Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Leadership of the Ring

Two of the primary leaders in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series, Aragorn and Sauron, embody vastly different leadership styles. Sauron's calculating, selfish leadership did nothing to help his followers and served only to advance his own personal desires at any cost. Aragorn, on the other hand, displayed a much more effective style of leadership that aimed to improve the lives of all of his followers through the achievement of an ultimate vision.

Sauron exemplifies what Goleman would consider coercive leadership. He demanded that his followers submit to his every whim, even if it meant sacrificing their own lives. He set no higher goal beyond meeting his demands and provided his followers with no way to achieve self-actualization, let alone become leaders in their own right. Sauron is the perfect example of Choi's selfish, ineffective "personalized" leader.

In fact, Sauron's leadership skills were so lacking that he had been defeated multiple times prior to the formation of the Fellowship of the Ring and often had to resort to tricks, coercion, and even torture to fulfill his egotistical desires. Furthermore, Sauron did not have the requisite follower and institutional support to survive a major external crisis (when the Ring was destroyed). Because his power was not, as MacGregor emphasizes, the result of an effective leader-follower relationship, he was certain to fail.

Aragorn, on the other hand, is arguably both a charismatic and visionary leader. By having a clear, focused vision to destroy the ring, he manages to unite all of his followers, from elves to wizards to hobbits, in achieving that vision. Along the way, he works to ensure that his followers are kept safe and ultimately, empowered to fight for the vision on their own.

As opposed to Sauron's personalized leadership style, Aragorn is also what Choi would consider a highly successful socialized leader. He works with his top-level management (The Fellowship) all the way down to his infantry to ensure that the ultimate goal of destroying the ring is met.

Along the way, he motivates his followers to become leaders themselves. All of those surrounding Aragorn (Gimli, Legolas, Frodo, etc) overcome their petty differences after Aragorn sets an example and clearly defines both the group's goal and its basic method of achieving that goal. His leadership skills and actions within the situation successfully overcame centuries of fighting and conflict between various Middle-Earth groups and instead focused their energy on the more productive mission of destroying the Ring.

Despite a myriad of both external and internal conflicts, Aragorn managed to achieve his ultimate goal and transition into a new position as King of Gondor. Though his followers overwhelmingly wanted to crown him king even before the Ring was destroyed, he put the mission of the group first and refused to be crowned until he was sure that the group would not fall to infighting when it should be focused on defeating Sauron and achieving its initial goal.

Both of these leaders achieved results, which is, according to Goleman, the primary job of leadership. However, the methods in which they achieved these results, not to mention the actual results themselves, were widely varied in their styles, relationship with their followers, and effectiveness.