Harry Potter and Leadership

by Emily Taylor

The other day one of my professors presented to the class an interesting list of quotes by Charles H. Malik. The purpose of this presentation was to inspire within each of us the desires to be great leaders. But me, being the average Harry Potter fan, spent a good deal of time thinking of how to apply the ideas to our beloved boy wizard. What started off as simply a way to entertain my mind soon become the means of near-depression: Harry may undeniably be a hero, but is he a leader?

But oh! He must be a leader! He has friends and associates who would do anything for him. People listen to him. Gosh darn it, he runs an illegal DADA league!

Yet do these things really make him a true leader, or does he remain just some kid who happens to fight evil? And if he isn’’t a leader, will he ever become one?

Anyone can be a hero, even accidentally. But a leader, in my mind, is different than a hero. A leader affects people, helps them, strives with them. A leader can accomplish so much more than a hero can. And with all the struggles rampaging through the series, a leader will be necessary.

I admit that there is some bias in my argument by defining a great leader by only one perspective. But, as my professor probably intended, these qualifications spoke to me and I believe they are worthy of consideration.

“A great leader suffers in a hundred different ways, and keeps his suffering to himself.”

Well, I can’’t deny that suffering is a bit like Harry. Who else has been through more? From infanthood Harry has experience everything: the death of his parents, abuse from the Dursleys, the loss of loved ones, and a hard responsibility he doesn’t want and can barely handle. Harry is separate from his peers; never will he ever be able to just be a normal teenager. He’s a hero for something he can’t remember. Yes, Harry has suffered and more suffering is in his path. In a way, this is good for Harry. The old adage tells us that what won’t kill us will make us a stronger. Should Harry survive the series, he will have progressed so much farther than he would have had his life been easy. He will be strong; he will have wisdom reaped from experience; he will hopefully have compassion for others. He is already showing signs of the latter in his sympathy for Neville and Luna and all that they have been through. This will allow him to understand others—another part of leadership.

But what of the second part, regarding keeping one’’s suffering to one’’s self? One of the complaints of the 5th book is just how . . . obnoxious and whiny Harry is! Could no one smack that kid? But perhaps we should be a little sensitive and consider all that “the whiny brat” has been through. I’’m just amazed he hadn’’t blown up before. Despite his experience, Harry is still little more than a child. How much should children be allowed to handle? He is struggling with too much, and a vent or two seemed necessary to maintain his sanity. This could be considered a sign of weakness, for Harry is not exactly hiding his suffering. Yes, he wants people to know what he’s been through and what he’s going through. And in doing so, he actually does gain some compassion from others.

Harry has a destiny that he is unable to hide from. To truly succeed in this destiny, it is necessary that Harry accept his burden and be what others need him to be. But he is still young; there is yet time for him to grow and reconcile with his sufferings.

“A great leader survives both his suffering and the fact that nobody knows anything about it.”

This relates back to the first qualification. We’’re aware that Harry has suffered. We’’re aware that he’’d prefer something else. But the fact remains that he is suffering under all of his responsibility, and it will continue. Yes, it’s sad. But Harry isn’’t dead yet. This has to be one of his more admirable characteristics; how many of us could stand his life? He has his faults and he has complained, but he is still alive, stands loyal to his friends, and keeps going with a strong will. No wonder the wizarding world admires him so. He has been through the incredible, experiences that most wizards, witches, and Muggles will never understand. This adds to Harry’’s separation from his peers – since no one has fully shared his experiences, no one can fully empathize with him. Another reason for his angst. Yet he has not abandoned his loved ones simply because they can’t understand him. For the most part, he accepts what he can get. Yes, Harry has met this qualification of a great leader.

“A great leader loves being alone with God.”

How is God to be defined in relation to Harry Potter? J. K. Rowling has not provided us with an ultra-spiritual world; any gospel connections are for readers to make. And so God is not mentioned in direct relationship with anyone. My personal beliefs teach me, however, is to search for God’’s hand in all things, whether that boil down to simple a morality in Harry Potter’’s world.

There are issues and challenges in Harry’’s life that he must consider. And he does–—the threat of Lord Voldemort is never far from his mind. He has made choices and will make many more of them for good and for bad. The choices are up to him, and this creates a certain morality—–a tribute to God— — in the series. Harry has spent time pondering and even regretting choices he has made. He also appreciates the good that is in his life—–again, a kind of morality. He has seen the evil that Voldemort, Umbridge, and others have brought about, and he has also seen goodness in the world. Opposition exists in all things, and he is learning this spiritual truth. He has been and will be tempted both ways. When Voldemort inhabits his mind, Harry experiences a definite taste of evil and also the love of that evil. This horrifies and sickens him, that it is possible to find enjoyment and satisfaction in wickedness. A different moral view, contrasting with the good in his life, has been placed before him.

