Power: Gollum couldn’t handle it; can you?

Power: Gollum couldn’t handle it; can you?

Lessons from the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) Trilogypower4 The enduring popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fable trilogy, the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) is owed to brilliant writing combined with themes everyone can relate to, from camaraderie to courage to romance to the abuse of power. The basic plot was the attempt by an alliance for Frodo the Hobbit to forever destroy an all-powerful ring that would allow its wearer to dominate the world; a ring the evil “ringwraiths” sought after.

One helpful definition of power is influence plus enforcement

Power is the greatest benefit as well as the greatest danger for the executive on the ascent. There are many lessons from LOTR that can help give it perspective.

The ring was both a symbol of power and a source of power Having a title that starts with “chief”, or “executive” or “commissioner, etc., is itself both a symbol and a conveyor of power. As a former adjunct lecturer at a college where all instructors are called “professor” I became keenly aware of students’ desire to please me, even by agreeing with positions they thought I held, that they didn’t even believe in. It was understandable given the propensity of so many other authority figures in education to espouse their philosophies (Let’s get one thing straight, there is no God!) (Republicans are the party of progress). and penalize or humiliate students for disagreeing. Be mindful that just having a corner office, an assistant or a seat at the head of the conference table lets people know you wield power and influence without saying a word.

Bearing the weight of that ring was more than  one-person job That is why God created the chief of staff and executive assistant positions. Use  your top teams well to carry out your vision. Power hoarders tend not to allow the people with the best talent or expertise in an area to shine. This puts more weight on the boss (who may be mediocre at making certain decisions) and demoralises talented people who are quite capable of sharing the load.

It took tremendous humility to be trusted with the ring Out of Elves, Men, a Wizard and Dwarves, only one lowly Hobbit was deemed humble enough to bear the ring of power.  Jim Collins, in the book Good to Great , asserts that top (Level 5) leaders of consistently high producing corporations had a paradoxical combination of tremendous force of will and humility. That, he says, is a greatness that gets results: a great ROI now, and a powerful legacy later.

Anyone – even the Elf Queen – could be seduced by it power 0 The most common complaint I get about managers is that they micromanage; even the nicest ones do it. They hire people to cover layers of authority under them, and then do the middle manager’s job for her! Micromanaging bosses refuse to allow key decisions to be made by their underlings, jamming the gears of progress as the other layers of management have to filter every decision or innovation past the top boss first. Another seduction of power is the ability to do inappropriate things without accountability: from the abusive, toxic boss to the sexually harassing one, to outright thieves. With political officials stealing secrets and money or leaking private information (think Watergate), abuse of power abounds. No one is exempt from the lure. That’s why Frodo needed Sam! Every top leader needs a means of accountability for him/herself. Whether a board, advisers, a mentor or a system of checks and balances some means must be employed.  Absolute power does corrupt absolutely.

Sometimes, when it’s time to relinquish power, we refuse The whole LOTR trilogy centered around Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring. When it came to the end of his quest, he just couldn’t do it. Frodo-with-Ring-over-Cracks-of-Doom It’s time to plan for your succession. When? As soon as you’re hired, especially if you are in upper management. Even if you plan to stay for 20 years, you should be apprenticing a leader who you could envision taking your job one day. Look at your next-in-lines as “potentials”. Groom them to carry more and more of the burden of authority and power, and relinquish more and more projects to them as they grow. Dr. Peter Scazzero, consultant to pastors around the world observes that many American pastors stay in their positions until they die, at which point the church, or what’s left of it, is thrown into disarray because no one was groomed from within to take over.

The hardest part for many leaders is no longer getting all the credit. Trust me, you’ll get more credit in the long run for relinquishing power than hoarding it.

Ultimately, a healthy respect for the game-changing potential of becoming a person of major influence can be used for the common good: to bolster not only the fate of employees but, a-la Bill and Melinda Gates, to change the world.

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