaningless.

This requires leaders to practice the discipline of “execution” at all levels.  This has to be an explicit part of any organisation’s culture, strategy and planning.  As more than one guru has said, execution is the missing link between aspiration and results.

We liked some of the advice offered in “The Discipline of Getting Things Done”.  It suggests:

1.Creating a culture of accountability

  • An accountability-based culture focuses on results, not activities
  • Focus on winning - a winning organisation is about achieving objectives
  • Define roles and responsibility for getting results.

2. Create a leader’s agenda for accountability

  • Be clear about objectives and results
  • Assign objectives to people at all levels: everyone should know what they are responsible for?
  • Provide resources and remove blocks for people
  • Ask, what would stop a person achieving their objectives and what do they need to help and support them?
  • Follow up with regular reports on progress
  • Ensure that progress is reviewed with individuals
  • Review recognise and reward results: recognise success
  • Have open and forthright conversations about poor performance – it’s too important to let it go.
  • Engage with teams to communicate and learn.

Listen and Act

Leaders need to listen and be alert.  Firstly, they need to listen to conversations around them: are people talking commitment, have done and  and can do?

Here is some actions a leader can take:

  • Clarify the organisation’s top objectives and measures so that all are aware and briefed
  • Make clear who has responsibility and what is expected of each in terms of results
  • Offer help and support in line with expectations so that this is not a factor
  • Make sure people know when and are recognised for, commitments met and results achieved.  

Who is Somebody?

The safest hiding place for those avoiding action and accountability is created by not being general and not specific about the person responsible for an action.  Move from general to specific every time.  His is one way of putting it:

“There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. 

Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.”

Questions to Ask

In action planning we can learn a lot Rudyard Kipling’s, The Elephant’s Child.  

“I keep six honest serving men

(They taught me all I knew)

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who”.

Execution Gaps and Six Rules to Follow

There is an interesting account of “execution gaps” in Steven Covey’s leadership book, The Eighth Habit.  He contrasts the old ways and the new ways for leaders.  This is how he describes it:

Execution Gaps

Industrial Age

Knowledge Age





Tell or Sell

Engage the whole person/involve


Job Description

Align and realign for results


Carrot and Stick

Empower people





Performance Appraisal

Frequent, open, mutual accountability

And finally, Covey’s advice on how to improve on execution is to follow six ground rules:


People need to know their goals and priorities at every level


People need to buy into goals and priorities at every level


People need to know what they individually need to do


People need proper structures, systems and freedom to act


People need to know each other, get along and work together


People need to regularly hold each other to account.


Is Leadership About to Become Automated?

Is leadership about to become automated?  The vision of an automated world is giving way to an altogether darker prospect in which algorithms make not just the workers, but many professionals, redundant.  What does this mean for leadership?

It looks like the way forward will be for leaders who best know how to work with (no, not people) robots.  That’s one version of the future - a new discipline which might be termed “artificial emotional intelligence”. 

Could it be that we leaders will soon simply key in a situation, personnel profile and result required and the decision we need to make is delivered in a nano-second.  In many ways we already do this using google to search for information, ideas and scenarios.  Indeed, have you noticed, we don't even have to key it in any more, you just have to ask google a question and with amazing accuracy, it responds.

We can see that a huge amount of the spending of the tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook is going into ways to eliminate human employees and that will include ranks of leaders. 

He points out that a 2013 study of 700 professions by two Oxford researchers, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of the Martin School, warned that 47% of all jobs in America and the UK are at risk because of computerisation.

“The prevailing methods of computerised communication pretty much ensure that the role of people will go on shrinking,” the influential American technology critic Nicholas Carr notes in his latest book The Glass Cage.

Here’s the scary bit for leaders.  Carr describes a digital age in which lawyers, business executives and doctors are being usurped by algorithms.  Can we add leaders to the list?  He explains that legal firms, for example, are using software from companies such as Lex Machina that replaces the expertise of the senior lawyer with algorithms able to predict the outcome of patent lawsuits.

“Society is shaping itself to fit the contours of the new computing infrastructure,” Carr warns.  “This infrastructure orchestrates the instantaneous data exchanges that make fleets of self-driving cars and armies of killer robots possible.  It provides the raw materials for the predictive algorithms that inform the decisions of individuals and groups.  It underpins the automation of classrooms, libraries, hospitals, shops, churches and homes.”

“The robots are coming and will terminate your jobs,” warns economist Tim Harford.  Indeed there are billions of reasons why we should all be worried about computerised artificial intelligence.  By 2020, according to the Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson, there will be 50bn connected devices in the world.  These are 50bn reasons we should all be worried about computerised artificial intelligence.

Robots are increasingly in our homes, in our cars and in our pockets.  It is all happening under what is called the “internet of things”: a networked world in which increasingly intelligent inanimate objects - from cars to clothing to buildings to cities - are connected.

The Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates admits that he does not understand why more people are not concerned about the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs. 

Robots may not destroy every job, but tell that to the accountants, library technicians, telemarketers, clothing factory workers and photographic process workers who have a high chance (some say a 99% chance) of being replaced by networked software and automation over the next quarter-century.  The attention will also turn to leaders. 

Here’s the strange thing.  It is the most skilled workers who will be most vulnerable.  This irony - known as Moravec’s paradox in homage to the work of the Austrian robotics expert Hans Moravec - is based upon the disconcerting reality that what we once considered “high-level reasoning” actually requires little computational sophistication to replicate.

“The main lesson of 35 years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and easy problems are hard,” says Canadian cognitive scientist Steven Pinker. “As the new generation of intelligent devices appears, it will be the stock analysts and petrochemical engineers and parole board members who are in danger of being replaced by machines. The gardeners, receptionists and cooks are secure in their jobs for decades to come.”

Pinker might be right about the job security of gardeners and cooks, but despite Moravec’s paradox not all unskilled jobs are safe.  Automated, self-driving cars will replace cabbies and delivery drivers.  Machines are already replacing workers in factories around the world.  Foxconn, the gigantic Chinese electronics manufacturer, has already said it will replace a million workers with robots.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, is pioneering robots in his distribution centres and promised investors that he would be “employing” 10,000 robots by the beginning of this year.

 “You’ll be paid in the future depending on how well you work with robots,” according to Kevin Kelly, Wired magazine’s “senior maverick”. But for every “senior maverick” able to “work” with computers there will be a legion of teachers, lawyers, accountants and diagnosticians whose “skills” will be increasingly redundant in the age of the intelligent machine.

 “Average is over,” notes the American economist Tyler Cowen about a new world in which the “key divide” is between 10% to 15% of people who can “manage computers” and everyone else. Cowen describes this new elite as a “hyper-meritocracy” of people who are able to work effectively with artificially intelligent machines.

“We can expect job growth in personal services,” Cowen predicts. “This will mean maids, chauffeurs and gardeners for the high earners.” It will be a world of “billionaires and beggars”.

So, for future leaders, don't eschew technology as the stuff of others, boffin-like techies, acting in support of your leadership.  No, learn about it, use it and lead it from within.  Then again, as we know, survival is not compulsory. 


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