Leadership analysis of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

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Content page

List of figures, table & charts 1

1. Synopsis of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” 3

1.1 Movie background 3

1.2 Role introduction 4

1.3 The role of Frodo, Aragorn and Gandalf as leaders 5

2. Leadership roles and relative incidents 5

2.1 Leadership behaviors in the movie 5

2.2 Leadership characteristics 10

3. Gandalf- Effectiveness of leadership 11

3.1 Literature review of Fiedler (1967) contingency model 11

3.2 Gandalf ‘s leadership analysis under Fiedler (1967) contingency model 13

4. Aragorn- Charismatic leadership analysis 15

4.1 Literature review of charismatic leadership 15

4.2 Aragon ‘s leadership analysis by Conger and Kanungo (1987)’s model 17

5. Frodo- Leader Directiveness 18

5.1 Literature review 18

5.2 Case analysis under House and Mitchell (1974)’s Path-Goal Theory 19

Reference list 22

1. Synopsis of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”


Figure 1.0 Promotional poster of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

1.1 Movie background

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” released in 2003 was the last film of the “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy after the first two films “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers” which were released on 2001 and 2002 respectively. Directed by Sir Peter Jackson and based on one of the most greatest adventure tale written J.R.R. Tolkien in 1956 who is honored by many readers as the Father of Modern Fantasy (Berardinelli 2010) with the same name alike the films, the wonderful film trilogy describes a young Hobbit, namely Frodo’s being entrusted to destroyed an master ring that controlled the other nine rings representing the supreme ruling power with the help of some elites from other races to form a mission oriented team to crack down the lord of the dark power Sauron’s conspiracy to conquer the middle earth (Tolkien 1985). The 201 minutes adventure, action and fantasy story of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” as the concluding film out of the trilogy, continues the storyline in consistence with the previously two films to destroy the lord of the rings and summon the different races in the alliance in the middle earth to stand up in union against the conquer from Sauron’s army in the middle earth before the ring could be destroyed by Frodo.

1.2 Role introduction

Frodo is the leading actor in the “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, he began the adventure with three other hobbits: Sam (acted by Sean Astin), Frodo’s cousins, Pippin (acted by Billy Boyd) and Merry (acted by Dominic Monaghan). And later the team was joint by five members from other races: Human Aragorn (acted by Viggo Mortensen) the an heir-at-law to the throne of Gondor, Boromir (acted by Sean Bean), Gandalf, the wizard and the most knowledge person in the team, the elf Legolas (acted by Orlando Bloom), and the dwarf Gimli (acted by John Rhys-Davies).

1.3 The role of Frodo, Aragorn and Gandalf as leaders

Three major leaders that could be easily identified in the series of the movie are Frodo and Gandalf. According to the storyline of the first film “The Fellowship of the Ring”, the team was broken up into two smaller teams for two different missions: a two person team to destroy the rings and later joint by Smeagol, a Hobby-kind whose mind had been consumed by the ring, this mission team is under the leadership of Frodo; the rest members formed up another group which was a more loose team and many of them are in some situations took the leadership roles but in my opinion Gandalf was more close to the leadership position in provide instructions and influences with his leadership based on his comprehensive knowledge and capability as a powerful wizard which could not be found in any other team members. And as for Aragorn, the king referred in the name of the film, was regaining his leadership by motivating his people to fight against the powerful enemy and he himself showed impressive leadership characteristics as the story extends.

2. Leadership roles and relative incidents

2.1 Leadership behaviors in the movie

Below are the major incidents that are in relation with the leadership practices of the three leaders as stated above: Gandalf and the ring holder Frodo and the Aragorn.

