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Modeling Leadership in Tolkien’s Fiction: Craft and Wisdom, Gift and Task

Abstract

This article contributes to conversations about the “Hitler problem” in leadership ethics and the use of literary narratives in leadership studies by proposing Tolkien’s fiction as a model of leadership. Resonating with Aristotelian and Thomistic themes, these narratives present leadership as more a matter of practical wisdom than of morally neutral craft, or, more precisely, they model leadership as a matter of using craft for the sake of wisdom’s ends. Those ends become intelligible in terms of a triadic account of human action that depicts it as a response to a gift or call. I argue that this model of leadership suggests that Hitler-type leaders are corrupted leaders, rather than partially excellent leaders or no leaders at all. I also maintain that these insights demonstrate the fruitfulness for leadership studies of approaching literary narratives in something like the way scientists treat their models.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary for the sabbatical during which this article was written; to Fr. Rothschild of St. Dominic Savio Catholic Church for the generous offer of office-space for the sabbatical; and to the faculty colloquium at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary for lively conversation and helpful comments on an earlier draft. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the blind reviewers for this journal, whose insightful comments enabled me to improve this paper significantly.

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Correspondence to Randall G. Colton.

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Colton, R.G. Modeling Leadership in Tolkien’s Fiction: Craft and Wisdom, Gift and Task. J Bus Ethics 163, 401–415 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-4052-6

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Keywords

  • Leadership
  • Tolkien
  • Ethics