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You can learn a lot from a girl who was born green.

Yesterday I saw Wicked (for the 4th time!) and while it does spotlight the plight of brunettes everywhere (who can forget the classic line characterizing Elphaba’s roommate? “Blond”) the play is much deeper than female catfight.

Wicked is a cautionary tale of leadership.

And you thought it was just ruby red slippers, yellow brick roads, and farm girls. Oh my.

Galinda (the Good witch) and Elphaba (the Wicked witch) both struggle with their own skin. Elphaba, because she is green and different. Galinda because she is beautiful and believes she must maintain that for acceptance. With her bouncy curls and pearls, Galinda waves a wand of happiness and pixie dust on everyone. She does this not because it is the best way to lead the people of Oz, but for the reason of acceptance. She wants people to love her. To adore her. To say how good she is. As soon as something that could upset the status quo comes her way — or, more directly, something that could usurp her — she dismisses it for the sake of the good people of Oz.

Elphaba, on the other hand, is willing to make the tough leadership decisions. The ones that require standing up for the poor and marginalized. The ones that are disruptive.

Of course, she didn’t get there immediately. She first had to make peace with her own identity. She looked to the Wizard for acceptance and belonging that she never received in her childhood (there’s a whole other blog post on daddy issues that could be written). Once the Wizard showed his true colors, Elphaba had a decision to make. She could let her dreams crumble or she could clarify her calling. And then we get to the most gripping climax:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by
The rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes
And leap…
It’s time to try defying gravity
I think I’ll try defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down

As soon as Elphaba chooses to defy gravity, she chooses principled leadership.  She is committed to doing what is right at any cost. She is going to lead, even if she has no followers.

The yellow brick road of principled leadership is lonely.

There will come a day when the people you are serving will turn against you. They may even call you Wicked and distort the truth of what you are doing. You will be misunderstood. You will not fit in. But you will be defying gravity. You will be leading in a way that is counter to the world’s way of leading.

Not everyone is a leader. The Wizard wanted to be a leader, but he didn’t have the gift. Leadership isn’t a postion. It’s a gifting. God gives some people the talent needed to lead. But we have to choose how to live out the talent.

So the cautionary tale is this: choose your values. Because if you don’t pre-decide, then ambition, acceptance, and power will choose you. Every time.

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