Leaders vs Managers – Gandalf Style

One of the best leaders in the history of the world, real or not, is Gandalf. Every single effective trait of leadership is demonstrated through Gandalf and his interactions with his little band of mismatched, dysfunctional, and unqualified adventurers. The qualities Gandalf demonstrated are those seen in the great leaders, and neglected in those who care more about looking like leaders than actually being leaders.

Shares the vision –

Trust –

Allows people to screw up –

Treats people with respect –

Cares about his people –

Acknowledges and prepares for threats –

Chooses people based on potential –

Encourages people –

Is honest –

Sacrifices self –

Brings people together –

The list is endless. Despite the inherent dangers in the mission, even the most timid of little Hobbits were inspired to join the mission. Not once did Gandalf threaten people with corrective action, and he never once micromanaged. Why? Because he’s a leader, not a manager.

Gandalf inspired, gave guidance, appeared with support at the right time, and continued the mission. He never blamed, belittled, or threatened someone with being kicked off the team. Not once did he manipulate his team into feeling insecure about their position. In fact, it was quite the opposite – he made them believe they could take down a dragon.

Furthermore, and this is critical – as can be seen from the quote in the featured image, Gandalf wanted people who wanted to be part of the mission. He didn’t present anything other than the objectives of the mission in his recruitment efforts, he identified his target team and involved even the smallest and weakest at the earliest stages. He didn’t change the mission half-way through. The mission and the roles were set, and within those parameters a band of misfits became a diverse team who saved the Middle-earth.

Gandalf chose truth over manipulation, transparency over deceit, inspiration over threats, support over scapegoating, and sacrifice over self-preservation. In return he was rewarded by a team of people who believed in the bigger vision, sacrificed their lives daily and trusted in the mission he gave them.

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – Gandalf had no interest in self-promotion. His heart was for the mission and the team, not his own legacy.

2 – Gandalf was always in the front lines when it mattered, and bringing up the rear when it was critical, resulting in his sacrifice at the hands (or tail) of the Balrog.

3 – Gandalf created an adventure to share, something in which everyone was valued, not a vanity project to raise his own profile.

Micromanagers rarely succeed in the long-term, and rarely do they attract loyalty. Quite the opposite, they create an environment where people breathe a sigh of relief when they leave the room. Leaders lead, they inspire, they give, they sacrifice.

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