The Return of the King. Leadership in Lord of the Rings


After my Star Wars marathon last weekend, I continued my audiovisual pilgrimage in the mythologies that influenced me. This weekend, the mother of all myths, the best story ever told: The Lord of The Rings.

As for Star Wars last week, i hadn’t seen the entire trilogy in one sitting in almost a decade. I realized that a lot of the messages I discuss in leadership development discussions, were present in LOTR. Not surprising, after all. The legends that stay are the ones we learn from..and there’s plenty of lessons in leadership in the trilogy.

Considering the enormous amount of material, I could not keep all meaningful leadership quotes from LOTR. The selection below is only my choice and is in no way a complete list.

“You do not really think that a halfling could compete with the will of Sauron?” Saruman mock Gandalf

Frodo’s journey is, of course, a lesson in resilience from beginning till end. Despite pain, despair, orcs, nazgul, Gollum and the knowledge that he will die, whether successful or not, Frodo never gives up

What are they? asks Frodo to Aragorn about the ring-wraiths. ” They were once men. Then Sauron gave them 9 rings of power. Blinded by their greed, they took them without question. One by one falling into darkness.”

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Nazgul are a perfect example of what happens to people when given a power too great for them to handle. For leaders, power is a mean to do good, not an end in itself.

“Why do you fear the past? You are Isildur’s heir, not Isildur himself. Your time will come. You will face the same evil and you will defeat it.” says Arwen to Aragorn as he doubts his strength.

We all come with a certain amount of baggage. We have past experiences, insecurities, as well as our strengths and weaknesses. We must live with them. Leadership is about accepting these weaknesses as something you can overcome, not as a fatality that cannot be overcome.

” You will unite or you will fall.” Elrond implores the participants of the secret meeting in Rivendell.

The Fellowship of the Ring must be diverse, at least ethnically, and inclusive to succeed in its quest. It is the same for high performance teams. The more diverse the perspectives and the more inclusive the environment, the better teams perform. Gandalf is a perfect example of a leader that works hard towards inclusion (he is known and respected by all the races of Middle Earth).

 “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened.” sighs Frodo to Gandalf. “So do all who live to see such times, Frodo, but that is not for you to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time given to you.” replies the wizard.

No situation is ever perfect. Leaders do not waste time and energy on things that are outside your circles of control and influence,

” Go back Sam. I am going to Mordor alone!” Frodo cries to Sam as he crosses the Anduin. ” Of course you are..and I am coming with you!”

Samwise Gamgee is the best example of the concept of servant leadership. Apart from the scene on the stairs above Minas Morgul, and despite Frodo’s growing angst Sam’s devotion to him never waivers. His purpose is to enable Frodo in the same way that business leaders should enable their team for successful execution.

“I am not afraid of death or pain.” declares Eowyn to Aragorn. “What are you afraid of, milady?” replies Aragorn. “A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chances of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.”

In my opinion, Eowyn is the strongest character in the story, especially in Tolkien’s book. She refuses to accept her fate and continuously challenges the status quo in order to fulfill her purpose.

“Arwen, there is nothing left for you here, only death.” “Then i choose death” Elrond tries to convince Arwen to renounce her love for Aragorn and leave Middle Earth.

Leaders will always have to deal with people who are averse to risk and will prevent them form taking them. What is worse, these resistances most of the time come from very legitimate reasons. Leadership is about understanding the positive intention in others, making the case for your position and trusting others to understand and accept.

Eowyn defines Aragorn’s impact on his men, when trying to convince him to let her fight the war. “You do not order others to stay. They fight besides you because they would not be parted from you.” Leaders inspire others to give the best of themselves, not because they have to but because they want to.

Sam tells Frodo about the heroes from songs of old and why they were heroes that people still remembered. “the folks in these stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”

Resilience is a key attribute of leadership. Once you know your purpose, pursue it relentlessly whatever obstacles come in the way.

” Grima, you need not follow Saruman. You were once a man from Rohan” implores Theoden after the battle of Isengard.

Forgiveness is another characteristic of leadership. Leaders do not hold grudges and, because they no they are not perfect themselves, they can the shortcomings of others,

“Put aside the Ranger, become who you were born to be.” Elrond tells Aragorn as he gives him the Sword of Elendil.

Everyone has the potential to lead, if they only have the courage to step up. Leaders owe it to themselves to be as good as they can be.

“I didn’t think it would end like this.” “End? Death is just another path.” dialogue between Pippin and Gandalf during the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

Leaders are not afraid of failure as they know that there is always an opportunity to start again and do things differently based on what they have learned.

“This day doesn’t belong to a single man, it belongs to all.” Aragorn after being crowned by Gandalf in Minas Tirith.

Humility. Leaders, despite knowing that they role is critical, also know that without followers they would not be able to achieve their vision. Success is a much theirs as anyone else.

“I think I am quite ready for another adventure!” giggles Bilbo as he boards to ship in the Grey Havens

Leadership is about being able too see the opportunity in any situation but also to stay optimistic in front of the unknown.

For those of you who know the books and/or the movies well, you are probably jumping at the fact that i left out so many other quotes. Some of them i left out deliberately as they have been discussed too often already or i might have just missed them all together. If you have other good leadership quotes from this most amazing story, do not hesitate to post them in the comments. dont; for get to tell us what the quotes mean to you as well.

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