Looking at Leadership: Literary lessons to keep your ‘mischief managed’
The first time I heard the Sorting Hat in the 2001 film version of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (known to U.S. audiences as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), I knew that I had to know which house I would be sorted into. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the sorting ceremony each “Hogwarts first year” student participated in, was enough for this Ravenclaw to be enthusiastic about.
As readers of the J.K. Rowling "Harry Potter” series or fans of the film versions can attest, when you meet a fellow Potter fan, you never know what will happen next in your conversation, but finding out which house they’ve been sorted into is an inevitable part of the discussion.
After first meeting kindred spirits Ellen Belluomini and Julianne Zvalo-Martyn, two of the finest Syltherins I know, I was welcomed with open arms, each of us remembering to “solemnly swear that we were up to no good.”
This summer, as we look at leadership, we join literary admirers of Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, from around the globe. Scholastic, publishers of some of our favorite classroom magazines, books and educational materials, will also be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone” (“Philosopher’s Stone” in the UK), by releasing a “special set of commemorative book covers by Caldecott Medalist, Brian Selznick, as well as the beloved original interior decorations by Mary GrandPré” (Scholastic, 2018).
In honor of this iconic anniversary, we took a look at leadership lessons, gleaned from the stories of Gryffindor house favorites Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, during their seven year journey through Hogwarts.
Leading in Difficult Times
by Ellen Belluomini, Ph.D.
Leadership isn’t just about forging the path ahead.
The best leaders work within diverse groups, where allowing for disagreement acts as a system of checks and balances. Irving Janus studied the impact of intensely stressful situations on group cohesion in military conflicts which ended poorly, developing the theory of group think. The Harry Potter series is a study in how leaders who welcome diversity and differences improve decision making and outcomes in their organizations.
Leaders Set the Tone: An Autocrat Returns
Voldemort, the villain in the “Harry Potter” series (who is in the process of achieving resurrection in the first four books), creates an army of followers set on the genocide of anyone not of “pure magical” bloodlines.
After his return, it is clear that descent within Voldemort’s ranks may mean annihilation. In reality, authoritarian leaders may not directly imprison or kill, but their isolated decision-making through group conformity leads to dire circumstances. Behaviors of group think are epitomized by ”hive-mind thinking,“ an illusion of invulnerability, and disloyalty in disagreement. Ultimately, in the Potter series, Voldemort’s return leads to the group’s demise.
Power is in the Discourse
The magical community begins to collaborate in the fourth book, "Goblet of Fire,” marking a turn in unity and in leadership. Here, the Hogwarts faculty, students, families and concerned magical citizens unite their diverse talents, and begin to take down Voldemort. Their success is highlighted through group problem-solving where each member is free to object and express doubt. We should note that the wizarding community obliterated a proliferation of hate with organized teamwork and sacrifice, proving that love really does win.
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When leaders have feelings
Harry, Hermione and Ron may be magical, but they suffer and feel pain all the same. As sensitive, passionate young people, they are sometimes overwhelmed with hurt feelings, despair and fear. Ron is overcome with jealousy when Hermione goes to the ball with Cedric. Ron and Hermione stop speaking when it seems her cat eats Ron’s rat. Harry feels despair when locked up at his Muggle (non-magic) relatives’ house. They are all afraid when fighting trolls or otherwise confronting their enemies.
Harry and friends suffer, but they persist through their suffering. When hurt, they may lash out. When fearful, they may try to escape, like Ron did after a fight with Harry during a long and arduous journey. But like all strong leaders, Ron eventually faces his fear, returning to save his friend. Ron, Hermione and Harry must constantly work through powerful, sometimes painful feelings, to return to their mission.
Sensitivity as strength
For the characters in Harry Potter, sensitivity cannot be squashed, but rather serves as a foundational strength. Their bravery comes straight out of tremendous love for others. Harry’s mother fought off Voldemort and died protecting him. Harry and Ron did not hesitate to rescue Ginny from the "Chamber of Secrets,” though facing most certain death. Hermione stayed by Harry’s side during his darkest moments, even though she suffered from painful abandonment herself.
Harry’s battles with Voldemort are frightening and unrelenting. Preceding the final battle, Harry initially cowers in fear and feels the demon of inadequacy, as many leaders do. In the end, his tender feelings of love for his friendsfills him with the willingness to give his own life so that they may live. In the end, leaders persist. Because in the end, feelings save the day.
Knowing when to do the right thing
In reading Belluomini and Zvalo-Martyn’s Potter reflections, I’m reminded that recognizing when to “do the right thing,” takes great strength.
Do you remember the time when Neville Longbottom, Gryffyndor first year, earned 10 points for his house, standing up to Harry, Hermione and Ron, when he knew they were up to no good? Doing so, when it may have cost him friendships.
I find parallels as I watch heads of state turn away when the shameful actions of some of their fellow leaders are on display. When the voiceless are in need of advocacy, when the poor and destitute need a champion, but are left with cowardice; I realize that the world needs more Nevilles.
While you manage your own mischief this summer, consider reading Rowling’s iconic “Harry Potter” series, or catch up on the films. We’d love to hear what house or character lessons inspire you, as you’re looking at leadership.
Ellen Belluomini, Ph.D., LCSW, is an assistant professor of social work in Brandman University’s School of Arts and Sciences. She is launching the new Master of Social Work program this fall.Jalin Johnson, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in the Brandman University School of Business and Professional Studies focusing on business and organizational leadership. She also teaches in the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership program.
Julianne Zvalo-Martyn, M.S., is an assistant professor in the Brandman University School of Education focusing on early childhood education.
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