Scenario No. Time line Incident Description

1 25:40 Sam try to kill Smeagol because he heard Smeagol whispering to himself to kill them, but Frodo stop him because they cannot reach Mordor without Smeagol ‘s guide

2 01:04:58 Sam, Frodo’s follower, want to help Frodo to carry the ring because it is a burden to Frodo and he want to shared the responsibility, but previously warned by Smeagol about Sam’s desire to take away the ring and Frodo drive Sam away when Sam offer his help

3 02:22:37 After the monster spider stabbed Frodo and he was taken by the orc into the enemy base, Sam came to save Frodo. And when Frodo woke up and found that the ring was gone, Sam handed over the ring to Frodo and explained that he just keep the ring for the sake of safety. But Frodo took the ring and said, “The Ring is my burden, It will destroy you Sam. ”

Table 1.0 Incidents regarding Frodo’s leadership

Scenario No. Time line Incident Description

4 00:33:03 Pippin peep Sauron’s plan that Minas Tirith city of the Gondor kingdom may under attack by Sauron in the near future through crystal eye and Gandalf insisted that the Minas Tirith city should be warned irrespective of the king of Rohan Kingdom’s strong objection because of the hatred between the two kings and he later ride to Minas Tirith by himself

5 00:30:31 Gandalf went to warned Gondor’s king of the coming war and advised him to send signal for help from Rohan Kingdom, but Gondor’s king refuse the offer because didn’t want to see the return of the king happen which means that he need to handover the throne, and Gandalf left without too much persuasion effort.

6 00:37:59 Gandalf and Pippin were watching the quiet and seemingly peaceful night of Gondor at the edge of the war, when Pippin asked “Is there any hope, Gandalf, for Frodo and Sam?” Gandalf replied with “There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope.” And he continued to analyze how ready and strong the enemy is and introduced the most powerful enemy beside Sauron, the Witch-king of Angmar had been activated who was said to be killed by no living man

7 02:07:47 When the orc army was striking the last door of the inner room of the castle in Minas Tirith city which the human race tried to protect under the leadership by Gandalf, Pippin was hopeless like the rest of the people inside the room waiting to be killed as he said “I didn’t think it would end this way” and Gandalf’s reply was that “Death is just another path” and he continue to describe a beautiful and peaceful scenery of a far green country which comfort Pippin with no fear to death.

8 02:25:08 When the team of Frodo was getting close to their destination, the Mount Doom, they were stopped by the Orcs army which is too strong compared to the human army, and Gandalf just summoned the team member and stated the situation but did not make any suggestions, and then Aragorn suggested that they can motivate the army and attack the enemy so as to make a distraction and create opportunity for Frodo and then all the member agreed with the suggestion.

Table 2.0 Incidents regarding Gandalf ‘s leadership

Scenario No. Time line Incident Description

9 01:17:29 The king of the elf came to Aragorn to give him the Sword of Elendil to summon the death army by recovering the throne of the Gondor. Though Aragorn had the least wishes to do this, he decided to follow the suggestion of the king of elf and headed for the location of the dead army as he said, I give hope to men, I keep none for myself.

10 02:25:34 As Frodo approached to the destination but stopped by the Sauron forces, and when Gandalf said that, I have send him (Frodo) to death, Aragon disagreed and said that, no there is still hop for Frodo and he continued to explained his idea that they can gather all their arm strength to draw out the army of Sauron. But his suggestion was immediately disagreed by other people because there was little hope for victory against Sauron army, Aragon explained that, no for ourselves but to keep the eye of Sauron fixed on them and thus create chance for Frodo.

11 02:32:05 When the alliance army was in front of the wall of the dark force base to try to make a distraction of the orc army, but the orc army was apparently more powerful than their army could fight against, under this situation, Aragon stood forward and addressed an emotional and encouraging speech in front of the human army to motivate them:

I see in your eyes…

the same fear that

would take the heart of me.

A day may come when

the courage of Men fails…

when we forsake our friends

and break all bonds of fellowship.

But it is not this day!


This day we fight!

By all that you hold dear,

on this good earth.

I bid you stand!

Men of the west!

Table 3.0 Incidents regarding Aragorn ‘s leadership

2.2 Leadership characteristics

During the 1920s to 1950s, various studies and researches had been dedicated to isolate factors that contribute to a leader’s effectiveness through which the trait leadership theory was developed and become popular research topic (Hodgetts & Hegar 2008). In a simple understanding, most leadership trait theories share the common fundamental that leaders are born with certain qualities that make them different from the rest. Ralph Stogdill (1948), an eminent researcher in this area, found out that there was a set of leadership characteristics actually distinguish leaders from followers and most importantly it also help to differentiate effective leaders from ineffective leaders. Below with the help of Stogdill (1948)’s trait theory let’s examine some of the leadership traits of the three indentified leaders as demonstrated in this movie.

