The SAM Effect

Sam and FrodoIt wasn’t long ago that I spoke to a group of association leaders about their ability to get TOUGHER THAN THE TIMES and navigate the economic changes impacting their industry.  In this keynote, I hit on the power of encouragement, but feel I may not have fully conveyed the power of this particular “tool” for success.  In fact, I have thought much about the example – the relationship between Sam and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – I used in that keynote and have committed to writing an entire confidential report on the SAM Effect as it pertains to leadership, and life.

For those who are unfamiliar, in J.RR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”,  Frodo Baggins is the leader charged with the responsibility of saving middle Earth.  While some fantastical stories operate under the “hero” model of ONE person – acting as an island – and saving the day, Tolkien took a much more realistic (and to me, inspiring) approach.  In the series, Frodo is given his own “hero”… his own encourager and support system… in the character Samwise Gamgee, better known as SAM.

The movie, while clearly fiction in its genre, takes a very realistic approach to what it takes to be a leader, a hero.  There were many instances in the trilogy in which it was apparent that Frodo would be willing to walk away – defeated – if it were not for the counsel, support, humility, loyalty and encouragement of his constant companian and “hero partner”:  Sam.  Because of SAM, Frodo was able to reach his full potential.  Without SAM, Frodo would have fallen short.  Isn’t that the same for all of us?  Isn’t this the truth for all great leaders we know?

While we hear MUCH about the “Frodos” of life, we hear far too little about the SAMs and the effect they have on the leader they support.  But, what IS the Sam Effect?  It’s hard to quantify really, because there are so many facets to it.  I guess we can start by defining it as the profound impact that a person can have on a top tier leader … an impact that empowers and enables the leader to grow, flourish and fulfill their mission.

Bette Midler sings a beautiful song that I believe perfectly captures the true VALUE of the SAM Effect in the life of a hero.  Here are a few of the lyrics:

It must have been cold there in my shadow
To never have sunlight on your face
You were content to let me shine, that’s your way
You always walked a step behind
So I was the one with all the glory
While you were the one with all the strength.

Did you ever know that you’re my hero
And everything I would like to be
If I can fly higher than an eagle
You are the wind beneath my wings
It might have appeared to go unnoticed
But I’ve got it all here in my heart
I want you to know I know the truth
Of course I know it
I would be nothing with out you

Indeed, it can be cold for the SAM’s of life, living in the shadow of a hero while their tireless efforts appear to go unnoticed.  YET, I believe our government, our economy, our businesses, our families, our churches and our education system would crumble should our “heroes” suddenly LOSE their own SAM Effect.

How do you know if you are a SAM?  How do you recognize the SAMs in your life?  In your company?  In your organization?  SAMs have some very defining characteristics that equip them to impact outcomes and inspire leaders so effectively.

First they are HUMBLE.  They are focused on others rather than themselves.   They believe the best about others and are not easily offended.

They are natural ENCOURAGERS… affirming and lifting up those around them.

They are LOYAL.

They have a certain respect for AUTHORITY, and honor the position of a leader.

They are WILLING TO SUFFER.  While they may not “lament” all that a mission, vision or purpose is costing them, it is not that they haven’t “counted the cost”.  They have simply committed to move forward ANYWAY.

They are PATIENT and expect that all things worth doing are worth doing well.  They value persistence and commitment.

They are COURAGEOUS.  Yes, they have counted the cost.  They show up, stand up and speak up ANYWAY.

Yes, Frodo is who is cheered as the HERO in the movie, as is often the case in our own world.  But I believe SAM is the greater hero.   What can you do with this information?

First, if you ARE a SAM, I hope this article affirms you, encourages you and inspires you to recognize your true value to the leader or leaders you serve and support.   If you have read this and recognized that you HAVE a SAM in your life, I hope you are now inspired to reach out to them.  Perhaps you can forward them this article, or cut and paste the words of “Wind Beneath My Wings” with a simple note that acknowledges their role in your success.  The SAM Effect is a timeless phenomenon that has always and continues to shape our culture and reality.  Thank you to all the SAMs in my own life.


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