No one else can understand this, what Harry has felt. Indeed, he is alone with two moral perspectives. So far he has found peace in what integrity exists in his world. How much longer can this last? If Harry is able to find stability in his beliefs, this will give him a platform of values and morals from which he can lead.

“A great leader communes with the deepest the ages have known.”

Unfortunately, Hermione is the brainy bookworm of the trio. It is she who studies, she who holds a craving for knowledge and a way to make sense of her world. Harry, on the other hand, is just trying to pass classes and is fed up with heroism and his fate. To properly understand his path, it’s necessary that he learn as much as he can. Take, for example, the current controversy of the Half-Blood Prince. According to J. K. Rowling, this relates somewhat to a discovery made in Chamber of Secrets. Yet no mention of anything too extraordinary has been mentioned. This is partially due to the fact that J. K. is a genius when it comes to hiding importance, but the books are Harry-centric. Has he noticed anything? Too often does Harry stand around, oblivious to the world going on around him. When the time comes (and it already is here) for Harry to gather everything he knows and every will he can muster to defeat Voldemort, will he be ready?

Recently he has shown some promise in this. Much of the 5th book revolves around his frustrated desire for information. Indeed, he wants to know what is going on. And at times he does throw himself into his studies. And at other times he doesn’’t. He is surrounded by all means of knowledge, from the list of facts known as Hermione and the faith-based Luna who may hold the connection to “higher” knowledge Harry may need, as well as all other traditional means of knowledge found in a school.

Knowledge and wisdom are keys to leadership. Though Harry is beginning to show the need of these needs, he must first recognize the necessity of knowing.

“A great leader knows there is a higher and there is a lower, and always seeks the higher, and indeed the highest.”

My biggest complaint here jumps right to the fact: how aware is Harry of the concepts of “higher” and “lower” values? He has been faced with plenty of morally ambiguous problems, and in my view he seems to have made no stable reaction to any of them. I do not doubt that Harry is a good kid, but so are plenty of other people that wind up as villains–—not to say that Harry is guaranteed as the Lord Voldemort of the next generation.

Let’s take a look at his actions. He knows for a fact and from personal experience that the Unforgivable Curses are wrong and not to be used. But this has not stopped him from using Crucio. He helped steal Arthur Weasley’s car, and he is also responsible for countless acts of mischief. How many school rules has he not yet broken?

But oh! You may cry. Sneaking out of Hogwarts, that was all for good. All that fun stuff in the Chamber of Secrets may have been illegal, but he saved Ginny. And I agree. Harry was the good guy. I won’’t deny that he wants to do the right thing.

Perhaps the definition of high values might be altered. I think most of us would agree that a selfless act of heroism exceeds the cost of a broken rule or two. Despite Percy Weasley’’s rule-based morality, the spirit of the law is often considered higher than the letter of the law. I believe this may be the case for Harry. In this light, even his use of the Cruciatus Curse was in the name of justice from a good heart.

But then there is the need to seek the highest. This alludes to a type of morality that Harry may not yet have. Justice is noble, but so is, and perhaps more so, mercy. Harry holds many grudges, and I wonder if he’ll ever be able to let them go.

A leader must be able to deal with actions as they come by making the right choices, but how right can these choices be if they are blinded by a lack of forgiveness?

“A great leader fights against the spiritual forces of darkness and disintegration, both in his own soul and in the world.”

Is this not Harry’’s ultimate challenge? I believe he’’s already doing a wonderful job of this—mind you, the quote says he fights, not wins. Here Harry shows true leadership by this definition; each book brings at him all sorts of challenges that will either make or break him. As of late, this has been the problem of legimancy and his connection with Lord Voldemort. Harry finds himself passive in situations he would rather not be in, witnessing terrible events such as the attack on Arthur Weasley. The death of his parents, Cedric Diggory, and Sirius Black are just other events that have affected him negatively. He has changed because of these experiences, but it seems to be in many ways for the best–—I just hope that he can maintain a moral defense against the direness of these things and continue his fight as these place him again at odds against Voldemort. The fight has not yet been one, but Harry is on his way. As long as he remains the hero, at least.

“A great leader overcomes himself, rises above himself, daily, minutely.”

Progressive improvement, eh? Yes, this is definitely a requirement of leadership—–who wants to devote themselves to a flawed commander?

I tie this idea back to Harry’s struggles and suffering. He survives these, but what is the outcome? Harry is indeed becoming something of an angsty and conflicted little soul. He’s uncomfortable with himself, and this holds him back from all his possibilities. How many of his mistakes could find their origins in his times of discomfort?

