“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.” – Gandalf
I used to be quite a movie addict before I learnt that life is better off lived than imagined. Now I watch only tens of movies per year (I used to watch more than 400 new movies yearly) and I do my best in choosing really good and inspiring films. Of course, I haven’t given up my old time favorites and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was on my Christmas must-watch list this year.
Just like in Lord of the Rings I was really into the leadership models that The Hobbit brings forward. I found it easy to empathize with Bilbo, to sincerely hope Thorin finds his way back and to admire Gandalf’s diplomatic ways of seeing his plan right till the end without leading the others in an obvious way.
Everyone can be a leader independent of title or origin
You can see this clearly in The Hobbit movies as Gandalf, Thorin, Bilbo, Bard the Bowman, Legolas, Tauriel and even many of the dwarves take turns in leading and changing the course of events. A leader is not entitled by some special leadership authority to be a leader. It’s up to each one of us to seize any possible opportunity to stand up for what we believe and to make a difference.
True leaders understand the big picture, but don’t always share every detail of it from the start
Gandalf is not only a wizard, but also a leadership wizard. He has a well-thought master plan right from the start and his goals are clear. Of course, unexpected situations occur during the journey and new enemies arise Gandalf knew nothing about in the beginning. However, he does have much of the sketch in his mind while embarking himself and others on the journey. He doesn’t reveal his full plan right from the start. He chooses to show the vision and goals with each one of the team members, but he lets things unfold and team do things on their terms. He is fully aware that the others might get scared or not trust themselves enough had he shared the whole picture to them from the beginning, so he does create a great balance between transparency and step-by-step-plan-revealing.
True leaders see potential even when not apparent and add trust and empowerement to this potential
Gandalf trusts Bilbo to rise to the occasion even though nothing seems to be on his side in the beginning. He acts as a coach and is always there to encourage Bilbo and to give him another point of view on things. “You were born to the rolling hills and little rivers of the Shire, Bilbo Baggins, but home is now behind you. The world is ahead.” He empowers Bilbo to handle Smaug and explains the importance of his role to him. Even when all circumstances make us doubt Bilbo, Gandalf never loses his confidence that the hobbit will amaze everyone: “Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid… and he gives me courage.”, Gandalf says at some point.
True leaders lead from behind
Even though Gandalf is for most of the time the real leader of the journey and of the battle, the leaders in his team are never aware of his way of orchestrating things. Gandalf is the silent leader, taking care of things from behind. He empowers the leaders in his team and makes them feel totally responsible for their teams and choices, but is always there to watch how things work out and to influence people and situations when the context is of that kind.
Leaders sometimes lose their vision and focus, they sometimes fail their teams and they need to be reminded of their values
Any of us can lose his way. Thorin Oakenshield makes it perfectly clear in the movie: he becomes consumed with his obsession for power and for the treasure to the point where he can no longer be followed by his men. However, his team sticks with him and reminds him of his own values, the one’s he is neglecting at the time. The great news is that Thorin’s values prevail and he eventually realizes that his main goal is that of helping his friends and people defeat evil rather than personal victory. He is reminded of the same values that he himself shares to his team in the beginning: “I would take each and every one of these Dwarves over an army from the Iron Hills. For when I called upon them, they answered. Loyalty. Honor. A willing heart… I can ask no more than that.”
Leaders can handle the truth and encourage their team to speak their mind
What is great about Thorin is that when he is told by Dwalin, one of his most devoted people, that he has lost his way, he first reacts negatively, but then ponders on Dwalin’s words and realizes the truth in these words. He realizes his trusted advisor is right and decides to act on this and thankDwalin. Any leader can lose his or her way, but it is important to be open to feedback, especially from one’s team, in order to adjust any wandering.
Leadership is not a gift you are born with, but a gift acquired through a journey
Perhaps, this is the most important lesson in The Hobbit. “The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there.“, Gandalf says. When Bilbo then asks “..Can you promise that I will come back?”, Gandalf replies honestly “No. And if you do… you will not be the same.“. And just like in any journey, there are crossroads, lost ways, wrong turns and surprises at any pace. The important part is to keep going. And to never forget to come home: “If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.”, says Thorin Oakenshield to Bilbo at some point in the story.
One final thought? We are always told in management and leadership books and classes that the most important focus for a leader is his vision/mission – he must never lose sight of his objectives. This seems natural, but if you think about it, Thorin Oakenshield, never loses his focus of the objective – the treasure that would bring his people back home. However, he does lose sight of the core values that lead him into battle from the beginning, same values that made his people follow him. So that’s one other thing, I think Thorin can remind us: at the end of the day, your values should come before your focus on the goals.