The Hobbit – 5 Lessons in Team Leadership

December 13, 2012 — 1 Comment

Last week I re-read The Hobbit in anticipation of the movie launch. The reading was delightful and brought back many memories of images I had created over 30 years ago as I first read the epic tale. 

Team Building Hobbit Style

In the re-reading, I found many great analogies not only to effective teams, but also to leadership in a team enviroment. Thorin & Company plus Bilbo (and Gandalf at times) making up this illustrious team.

There are at least 5 lessons we can learn from The Hobbit about team building and leadership:

1. Choosing the Team

Why did Gandalf choose Bilbo? One lesson of effective teams found in this tale is membership. Why was Bilbo asked to join the group as the burglar? Why not another dwarf? Exactly, a 14th dwarf was not needed, but instead someone with skills differing. Those skills and talents unfolded as the book progressed – many not being revealed until the end. Several, Bilbo didn’t even know he had.

Was Gandalf a part of the team? Gandalf can be viewed as the team champion – another important aspect of an effective team. As team champion, Gandalf commissioned the team (The Unexpected Party), helped them through early obstacles (The Trolls), connected them to the right people (Beorn), let the team lead themselves (even when they begged and pleaded for continued support), and was there at the end to celebrate the victory.

2. Leverage Strengths

What were Bilbo’s strengths? Somewhere in the Hobbit’s nature is a call to the greater good as well as a temperament not easily tempted by greed. Also, he was not part of the history of the mountain so he didn’t have a sense of ownership toward the treasure. He had a lack of need for treasure. His only needs were for food and comfort. Several times the Hobbit’s needs for comfort and food got them going in the right direction.

3. Shared Leadership

As teams develop and grow you begin to notice a shift in leadership. It becomes shared. Though it may begin with one person (or dwarf in this case) over time, as needs change, leadership comes from different places. Each person understands their role within the group and knows when their particular strengths are needed. Then they come to the forefront and lead the day. I enjoyed how time and again, though terribly scared, Bilbo rose to the challenge in front of him and grew as a leader and a person… uh, I mean Hobbit.

4. Tough Love

Being the team leader is not always easy. Bruce Tuckman, in his model of team development, calls this the ‘storming’ stage. During this stage the leader has to make some tough calls – not always agreed to by all, in order to move on and get things done.  I loved Bilbo’s line when the dwarves are refusing to get in the barrels to escape from the Wood-elves’ capture. “Very well!” said Bilbo very downcast, and also rather annoyed. “Come along back to your nice cells, and I will lock you all in again, and you can sit there comfortably and think of a better plan.”

5. Being Concerned for the Greater Good

At the end, Bilbo’s greatest strength came into play. His resistance to greed and lack of historical ownership in the treasure allowed him to build a bridge between the warring factions of man, dwarf and elves. At first, it may have seemed he betrayed his own team, but in the end it allowed the whole group to work together to fight the goblins and wolves.

Go see the new movie! And let me encourage you to read (or re-read) the book.

Question: What hobbit-style leadership lessons do you see in Tolkien’s famous classic?

  • Phil

    Currently reading the book to my almost 9-yr old as a bedtime story. Couldn’t help but appreciate Beorn’s leadership skills, too. He clearly had earned the trust of his team of animals. He empowered them to perform their tasks. Listened to them and looked out for them, too. No question his team felt fully supported.