No one is perfect, yet the endurance toward perfection, to at least somewhat improve one’s self, should be a goal. Too often does Harry fight against those who try to help him, encourage him, or just be his friend. In a way he seems to find satisfaction in the fact that he is so isolated from his peers. Like the grudges that hold him back, these actions do him no good. Yes, Harry has his problems, but so does the rest of the world. It is impossible to fathom another person’s difficulties and what they mean to that person.

I’’m not saying that Harry will wind up a vile little worm, bitter at the world. Everywhere are signs of people overcoming obstacles. In a tribute to the epics and the fairy tales, endings can be happy and heroes can pull through whatever they are faced with gloriously. This shows that we are never tested more than we could handle, though we can be surprised by how much we can take.

With all that Harry has to deal with, the possibility for his personal improvement is staggering. Think of all those fables of coal into diamonds and perfection through suffering.

Only the series’ ending will show how Harry is able to face his problems and improve himself for the better.

“A great leader never tones down the truth just to please others.”

Here lies one of Harry’’s greatest characteristics. He speaks the truth, he tells the world what he knows. He might not like his fate, but he does not try to hide Voldemort’’s resurrection from the world. He accepts this truth and expects others to do the same. He accepts the help of the odd Luna Lovegood to tell the wizarding community. He even argues with those that don’’t believe him. This sort of conviction and the ability to make others aware are definite qualities for leadership. There is a lack of fear here, a knowledge that truth will overpower anything else, and Harry seems to know this.

“A great leader never seeks fanfare and publicity–—they come to him, and often he rejects them.”

Sadly enough, this is all Harry. From the beginning he stood in humble awe and even embarrassment of being “the Boy Who Lived.” This progressed into rampant annoyance and even hatred of his fame. This also can be slammed into the “Harry is a whiney brat” concept, but I think that this feeling of his, if properly developed and handled, could become the proper humility and self-awareness Harry would need for proper leadership.

Right now, Harry is mostly dealing with how he feels about the war and his destiny and how everyone treats him differently. But if we look at 1st book Harry, the cute little boy who discovered he was a wizard, there is definite meekness. There is a point in the 4th book where Harry even thinks that Neville Longbottom is the one who deserves all the attention and pity. Not only does Harry demonstrate humility here, but sympathy as well.

Harry knows where he stands with others, and once he accepts all he needs to do, I doubt he will ever let it go to his head and become a greedy monster wanting glory.

“A great leader never craves the approval of the world—in fact, he often intentionally provokes its disapproval.”

By the close of Order of the Phoenix, the Ministry—–and thus the majority of the wizarding world—–knows the truth about Voldemort’s return. But until that point, it was Harry and a select few others who were breaking all the rules and telling the facts no one wanted to hear. And did Harry care? Not really.

There’’s a certain glory in that angsty heroism and even his earlier, more light-hearted mischief. As I said earlier, most of Harry’’s rule-breaking was for a higher good. He ignores the rules the world has set up—and it turns out to be for the best. No doubt this will continue into future books, for as long as Harry still wants to do the right thing, it won’’t matter what the world thinks.

“A great leader does not care if he is crucified—–there is something he knows and sees in the distance infinitely more important that to avoid crucifixion.”

Oh, dear. I think I might actually be going in a “Harry won’’t survive the series” direction with this one. But as many fans have already theorized, it would be perfectly acceptable for a hero such as Harry to die for a cause–—it’’s happened before to other great heroes. Even if he does not actually kick the bucket, there still may be an upcoming event where he will have to make a type of sacrifice, even a personal crucifixion.

Already Harry has been at odds with others. He’s been called crazy. Some of the nice, innocent wizards that have done no wrong can’t stand the kid. But oh well.

Which makes me wonder if it something more drastic than some nasty headlines may be in store for him. And when that comes, will Harry be willing to take in the name of something good? Will he be able to look behind the current issues facing him and the future issues that may face him? I believe I’’ve already discussed it.

“A great leader heals.”

This is the final definition and what I believe to be the culmination of all leadership. It is Harry’’s destiny to heal the world from Voldemort’’s taint. He will do this by destroying Voldemort and hopefully preventing the rise of any other dark wizards. But the healing may extend further. The past and current wars have left their marks on the both wizarding and Muggle worlds. Families have been ripped apart, friends have been lost, and individuals have been forever changed. This includes Harry.

How Harry reacts after all is said and done will be the ultimate test of whatever leadership he carries. Even with Voldemort gone, there will be scars left, and they must be dealt with.

To me, Harry Potter is more than a hero, some baby who just happened to survive Voldemort and just happens to be destined to destroy him. He has gone through what no other character in the series has, and these experiences do make him special. And because he is special it is his duty to stand as a leader and guide everyone else through whatever the Voldemort and the darkness of the world has in store for them. I believe that he at least has the potential for the qualities I’’ve mentioned to do this.

I just hope he’’ll be ready.

(Great leader quotes taken from: Charles M. Malik, “Leadership”, The New Era, June 1977)