Drawing Leadership Lessons from the Harry Potter Movies

In watching the conclusion of the Harry Potter epic last weekend (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2), I was struck by a number of themes that have become visible during the 10-year evolution of the J.K. Rowling book-based movie series.  As Scott Eblin of the Next Level Leadership blog has written a wonderful column on the servant-leadership ideas inherent in Harry’s story,  I’d like to reflect on leadership lessons visible in the making of the movies themselves.

(Director David Yates gives direction to Daniel Radcliffe on the Harry Potter set). Matching management talent to the evolving needs of the material was a key element in the success of the movie series.

Leadership Lessons

These leadership points stand out to me:

Hire for “talent” … then provide them with all the support they need
I wrote several months ago about the unique challenge of casting three 10-year old leads on whose shoulders would rest the fortunes of a world-wide, multi-billion dollar franchise.  While few of us will have recruiting challenges of this exact type, all leaders face the daily challenge of providing support that enables employees to succeed.  For the HP movies, I imagine this was providing the right support structure (directors, coaches, tutors, etc. – in addition to the actors’ parents and extended families, of course) to provide protection as the children grew up before the world’s eyes.  In other organizations, this is translated as leaders providing appropriate support and resources (such as Employee Assistance Programs), paying attention to employee needs (such as coaching and professional growth needs), “running interference,” and serving as “agents” for employee success.

Communicate the vision … and get others to buy in
Right from the beginning, the HP movies attracted a veritable “who’s who” of esteemed U.K. actors (e.g.,  Maggie Smith, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, etc.).  Importantly,  even those in the smallest “bit parts” were aligned with the tone and style of the material – i.e., they “bought in” to the vision and their performances, imbued with this spirit, brought a rich flavor to even the tiniest nooks and crannies of the films.  In much the same way, employees at all levels extend and support the organization’s vision in their daily work – or not – in ways that are ultimately felt and seen by the customers.

As project needs evolve, so do talent needs. Adapt accordingly.
The author’s material evolved dramatically over the course of the 7-book series, from innocent childhood fantasy to darker themes of struggle, sacrifice, and the ultimate battle between good and evil.  The producers wisely hired directors for each film whose talents were aligned with the “lightness” or “gravity” of the material.  So, too, do products and projects evolve – and matching talent appropriately at each stage of a product/project’s life is critical to success (such as moving from those with creative vision to launch products to those with operational skills to deliver and maintain product quality day after day).

Be patient … but have urgency
At different points, delays — such as moving a release date from  Christmas to the summer) came about to allow technical or other needs to be attended to – all while keeping careful watch over the fact that the actors were growing up rapidly regardless of filming delays (i.e., they didn’t want to take so long that they ended up with 30-year olds playing teenage parts).  In much the same way, leaders need the patience to delay launches until product design/quality is right … but  not to wait so long on “perfecting” a product that the window of opportunity in the marketplace is lost.


I imagine that all involved with the Harry Potter films must take great pride and satisfaction in having contributed to something that will have lasting value for succeeding generations.  May we all have – and take advantage of – such opportunities in our own daily work.

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