A few years ago, well-meaning Christians revolted against the Harry Potter phenomenon. They dismissed the whole series as a perpetuation of the cult, of magic and sorcery that were contrary to the will of God as displayed in the Scriptures. A few years ago, U.S. and World Newswire published an article describing how some evangelicals banded together to burn the Harry Potter books in protest. I seriously doubt that any of these people actually read any of the books themselves. As an evangelical, a literary critic, and a researcher in the field of leadership, I could not believe the talent and the depth illustrated in this series, and how much I learned about what true leadership looks like.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Harry Potter, at the beginning of the series, is a twelve-year-old orphan boy who was adopted as a little baby by his aunt and uncle, who treat him less than human and more like a burden. In fact, he has no room of his own, but rather lives in the closet under the stairs. For all his life, his aunt and uncle have ignored him at best and treated him unkindly at worst, all the while spoiling their own son. He lives in absolute obscurity—that is, until his thirteenth birthday, when a strange visitor arrives, explaining to Harry that he, and his dead parents, are wizards, and that the time has come for him to go to Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards.
Harry is immediately thrust into a whole new world, a wizarding world in which he in not so obscure. There he finds out that his parents did not die in a car crash, as he had long believed, but rather were killed by the spell of an evil wizard, Voldemort while Harry was still an infant. Voldemort had tried to kill Harry, but for the first time ever, his spell did not work. After that, Voldemort disappeared from the wizarding world and terrorized the people no longer, and Harry then became known throughout the wizarding world as “the boy who lived.” Harry finds that he is a hero in this wizarding world, and is, to say the least, puzzled over it all. Harry treats his new-found fame very lightly, and sets about making friends in his school and learning more about the new world he has been introduced to. He discovers that Voldemort is trying to return to the wizarding world, and seeking power to control it, and Harry is somehow destined to stop him. In this book, Voldemort is after the sorcerer’s stone, an enchanted stone that grants eternal life to the person who owns it, but Harry, Herminone, and Ron, two of his closest friends at Hogwarts, stop Voldemort from taking the stone.
There are several leadership lessons to be learned from Harry Potter. The first lesson is about humility. Harry Potter, famous throughout the wizarding world, lived first in obscurity and then under scrutiny. Every move he made in the wizarding world was watched. He was famous, having survived an encounter with Voldemort—something that no wizard—great or small—had ever done before, and in doing so, robbed Voldemort of his power. And he did this while still an infant. People deemed him a hero before he could speak or walk. Yet, Harry did not become prideful or arrogant when learning of his encounter with Voldemort or how highly regarded he was in the wizarding world. As far as he was concerned, he was still Harry—the orphan boy who had lived for 13 years under the stairs. Eventually, later we discover that it wasn’t Harry at all who bested Voldemort—it was his mother. His mother protected him from the spell of Voldemort with her unconditional love—a magic stronger and deeper than any other magic. I think sometimes in leadership we are tempted to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, as if our own merits and achievements alone had thrust us into leadership. We forget that ultimately, it is God that has granted us specific gifts and talents and God that opens the door to leadership opportunities.
The second leadership lesson we learn from Harry Potter is the importance of self-sacrifice. Throughout this book and throughout the series, Harry Potter wants nothing more than to be an ordinary boy, yet he suppresses this desire and continues to shoulder the burden of responsibility in handling the comeback of Voldemort. In one scene, Harry, in his wanderings through the rambling castle of Hogwarts, discovers The Mirror of Erised, a mirror that shows the person looking at it whatever would make them the most contented person in the world—it reads the heart and reflects the core desire of the person’s heart. When Harry looks into the mirror, he sees his parents standing behind him, gazing at him with tender love and affection. Every night, he sneaks back into this room for hours, just to look at his parents. He would trade anything in the world to have them back. He doesn’t want the fame, doesn’t want the responsibility of dealing with Voldemort. He just wants his parents. One night, the school headmaster, finds Harry in front of the mirror, and explains that the mirror only reflects the deepest desire of a person’s heart, and provides neither truth nor knowledge. With this bit of wisdom, Dumbledore encourages Harry to not waste away in front of the mirror, and instead embrace the challenges set before him, which Harry does.
We often connect leadership with ideas about greatness, about influence and power. We don’t often connect it with self-sacrifice, and the spiritual poverty in which true leadership is often born. Harry Potter shows us that leadership is often connected with sacrifice—sacrifices that cut deep and may sometimes even rob us of our core-most desires. Leadership is less about power and influence, but more about responsibility. It is true that inevitably power and influence is part of leadership, but it is more about responsibility for the greater good of those you lead more than anything else. And that kind of leadership requires self-sacrifice.
The third leadership lesson we learn from Harry Potter is the importance of community in leadership. In the last scene, Harry Potter and his friends, Ron and Hermione, are on a mission to stop Voldemort from getting the Sorcerer’s Stone. To get to the place where the stone is kept, they must first go through the security system, which includes a series of magical challenges set up by the faculty. Each person uses their individual gifts and talents to navigate through these challenges: Hermione uses her logic and knowledge, Ron uses his skill as a master chessman, and Harry uses his broom-riding skill. Even though it was Harry that ultimately had to face Voldemort alone, it is clear that he could not have done so without the help from his friends.
Too often in leadership, people forget that leadership is often a team endeavor. Even though there may be a person who serves as the ultimate leader, the head, this person is supported through community. I think this is often neglected or forgotten in leadership. The impact of community should not be forgotten, and the individual contributions and support of those around the leader should be recognized and treasured.