Whether you have read the Harry Potter series or not, you probably know this much about them: the title character is a school-aged wizard-in-training destined (and expected) to defeat the ultimate bad guy: Lord Voldemort. What you may not have considered before, even if you have read the books, is that Harry’s mentor, Professor Albus Dumbledore is a model of effective leadership: particularly educational leadership. Several of the characteristics that make him a leader were the subject of Part I and Part II in this series. Three more of Dumbledore’s leadership characteristics are highlighted here in this third and final installment.
Dumbledore is not tempted by wealth or power. From my perspective, access to power and the offer of wealth are inducements to compromise one’s good judgement which are not easily ignored. Somehow, he does ignore these temptations though. He is offered the position of Minister of Magic multiple times but steadfastly refuses. Although that position would afford him much greater power, Dumbledore is convinced that his place is at Hogwarts and is not swayed by this offer of power. Even without this official appointment, Dumbledore has great power and influence but chooses to use it sparingly. He is the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, but does not use that position to his own advantage. He comes into possession of the Sorcerer’s stone but chooses not to claim the immortality that it offers. By the end of the series, it becomes clear that he owns the Elder Wand – the most powerful of all wands – but does not flaunt its power whatsoever. As Dumbledore is a human being, he must certainly be tempted by these enticements. Indeed there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he is definitely flawed as both a leader and as a man. He seems to recognize fully, however, that great leaders draw away from wielding the influence of their wealth and power as they acquire more. They are not seduced nor driven by a quest to accumulate either.
One of the most inspiring points I see in Dumbledore is the fact that he is not distracted or swayed by “scandal” or bureaucratic pressure. He continues teaching and leading Hogwarts in the way he believes to be best in spite of pressure from the Board of Governors. In fact, he is temporarily removed from his position as Headmaster because he refuses to implement policies that he believes to be harmful to his students. Dumbledore also ignores frequent (and ludicrous) attacks in the newspaper. While it is unclear how the criticism and accusations and lies make him feel, they do nothing to deter him from the actions he knows to be right for his students. Even the Ministry of Magic does its best to control Dumbledore through pressure, slander, and even the threat of sanctions and arrest. While he gives ground in some cases, Dumbledore never compromises in spite of the pressure he faces from the central office, the government and the media.
One final characteristic that I admire in this leader, is his refusal to take himself too seriously. In spite of the fact that he is the world greatest wizard he has an acute sense of humor. Throughout the series, this attitude of whimsical joyfulness is most often his default mood and masks nearly entirely the staggering depth of knowledge and the awesome power that he possesses. He sets silly passwords to protect the door to his office. He is aware of student fads, particularly the light-hearted (if officially banned) practices students are fond of. Even at official functions, like the start of term feasts he is so unpretentious as to keep his speeches extremely short, including one that was famously only three words long. When set beside government officials and professors and even muggles who are filled with self-importance, Dumbledore provides by sharp contrast an example of a healthy sense of humor and self-image.
There are other characteristics of an effective leader easily seen in Dumbledore: courage, decisiveness, delegation of responsibility, time management, vision-casting, clear and effective communication, and many more. Perhaps those can be the focus of another discussion. In the meantime, for me, there can be no doubt that whether J.K. Rowling has studied the characteristics of an effective leader or not, Albus Dumbledore is an example of a highly effective leader – particularly in the areas of school leadership. Even as a fictional character, he models for me a combination of qualities and approaches to leadership that I find to be worth studying and aspiring to acquire.