Posted August 16, 2016 by James Van Roekel 

How 'The Lord of the Rings' Teaches Us About Servant Leadership

As we continue to inch closer to the new academic year, I have been thinking, again, about servant leadership. I am sure many of you are familiar with this concept where “a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid,’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

The Lord of the Rings is my favorite book (yes, we can discuss if it is an actual trilogy or not) and movie. Too, I think its characters speak quite clearly to this notion. Certainly it was Frodo’s task to take the One Ring to Mordor and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom, but how many leaders went with him?

I would argue all of them; though, I will only highlight two here. Think back to (or watch) the chapter in the Return of the King where Aragorn leads the army against the Black Gate. He steps ahead, turns, and says, “For Frodo” just before he runs directly at the enemy. The others follow and the battle begins, all the while The Eye of Sauron is fixed away from Frodo and Sam who are getting closer to Mount Doom. Though he would be king, Aragorn understood the magnitude of Frodo’s responsibility and made a sacrifice of his own position, perhaps his own life, to see that Frodo succeed.

Samwise Gamgee is the hero of the story—author J. R. R. Tolkien himself stated as much. Sam had the perseverance, strength, and clarity of mission to ensure that Frodo succeed. Sam kept Frodo’s spirits up, reminded him of the Shire, and the vision of success and what would follow. He protected Frodo throughout their mission and even carried Frodo in their escape from Mount Doom’s implosion after the One Ring was destroyed.

The next time you read the book or watch the movie, ask yourself how you might be within your own Fellowship. Do you have the vision and mission in mind? Are you humble enough to carry Frodo to the end? If you do and if you are, even the world can be saved. As founder of the modern servant leadership movement Robert K. Greenleaf stated: “This is my thesis: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built ... If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant.
James Van Roekel

James Van Roekel is the Director of Student Affairs Technology at Sam Houston State University.

James has more than 18 years of higher education experience as a faculty member and administrator in academic and student affairs. His research, which can be found in 25 publications (including three books), and teaching focus investigates the utilization of free and off-the-shelf hardware and software toward the development of multimedia and digital applications in student learning. His grant writing has brought in more than $725,000 to engage faculty and students in current and emerging technologies. He is a member of EDUCAUSE, Infocomm International, and the Region II Leadership Team. James is a past recipient of SHSU’s Sammy Award and the Vice President's for Student Services Bearkat Spirit Award.

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