Leaders Leadership characteristics

Frodo Persistence, Ability to command, Emotionally immature, Autocratic, Eagerness to accept responsibility

Gandalf Responsibility, Ability to command, Influential, Self confident, Task oriented, Task competence, Superior intelligence

Aragorn Charismatic, Visionary, Honored social status, Optimism, Unwilling to accept responsibility, Capacity to motivate people, Physical vitality and stamina

Table 4.0 Leadership traits of Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn

3. Gandalf- Effectiveness of leadership

3.1 Literature review of Fiedler (1967) contingency model


Figure 2.0 Fielder’s Leadership Model of situational contingency

Source: (Fiedler 1967, p146)

Fiedler (1967) through studies concluded that the effectiveness of leadership depend on the given situations in three dimensions. The first dimension is the nature of task or task structure which measures the extent to which the tasks could be clearly spelled out and people are held responsible. The second dimension of leadership effectiveness is the relationship between leaders and team members. To measure the relationship between leaders and members, Fiedler (1967) developed the technique of LPC (Least Preferred Co-worker) which are ratings made by members of the group to those with whom they least like to work. And the LPC scale has been of wide use even in today’s researches in leadership (Koontz &Weihrich 2008). The third dimensions is the position power or power of the leader which could be obtained leader’s personality and skills or authorized power given by the company (Hamilton 2008, p289).

Two major kind of leaderships were identified by Fiedler (1967)’s to support his theory, task-oriented and relations oriented leadership. The task oriented leadership focuses more on task to be performed rather than on the interpersonal aspect of the leadership and the task oriented leadership behaviors includes: adaptability to the situation, envisioning, setting high performance standards, risk taking, environmental interpretation (Saxena & Awasthi 2010, p33-34). And on the other hand a relationship oriented leadership involves the building relationship with the followers using effective leadership attitudes and practices. Techniques in a relationship oriented leadership include alignment of people, mobilization, emotional support and mentoring (Saxena & Awasthi 2010, p35). And thus one of the conclusions that made by Fiedler (1967) was that both task oriented leadership and relations oriented leadership could be effective depending on the situational factors and the interactions existing between the leaders and the team members.

3.2 Gandalf ‘s leadership analysis under Fiedler (1967) contingency model

Gandalf’s leadership displayed in my opinion in this movie is an effective leadership in my opinion which has been in correspondence with the analytical results with the help of the Fiedler (1967) contingency model which will be elaborated as followings.

In term of leadership style between the options of task oriented leadership and relations oriented leadership, Gandalf ‘s leadership could be classified as the first kind for the two major reasons. On one hand, Gandalf had done an excellent job in environmental interpretation by analyzing the situations with little clues, for example in Scenario No.4 as stated earlier in this study, actually when Pippin peep Sauron’s plan through crystal eye he just saw a white tree burning and Gandalf actually managed to relate this scenario to the Minas Tirith city of the Gondor kingdom and apprehended it as the possibility that the city may under attack by Sauron in the near future. On the other hand, as described in Scenario No. 6 when Gandalf and Pippin were watching the quiet and seemingly peaceful night of Gondor at the edge of the war, when Pippin asked “Is there any hope, Gandalf, for Frodo and Sam?” Gandalf replied with “There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope”, and there are many other similar scenarios in which when his followers were discouraged or hopeless and need some spiritual support, Gandalf was reacting quite straight by admitting the crucial fact though he did manage to provide a good solutions to solve the problems eventually by focusing on the task itself. So it would be rather appropriate to classify Gandalf’s leadership behaviors into the demonstration of a task oriented leadership.

