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Magical Leadership

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

In a recent conversation about leadership, I shared three examples of leadership that impacted my practice or resonated with me. I shared about two leaders who each took a chance on me early in my career, challenged me to aim higher, and supported me with practical advice on how to navigate corporate spaces in which I was often one of the few or the only woman, and younger than most around me. I also shared about my mother, Big Flo, the epitome of selfless leadership, wanting good for others. Finally, I discussed that Albus Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid, and Severus Snape combined closely match my definition of leadership: the exchanges between people that honor and influence one another to work together toward a shared goal that also serves the common good. Their combined approaches would bring out the best of transformational, servant, and authentic leadership. Yes, each of these magical leaders is flawed—like all of us—but hear me out.

Dumbledore, the longtime headmaster of Hogwarts, used his power and understated charisma to inspire those around him to learn, be brave, and excel toward saving not only the magical people in their beloved school but the world, including muggles. People moved as both individuals and as part of a larger group to exceed expectations, partly due to Dumbledore’s transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is an approach by which a leader spurs people to work together toward shared goals and ideal outcomes, able to move even communities and societies to exemplary leadership and results (read Burns, and Kouzes and Posner). The approach sounds leader-centric but is grounded in honoring each person’s inherent value, motivation to see others develop their potential, and serving the common good. Dumbledore’s transformational leadership was effective but ran the risk of being too leader-centric, which can be potentially harmful when constituents are not valued and unable to challenge the leader. The risks of transformational leadership could be tempered by blending in Hagrid’s style.

Hagrid, the gamekeeper and later professor of Care of Magical Creatures, lived in the service of others, especially Harry Potter. Hagrid’s greatest desire was to see his friends and students succeed and for the world to be a safe place for everyone. Living a humble life, he made personal sacrifices in deference to the well-being and happiness of those around him. Hagrid was a leader, even if his humble description runs counter to the cognitive construct one might have of a leader, as often seen in servant leadership. Servant leadership prioritizes the needs of others over self, is moved by a moral compass, and has a special concern for those who have the least (read Greenfield, Graham, and Ehrhart). The goal is to support others so they thrive. However, what if the servant approach that focuses on constituents ignores the complexities of where we work and live and the challenges that must be addressed for the betterment of all?

Ok, this next one is the spicy take—Snape, Potions Master. Yes, he was often terrible, but Snape spurred others to face the challenges of reality and adapt so that they could succeed. He did not sugarcoat. In a sense, Snape had high expectations that the students around him would mature and adapt. This is evidence of adaptive leadership, an approach that centers on the constituents and enables them to grow and adapt to overcome complex and emerging challenges (read Heifetz).

The combined styles of Dumbledore, Hagrid, and Snape enabled a group of people to work together to achieve something great, for good. Through a sort of checks and balances, they inspired people to link arms toward the highest ideals, honored people’s dignity, and served the common good. Through inspiration, compassion, and realism, these magical leaders enabled a group of people to win the Battle of Hogwarts and make the world a better place.

I aspire to borrow a little from each.

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