Leadership Lessons from Harry Potter

Over our Christmas break, our family watched all 8 of the Harry Potter movies, one each night for 8 straight nights.  Nothing like binge-watching with your kids!  Yes, I know we’re just a few years behind, but watching all the movies consecutively over a week has its benefits.  I enjoyed the series for the most part, and found the story-telling and cinematography captivating. Once we started each movie, nobody moved for 2+ hours!

I know it’s a common theme throughout hundreds or thousands of movies and stories, but there are a handful of very strong and consistent things that Harry Potter had to have to grow from the child he was when he arrived at Hogwarts School until he became the de facto leader of the side of good (vs. evil). Here’s my list:

  • Mentors – nobody grows to their full leadership potential without someone who has gone before them taking an interest, teaching, challenging, and leading them to what they can be.  Do you have mentors and teachers? If not, you should.
  • Adversaries – do you have people in your life that, no matter what the circumstance, it’s always a struggle or an unspoken competition? I do. Especially in business, you always have competition. Recognize your competitors, and always strive for honest victory in your space, rather than just pure defeat of your adversary just to say you beat him.
  • Adversity – you are going to face challenges, life’s going to happen, things you cannot control are going to knock you down. It’s how you react to those things that will determine your success or failure. I don’t think Potter wanted to be the chosen one to have to face Voldemort. You won’t choose your adversity, either, but you should expect it.  That’s life, and life is not fair.
  • Your gifts – there is simply no better way to discover who you are and what you are best at until you persevere through some of that aforementioned adversity. That’s when you learn. That’s when you have to do what you have to do, and most of those times, you’re on your own. That’s when you see what you’ve really got, and what gifts you didn’t know you had.
  • Pain & Loss – how many people died helping Harry Potter? I didn’t count, but even if there were only one, that would be enough.  Life and business is tough, and sometimes you’re gonna lose.  Again, like adversity, when you lose something or someone, it’s very, very difficult, and how you react to such loss is the only thing you can control.
  • Hard choices – (spoiler alert) Harry had to make many hard choices during his time at Hogwarts, but the hardest choice was at the very end of the last movie. He had rightful possession of the most powerful magic wand in the world. Even his best friend Ron exclaimed, “We could be invincible!”  Harry had to choose between power and good. His choice reflected who he was throughout the series.
  • Victory – victory in life and in businesses / startups is not always Instagram success.  When you get to the final scene of the final movie, you’ll see what I mean.  It’s always messy. When there are winners, there are, by definition, losers, and there is always collateral damage. Stuff gets broken when there’s a battle. Sometimes “victory” means just being able to walk away in (mostly) one piece. Don’t expect to ring the NYSE bell with every startup.

This list is not exhaustive, but you can be assured that when you seek or discover that you are the leader of something, most, if not all, of these things will occur or be required.  You have control over some of them. You can only react to others, part of which is being prepared for their eventual arrival.  Unfortunately, we can’t just snap our fingers and escape when things aren’t fun and games.

Also, my favorite character was Dobby the Elf. He was willing to help when he knew there was no benefit – only potential punishment – for himself. In the end, he died helping his friend, Harry Potter, to live.

What do you think about that?

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