In term of task structure, it should be safe to conclude that the task is well structured because on one hand the goal of the task could be clearly spelt out as the target of the all the two small teams are clear, Frodo’s team is to take the one ring to the Mount Doom to utilize the volcano in which the ring was originally made to destroy it and the goal of the other team under the leadership of Gandalf was to fight against the invasion of the Sauron’s dark forces and at the same time strike for time for Frodo to achieve his mission. And in term of leadership position power, it should be fair to say that Gandalf’s empowerment could be categorized as strong due to the authorization from the kings such as the king of the Rohan Kingdom and the king of the elf and also his empowerment also came from his personal capabilities as a while coaler wizard. And in term of relationship between leaders and members, though LPC tests could not be done to the team members in the movie which is not real, but from the previous two films we can see that though some of the team members would not listen to Gandalf’s instruction and order as they could easily attempted by the lord of the ring and there aren’t too much conversation between Gandalf and other team members besides the Hobbies but the relations between Gandalf and the team members are good as we can see the respect and willingness to follow him. So here we can assume that the leader member relation is good in this movie.

So using Fiedler (1967) contingency model, we can conclude that Gandalf is performing an effective leadership because a task oriented or low LPC leadership style would be the most effective due to the situation contingency which is favorable to leaders (good leader-member relations, structure task and strong leader position power) which has reconfirmed the Fiedler (1967) contingency model regarding the choose of effective leadership.

4. Aragorn- Charismatic leadership analysis

4.1 Literature review of charismatic leadership

The founder of the charismatic leadership, Max Weber (1968) classified leadership styles into three kinds: legal-rational leadership, traditional leadership and charismatic which was the center of his study, and he also provided his definition of charisma as “a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities (Weber 1968, p241). Base on the traditional charismatic leadership Conger and Kanungo (1987) developed a more precise charismatic leadership in a behavioral perspective which could be conceptualized in a three stages model as displayed in the table below.



Table 5.0 Discrepant factors of charismatic and non-charismatic leaders

Source: (Conger & Kanungo 1998)

Below analysis will be done with the help of Conger and Kanungo (1987)’s model to Aragon’s role of charismatic leadership.

4.2 Aragon ‘s leadership analysis by Conger and Kanungo (1987)’s model

The two incidents that involved the charismatic leadership of Aragon which happened in the climax of the movie have been summarized in scenario 10 and 11, by referring back to Conger and Kanungo (1987)’s model these two incidents actually show the three step of Aragon’s charismatic leadership. In the first step which is sensitivity to the environmental context, we can see that Aragon was strongly opposing the status quo and he demonstrated the ability to perceive and predict variations….and altering their behaviors to respond more effectively to the needs of goals (Kenny & Zacarro 1983). And in the second step, Aragon focused on the articulation of future visions and motivation to lead by explaining his plan to make a distraction and create chances which will be risky but he strongly advocate this plan. And in the last step, when faced by fear of death as it seemed that there was no hope for victory Aragon showed his charismatic leadership by giving passionate advocacy irrespective of the great personal risk which motivated the alliance army to stand firm and fight hard without fear. So in the point, conclusion could be made that Aragon in these two incidents had showed his charismatic leadership which was effective.

5. Frodo- Leader Directiveness

5.1 Literature review

Abundant studies (Likert 1961; Vroom & Yetton 1973) have shared the result that the extent to which the subordinates get involved in the decision making process is an influential determinant of leadership effectiveness. Deep research on the different leader behaviors regarding different extent of employee involvement had been done by House and Mitchell (1974) in the Path-Goal Theory. According to House and Mitchell (1974), leadership could generate motivations to employees by defining goals, clarifying path, removing obstacles and offering support to achieve team productivity. And in the Path-Goal theory that House and Mitchell (1974) proposed which has been illustrated in the figure below, there are four major components in the model: leader behaviors, subordinate characteristics, task characteristics and motivation. The four identified leader behaviors (not confined to these four behaviors) could be effective in motivating employees and achieve goals depending on the contingency of subordinate characteristic and task characteristics.


