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In digital marketing, you’re not likely to find a Fellowship tasked to destroy The One Ring or a Middle-earth at risk of falling to the Dark Lord Sauron, but if you think there aren’t plenty of lessons to be learned from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy that you can apply to your professional career, you’d be wrong.
While we all want to believe we have the best ideas, it’s important to try to see things from our team members’ perspectives and consider their opinions. Not only does it allow for more creativity and better problem-solving, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll learn something new from your colleagues. The most productive teams I’ve worked with have had a strong emphasis on collaborating to achieve a goal.
Think about the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring. Beings from all different walks of life came together to help achieve what was considered impossible – destroying The One Ring. During the ensuing debate, Boromir argues for harnessing the Ring’s powers to their advantage, because he considers the destruction of the Ring to be an impossible feat. The Council discusses the idea (mainly why it’s terrible) and comes to the conclusion that the only option is for the Ring to be destroyed in Mount Doom. If Boromir had called the shots, and ignored the others’ opinions and concerns, Middle-earth would have become enslaved (and, spoiler alert, Boromir might have kicked the can before being given an opportunity to die a hero).
Being a Leader
Teamwork is important, but what molds an average team into an outstanding team is a great leader; strong leaders provide their teams with the skills and resources they need to succeed. They lift their team members up with them, rather than standing on shoulders to only lift themselves.
Throughout Lord of the Rings there are a few characters that stand out as leaders, both strong and weak. The first, and most obvious, is Gandalf the Grey. The group relies on Gandalf (the hobbits almost too much in my opinion) for guidance, from the Council of Elrond to their journey to Mordor. Shortly after Gandalf falls to the Balrog, the team temporarily falls apart and hope is believed to be lost.
Frodo’s confidence comes from Gandalf, and it is undoubtedly shaken by the wizard’s departure. After Gandalf’s demise, however, he makes a very leader-esque choice to protect the group over himself when he leaves to make the journey to Mordor alone (well, except for Sam, who is the definition of loyal and steadfast and just will not let Frodo be). Aragorn recognizes the wisdom of Frodo’s semi-solo mission choice (the One Ring could corrupt them all and cause them all to turn against one another) and opts to be a leader in another way – managing the quest to find Merry and Pippin. Both Frodo and Aragorn, in these decisions, are acting as leaders by making decisions that are for the greater good rather than for the good of themselves.
At the end of Lord of the Rings (spoiler alert), once The One Ring has been destroyed, Aragorn crowns the four hobbits. Despite playing a significant role in the journey to its destruction, Aragorn does not take the credit he’s due. Instead, as the hobbits bow after being crowned, he tells them, “you bow to no one.” Though king, Aragorn doesn’t place himself above those in the Fellowship. Throughout the journey, he consistently protects those around him and seeks no special treatment. Strong leaders act in the best interest of their team rather than their own self interests.
Your Work Matters
We’ve all gone through the process of doing the tedious, time-consuming tasks and projects, and we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re doing them only because our higher-ups have requested it. There are always projects that seem to us to have little or no value on the surface. That simply isn’t true, however. Those tasks contribute to the overall success of the team and are thus more meaningful than they may seem. While it’s enticing to jump into “larger” or “more strategic” projects believing they’ll have more of an impact, it’s important to realize that we don’t always see the value in the work we’re already doing and perhaps it’s time to take a moment to reevaluate.
While Aragorn is preparing to leave for battle, Éowyn communicates her desire and willingness to fight alongside him. Aragorn tells her to stay, not because he doesn’t believe she can fight (Éowyn squares off against a bunch of wraiths; she is a badass), but because defending the homestead is equally important. When Aragorn says, “the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised,” we’re reminded that we may not always receive the praise for our hard work, but it shouldn’t detract from the overall importance. As Galadriel tells it, “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” No matter your size (or your believed size of your work), change happens because of you and your hard work.
So maybe your risk level isn’t at “setting a trap for Sauron” extremes, but there’s something to be learned from Gimli when some members of the Fellowship are discussing how to protect Frodo from Sauron’s armies as he makes his way to Mount Doom with the Ring. When the plan seems nearly impossible Gimli responds, “Certainty of death, small chance of success, what are we waiting for?” Not every initiative will be a huge success, but memorable marketing comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone. Think outside the box – don’t confine yourself to what’s currently working.