When thinking of leadership the first image that would come to mind would probably not be a hobbit. Indeed, the whole concept of servant-leadership “is a paradox” (Northouse, 2016), “so counterintuitive to the commonly perceived notion of leadership (e.g. great man theory)” (PSU WC, 2016). Greenleaf (1970) may be credited with coining the theory of servant leadership, but author J.R.R. Tolkien (1954) certainly understood the theory and the impact of leadership as both “service and influence”, the essence of servant leadership. At the crux of leadership is the leaders’ capacity to empower others, or help others to reach their goals. Though scholars are in disagreement regarding what characteristics specifically define servant leadership (Northouse, 2016), the common thread of the theory is that it’s about putting others first, before one’s self as a leader.
According to Greenleaf, a servant leader “has a social responsibility to be concerned about the “have-nots” and those less privileged” (Northouse, 2016). Frodo is an example of servant leadership as seen in the Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001) when “the one ring” is discovered and it becomes clear as a weapon of mass destruction must be destroyed, electing who should be responsible for spearheading this mission is a contentious issue. That’s when Frodo, a mere hobbit, an innocent character of humble origin, volunteers to shoulder the daunting task.
Servant leadership requires an element of sacrifice on part of the leader, because putting others first often means relinquishing one’s own rights, personal comfort, even health and life. It is a path of “placing followers’ interests and success ahead of those of the leader” (Northouse, 2016).
“Even the smallest person can change the course of history” (Jackson, 2001). Frodo showed the fellowship that they, too, needed to be service-oriented to be leaders in their own right. Frodo’s actions demonstrated that he possessed foresight, one of the characteristics Greenleaf lists among ten comprised by servant leadership (Northouse, 2016). Frodo, in volunteering to take the ring becomes the unlikely leader of what becomes “the fellowship of the ring”. Frodo didn’t step up because he wanted to, he knew that he had to, and once he did everyone else realized that he was the best appropriated for the job because of his lack of self-interest, his lack of ego, and his sincerity. Accepting the ring was a reflection of Frodo having stewardship, another characteristic of servant leadership, in that he took responsibility for the task entrusted to him, and realized that the greater good was given to him to hold and lead.
I’m not the first to recognize Frodo’s servant leadership, Foresight Strategies Group (2013) summarizes key aspects of Frodo’s characteristics relevant to the theory, and have even highlighted core principles in visual design:
One of the primary aspects of servant leadership is the leader’s capacity for communication, with particular emphasis on the component of listening. Frodo listened to the advice of Gandalf, to the opinions of the fellowship, and sought the wisdom of those more experienced in life than he, as the Elves.
Frodo exhibited empathy, which is the attempt to “see the world from [another] person’s point of view” (Northouse, 2016). This ability was what let Frodo see the responsibility of taking the ring, and the need for him to ensure its destruction for the good and wellbeing of everyone else at great personal risk to himself. He was also able to connect and integrate with various races and beings of all different backgrounds because of his empathetic nature, even reaching Gollum, who was loathed by everyone.
Frodo had this quality of being aware, which is an important quality for servant leaders according to Greenleaf. Being attuned to “physical, social, and political environments”, which Frodo was especially attuned to, “servant leaders are able to step aside and view themselves and their own perspectives in the greater context of the situation” (Northouse, 2016). Frodo was adept in his awareness, which enabled him to commit to the purpose of the mission, and remain steadfast in his conceptualization of the goal and end-all of his role. As a servant leader, Frodo bore the burden bigger than himself and his own needs to save the world.
Northouse, Peter G.. Leadership: Theory and Practice Chapter 10: Servant Leadership SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.
Penn State World Campus (2016). PSYCH 485: Leadership in Work Settings. Lesson 11: Servant leadership. Retrieved from: <https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1803831/modules/items/21139931>
Perez, Nilda. “The Analogy of Frodo Baggins as Servant Leader | Foresight Strategies Group.” Foresight Strategies Group. N.p., 14 July 2016. Web. Nov. 2016. <http://foresightstrategiesgroup.com/the-analogy-of-frodo-baggins-as-servant-leader/>.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Dir. Peter Jackson. New Line Home Entertainment, 2001. DVD.