Figure 3.0 House and Mitchell’s Path-Goal (1974) Theory

Source: Northouse 2010

For example, under the contingency that task demands are ambiguous or the procedures, policies and other corporate setting are not clearly defined and set, a directive leader style could be the most effective in motivating subordinates by offering corresponding guidance and care for the followers (Pennings 1986).

5.2 Case analysis under House and Mitchell (1974)’s Path-Goal Theory

In the movie “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, Frodo was in charge of the small team with other two team members, Sam (Frodo’s cousins) and Smeagol, a Hobby-kind whose mind had been consumed by the ring to achieve the goal of reaching the Mount Doom and destroy the one ring. This is a temporary team with clear goal but unclear team rules and policies and also there are a lot of disagreement and disputes between Sam and Smeagol, under this situation Frodo adopted an directive leadership style which could be seen in scenario 2 and 3 and it is best described by his word that “The Ring is my burden, It will destroy you Sam”. Another actual factor that determined that Frodo could not share the burden and decision making power to the other two team member is that the ring would influent their mind and seduce them greatly and lead to failure of the mission. So in this situation, it could be concluded that Frodo’s directive leadership was to some extent effective though not necessarily the most effective.

There are some better alternatives that Frodo could have considered and made. For example in scenario 2, when Sam want to help Frodo to carry the ring because it is a burden to Frodo and he want to shared the responsibility, but previously warned by Smeagol about Sam’s desire to take away the ring and Frodo drive Sam away when Sam offer his help. By reviewing this scenario, a better alternative for Frodo to deal with this case would be to listen to both of the team members regarding to the different view of points rather than listen to only one party which means that when Smeagol first warned Frodo of Sam’s conspiracy to take away the ring, Frodo could have made a confirmation from Sam by using some techniques or to ask both party to speak out clearly about their suspicion or different view of points. And speaking in the results, it is clear that Sam only want to offer help rather than take away the ring so Frodo had made a mistake and if in that case Sam decided to walk away, then the story could end in another result as we can see that when Frodo reached the Mount Doom, Smeagol actually tried to kill him and take away the ring.  

Reference list

Berardinelli, J. 2010, Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring, accessed on 16th Dec 2010, [online] available: http://www.reelviews.net/php_review_template.php?identifier=94

Conger, J. A. & Kanungo, R. N. 1987, Toward a behavioral theory of charismatic leadership in organizational settings. Academy of management Review, 12, 637-647

Conger, J. A. & Kanungo, R. N. 1998, Charismatic leadership in organizations, Sage Publications, Inc

Fiedler, F. E. 1967, A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness, New York: McGraw-Hill, p146

Hamilton, C. 2008, Communicating for Results: A Guide for Business and the Professions, 8th edition, Belmont: Thomson Higher Education, p289

House, R. J. & Mitchell, R. R. 1974, Path-goal theory of leadership, Journal of Contemporary Business, 3, 81-97

Hodgetts, R. M. & Hegar, K. W. 2008, Modern Human Relations at Work, 10th edition, Mason: Thomson South-Western

Koontz, H. &Weihrich, H. 2008, Essentials Of Management, 8th edition, New Delhi: Ta McGraw- Hill

Kenny, P. A. & Zacarro, S. J. 1983, An estimate of variance due to traits in leadership, Journal of Applied Psychology, 68, 678-685

Likert, R. 1961, New patterns of management, New York: McGraw-Hill

Northouse, P. G. 2010, Leadership: Theory and Practice, 5th edition, New Delho: SAGE Publications, Inc

Pennings, J. M. 1986, Decision making: an organizational behavior approach, New York: Markus Wiener Publishing, Inc

Saxena & Awasthi 2010, Leadership, Eastern economy edition, New Delhi: PHI Learning Private Limited, p33-34

Stogdill, R. M. 1948, “Personal Factors Associated with Leadership: A Survey of the Literature,” Journal of Psychology, vol. 25, 1948, pp. 35-71

Tolkien, J. R. R. 1985, Return of the King, New York: Ballantine Books, p544

Vroom, V. H. & Yetton, P. W. 1973, Leadership and decision-making, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press

Weber, M. 1968, Economy and Society: An outline of Interpretive Sociology, New York: Bedminster, p241

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