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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

How Should a Woman Lead? A Few Tips from Galadriel

I woke up this morning thinking about some things that are happening where I work (I've been doing that a lot lately) that are less than pleasant, which led to me considering what it is that differentiates a good leader from a bad leader. More specifically, I began to think about what it is that differentiates a good female leader from a bad. In doing this, I thought of a list of things that make females in leadership positions less than desirable to work with, or "too much" to deal with. Some of the things I came up with included attributes such as being controlling, becoming self-serving, and acting condescending. I've seen these same problems with male leaders, but in women these attributes seem particularly upsetting. I guess we expect something different.
These thoughts led me to consider good leadership qualities in women. A good leader is open to many ideas and allows her workers to do their jobs in their way (as long as the way isn't destructive), she does things to benefit everyone in the department, and she gives gifts back to her workers that will enhance what the workers already do (these aren't necessarily gifts that are tangeble). Then it hit me--Galadriel is the icon for the great female leader. Galadriel is the "Lady of Lorien" and the queen of the Elves in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. In Fellowship of the Rings, the fellowship (a group that is all male, I might add) come into her country not long after Gandalf is taken from them. She and her husband, Celeborn, allow them to take refuge in her forest for a season.
Even though she is married, it is clear that Galadriel is the one that is important here. She has a strong partnership with Celeborn, but she is clearly the leader in the relationship and in the politics of Lorien. She is not, however, a shrill, exacting leader. Instead, she is graceful and commands (but never demands) the respect and love of the people around her (even Gimli the dwarf comes to love her), she never condescends because she doesn't have to, and she understands the gifts of each person she encounters, and knows what their best is. Even when she's tempted to lead in a different, more harsh way, she turns from that temptation. When faced with taking the One Ring and using it to bring her dream of peace and harmony to fruition, Galadriel responds:

And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you shall set up a Queen. And I shall not be
dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful
as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!

Galadriel understands that power used without considering her people, without thinking of what will make things better in the long term, is power that may be used in a positive effect, but ultimately will demoralize the very people that she should be helping and leading. She also understands that this power will not only harm her people, but change her in a way that would cause her to lose herself:

She lifted her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood
before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and
the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice
was soft and sad.

'I pass the test,' she said. 'I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.'

By remaining Galadriel, she maintains her ability to lead in a gentle, feminine way. This allows her to be more productive as well as grants her people the opportunity to be more productive. Not only does she lead in a gently, instinctive way, but she also notes and supports the gifts of the individuals. When the fellowship leaves Lorien, Galadriel eats with them and then gives each of them gifts. No gift is given lightly, and no gift is an empty gift. Each gift is an amplification of something that each member already has inside himself. For Sam, she gifts him with a box of earth and a Malloran (a tree) nut because he has the gift of renewal and growth (and he uses this gift to great advantage when rebuilding the Shire later on). Frodo receives a vial of light from a star, reflecting his own inner light that makes him the perfect candidate to bear the Ring. With this ability she can be not only a strong leader, but one that is supportive without being controlling (notice that she doesn't tell them how she wants them to use each gift), that is concerned with knowing the strengths of her people, and knows that she has no strength without the strength and genuine love of her people. It is this that makes her not only powerful, but beautiful, and visible as a true leader.
I know that this is the type of leader I want to work for, and that I want to be.


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