This week marks 20 years since the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was released, and the world has been celebrating the impact the series has had on our lives.
The Harry Potter series has been praised for its complexity and depth, it storytelling, and the magical world it has built. It’s not an understatement to say that the books and movies helped shape the lives of those who grew up with them. Looking back, I’ve come to realise that Harry Potter has taught me valuable leadership lessons that I still follow today.
1/ Leaders enable other leaders
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the students realise that they will no longer have the opportunity to learn Defence Against the Dark Arts practically due to drastic changes in the curriculum and the appointment of Dolores Umbridge as its Professor at Hogwarts. Hermione proposed the formation of a secret study group, led by Harry, who had gained practical experience in Defence Against the Dark Arts over previous encounters with Voldemort, which led to Dumbledore’s Army (D.A.).
Dumbledore’s Army started with the intention of being a place to practice magic, and acting as a subtle act of rebellion against the new wave of authority at Hogwarts. However it ended up serving a much larger purpose. The students who attended D.A. meetings where those who wanted to learn and improve their magic, and they developed their skills at a fast rate through Harry’s guidance.
Later in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a battle was looming at the Department of Mysteries in the Ministry of Magic. Harry was ready to face this battle on his own when Neville Longbottom, one of the D.A. students who showed the most growth, told Harry that the D.A. should come to, that this was their chance to be part of something real.
By role-modelling bravery and selflessness, and investing time into developing his peers, Harry was able to empower and enable other leaders. After Harry fled Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Neville reformed the led the D.A. in training and in the final battle at Hogwarts. This is a true mark of effective leadership – by enabling other leaders to effectively lead, Harry ensured that his leadership was sustainable, and others would be able to build upon what he had done already.
2/ Leaders use their strengths
Harry, Hermione and Ron are often praised for how complementary they are and how strong their friendship is. The trio also demonstrate how the best leaders are those who focus on their strengths.
Harry brings grit and courage to the team. He is self-reliant and independent, able to trust his talents and persevere through difficulties and vast challenges. Spurred by curiosity, he is driven by an innate need to put things right. Hermione is a provider and an anchor. She is resourceful and thoughtful, and takes a very pragmatic approach. In contrast to Harry, she draws on intellect and control. Ron meanwhile binds the group together with his sense of loyalty and companionship, his selflessness and desire to help others. He’s a strategic thinker and is driven by the people around him and does whatever he can to get the best for them.
In my opinion, the most beautiful thing about this friendship is how they explore their strengths throughout the series, and end up using their own strengths to defeat Voldemort in the end. It is difficult to imagine how any of them could have made it to the end without the other two, which shows how powerful you can be when focusing on your strengths. Even secondary characters like Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood, who started as outcasts and misfits, gain confidence and create huge impact after discovering what their strengths are and playing their unique role to the best they can.
3/ Leaders are made, not born
Having survived an attack by Lord Voldemort as an infant, Harry’s fame always preceded him. As ‘The Boy Who Lived’, when Harry was thrust into the wizarding world he was surprised to hear of the legends about him and his apparent hero status. Despite this, Harry remains grounded and humble, always seeking to learn and never taking his hero status, gifted upon him by others, for granted.
Ultimately, Harry ends up owning his title as a hero through his actions and ownership. Despite the questioning voice in his head, Harry pushes through to work towards defeating Voldemort because he sees the bigger picture – that what he wants to achieve is bigger than himself, but he takes ownership over doing so. He doesn’t accept that it is his responsibility because people tell him to; in the end he makes it his responsibility because he sees the importance in what he is doing. His actions demonstrate that Harry is not a leader because he was born a hero or survived Voldemort’s curse as a baby, but because he takes action to become a leader.
We also see this in the transformation of Neville. A shy kid with low self-esteem, Neville fumbled his way through high school, rarely leaving a positive impression on anyone he met with. However through his hard work in the D.A., and as a result of people putting time into working with him, Neville was able to grow in confidence and play an instrumental role in the final Battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, slaying Nagini himself, again demonstrating that leaders are made, not born.
I will always be grateful to J.K. Rowling for creating the Harry Potter world and creating a sense of magic throughout my childhood and into my adult years – and while I’m still waiting for that Hogwarts Letter, I know the leadership lessons Harry Potter has taught me will continue to shape my actions in all I do.