Leadership, Power, and Harry Potter

A while back, during a PhD supervision conversation at the end of a workshop, I was reminded that I possessed power. Power comes in many different forms and we often use our power without realising it. My power, it turn out, while encouraging to some – was experienced as disruptive and challenging by others. This got me thinking about the power dynamics in general. I know that I can use my power to “get shit done”, but how can I use it to “get shit done” while empowering others?

Really curious about my own power and how I used it, I arrived home and decided to spend some time to think this over by doing what felt like a really important step in my research: I binge-watched Harry Potter movies!

While watching all the Harry Potter movies I saw the struggle with power woven into the story amplify until I was introduced to The Deathly Hallows – the items that would give the person who possessed them ultimate power. I was so intrigued with the new meaning that this part of the story held for me that I acquired a copy of the book from the local library.

I am definitely oversimplifying the narrative around power (and the Harry Potter connection to it) yet feel that this is a good entry point into exploring the connection between the two.

There are three Hallows that were created by Death on the request of “[…] a combative man […] an arrogant man” and a more humble man (with trust issues!) p. 331

Although Xenophilius claimed that “There is nothing Dark about the Hallows, at least, not in that crude sense” (Rowling, 2007, p. 329) we later learn that the person who possessed all three of the Hallow would in effect be the “master […] Conqueror. Vanquisher” (p. 333) of Death.

The Hallows are described as a wand that would always win in a dual, a gem that can bring people back from the dead, and a cloak that could render you invisible. This would inevitably make this person the master in life too. And while thinking of the three Hallows, I was reminded of the pillars of leadership so often quoted in organisations. And so, let us imagine – for a moment – that J. K Rowling was writing about three uses of power: to overpower and oppress, to reinforce coercive habits, and to ‘disappear’ people.

A leader possessing all three of these traits could be very powerful and would certainly be in charge. But what if those traits of power could be applied to empower people, to reinforce relational habits, and to amplify the voice of others? This can be done.

We are told that at least one of the Deathly Hallows – the Elder wand – was used for both good and bad. We are told that “The bloody trail of the Elder Wand is splattered across the pages of wizarding history” (Rowling, 2007, p. 334-335) while Dumbledore says that he “[…] was fit to own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it, because [he] took it, not for gain, but to save others from it” (p. 577). And we know that, with the Elder Wand, Dumbledore did some pretty amazing and generous magic in service of “good”.

Harry possessed all three of the Hallows on the same day and could have owned all three at the same time had he wanted to. Instead – and despite describing an almost obsessive yearning to possess them – Harry chose not to hold on to the power. He chose, willingly and without being prompted, to give up the possibility of ultimate power.

Ironically, I see this as very powerful. I then question how my own power would come into play should I choose to let go of it (if that was possible) or how it would look if I used it to convene people focussed on doing ‘good’ work (or difficult work ‘well’). How would it look if leaders stopped pursuing power and rather focussed on empowering others?

It is here that Rowling offers is another piece of wisdom through the words of Dumbledore:

“[…] I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well” (Rowling, 2007, p. 575)

How do you use your power? How can you redirect your power so that it is helpful to others?

By Niel Stander


Reference:

Rowling, J. K. (2007). Harry potter and the deathly hallows (1st ed.). London: Bloomsbury.


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