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As A Leader, Do You Look Ahead OR Do You Look Behind?

by Jun Marfori

In the Lord of the Rings saga (by JJR Tolkien), Gandalf, a wizard (accounted as the wisest of the Maiarorder) returns to the company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield, heir to the Kingdom under the mountain. Gandalfhad been guiding, counselling and hence wisely “leading” the company. The day before, Gandalfleft the company and wandered, to ponder and be solitary. Gandalf returns just in time to save the company from imminent death at the hands of trolls.

As they are liberated, they journey once again, and this brief dialogue excerpt ensues:

“Where did you go to, if I may ask?” said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.

“To look ahead,” said he.

“And what brought you back in the nick of time?”

“Looking behind,” said he.

Notwithstanding the actual context of the dialogue and story, it is interesting to reflect this exchange from the perspective of genuine leadership, which combines vision, and a shared journey with those one leads.

Gandalf “leaves” the company behind as he pursues the vision and path ahead, forging and exploring as true leaders do, in search of the desired future state. In true character, though, leaders never really leave their team members, and just at the right moment, return to walk and accompany their team in a shared journey, often a bearer of clarity, redemption, and victory.


What leaders do we wish to be known by? What traits will differentiate us from those who lead with less character? Do we have vision, and the capability to see beyond today’s challenges and paths – seeing what others fail to anticipate and visualize? And yet, in the same breath, how do we ensure that our reassuring presence, our appropriate guidance and counsel, mark our affirmation of a shared journey of challenges, and also victories and wins. May we desire this combination of leaders who “look ahead” and also never fail to “look behind!”

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