Leadership on the big screen

  • Published
  • By Col. James Loe
  • 21st Dental Squadron commander
I spent part of this last holiday season in South Carolina with my family. During my time at home, we decided one evening to go out and catch a movie. While I had anticipated a couple hours of entertainment that would include action and epic battles, I didn't foresee watching a demonstration of great leadership traits.

The main character of the movie started his journey from humble beginnings, with many doubting in his abilities. He grew as a leader, held true to a strong moral character and ended up bringing together a diverse group of individuals towards a common cause of restoring order to the land. Now you're probably thinking, yes, President Lincoln was a great leader and it was a good movie. While both of those are true, that would be too obvious. No, the movie we saw and that I'm talking about is "The Hobbit."

In "The Hobbit," Gandalf's leadership qualities are evident early on, where he is able to build a dynamic team of diverse individuals and motivate them to take action. He recognizes talents and abilities in Bilbo that prove valuable for their upcoming mission. Similarly, one of our biggest contributions as a leader is to recognize the potential and then influence the growth and development of our future leaders, as Gandalf did with Bilbo. A great leader recognizes the leadership qualities in others and then provides opportunities for those skills to develop. Gandalf says it best: "There is a lot more in Bilbo than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself." Just as we in the Air Force are encouraged to develop our future leaders, Gandalf recognized the potential of leadership in Bilbo and encouraged his development as a future leader. One of our primary duties as a leader or supervisor at any level is to train and prepare those who will one day take our place and the reins of leadership.

The main character and eventual hero of "The Hobbit" is Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo starts off as a quiet and unassuming hobbit, comfortable in his way of life in the Shire. He is not looking for any big changes or adventures. At first Bilbo wanted no part of the journey, but eventually he decided to step outside of his comfort zone, leaving the Shire behind to take on the journey of a lifetime. He questioned his decision and his abilities, as did his traveling partners. But in the end, when the going got the toughest, the least expected character became the hero. Bilbo stepped up to the challenge and stood out among his peers.

We may recognize some of Bilbo's traits in ourselves or others: content in our current job or location. Not wanting to take on a new project, job or assignment. But just as Bilbo overcame his fear of the outside world, we should take the initiative and seek opportunities when they present themselves. Bilbo developed as a leader and discovered capabilities he didn't know he had. Each of us can do the same.

Another valuable trait of a good leader is seen in Bilbo's clever back and forth of riddles with Gollum. What does that have to do with today? Just replace the word clever with innovative. Recently, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Mark Welsh, stated that innovation was one of his three main focus areas in his vision for the future of the Air Force. He describes the Air Force as recruiting innovative people and capitalizing on their inherent creativity to find better ways to solve our nation's security challenges. Bilbo was an innovative problem-solver then, just as we need to be today, as we will face many challenges in the weeks and years to come.

"The Hobbit" was an enjoyable movie in its own right. It was also a great movie to observe many aspects of superb leadership. Just as Bilbo developed his leadership ability, so can we. Be innovative, venture outside of your comfort zone, discover and develop capabilities you didn't know you had. Guide your journey by our core values. Like Gandalf, use your skills to bring people together. Build and encourage our team and determine to accomplish the mission. Finally, be sure you take the time to look for the leadership qualities in others and nurture their growth and development. Build the next generation of leaders. You never know when the humble Hobbit of today could become the hero and leader of tomorrow. "Precious..."