AMC's "The Walking Dead" is a problematic show. Characters make inexplicable decisions. Nobody ever seems to say, "Hey, instead of walking everywhere, what if we rode bikes?" But there's one thing everybody seems to agree on: Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan rocks the house. Love him or hate him, Negan is a leader who gets things done against all odds, and he embodies some of the qualities entrepreneurs or leaders of small businesses need to survive.
He's charismatic. He swaggers. He does the dirty work himself instead of relying on minions. Sure, he's been known to beat people who break the rules to death with Lucille, his barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat, and he demands that his people kneel before him like he's some sort of deity, but he's actually a really effective leader. Fact is, leaders come in all forms, and we can learn something from almost all of them. So let's see what we can learn from Negan.
First of all, if you're outside the tribe, it doesn't matter if you disapprove of a leader's methods. Only two things matter. First, does the leader make his people better? In Negan's case, absolutely. He's taken a ragtag group of survivors and turned them into a brutally efficient army and community.
Second, are the leader's methods justifiable in the current environment? In our world, Negan would be a maniac who'd be in handcuffs in a day, but in his post-apocalypse world of flesh-eating zombies, where the only thing that counts is keeping your people alive, his methods make perfect sense.
I've written about the concept of the Rare Breed, and I'm going to come back to it from time to time, including now. The Rare Breed is someone who leans into personality traits that for most people are crushing flaws--obsessiveness, hot temper, narcissism--and turns them into powerful leadership assets. 99 percent of people can't manage that trick; Rare Breeds can.
Negan is a Rare Breed. Let's unpack four ways this one-of-a-kind character turns his personal vices into leadership virtues, and look at how you can do the same--without, you know, burning your people's faces off with a hot iron when they're late for a meeting
1. Use overconfidence to take away fear.
Negan's speeches to his people, the Saviors, are high points. He's hypnotic and motivating, firing his people up with his own confidence that they can overcome any obstacle in this scary new world. Because he believes it, his people believe it. If Negan isn't afraid, then he must be on top of things, which means they can do their jobs.
Overconfidence in the wrong situation is dangerous, but when you bring it in the right place at the right time, you inspire your people to believe they can move mountains. Refine the words you'll say, the values you'll support and the actions you'll use to back it all up, and then rally the troops.
2. Too much charisma can be an advantage.
Leaning back with a grin, thumbs hooked in belt loops, Negan can be pure charm...until he's not. But it's the contrast that's powerful. The guy's a killer, but he's smart. He knows that to win hearts and minds, you've got to blend a little rage and blunt force trauma with a lot of kindness, understanding, and "Attaboy." He does it masterfully and gets people on his side.
Nobody wants to think of themselves as a manipulator, but all leaders do it. What makes manipulation benign is transparency and purpose. It's cruel to yank someone's chain, but if you're open about trying to fire up your team and clear that what you want to them to accomplish is good for everyone, they'll back you. Understand what motivates you and your followers, and be sure they see clear reasons behind what you're asking of them, and you'll earn their empathy and respect.
3. Give your ego and people a purpose...and a brand.
One of the signatures of the Saviors is that in the field, each of them says, "I'm Negan." Negan's the first post-apocalypse brand! His need to be The Man reflects a monstrous ego, but it also gives even the lowest Savior on the totem pole a reason to keep going. They're not just scrounging for food and terrorizing other communities; they're saving people, bringing order, and preserving civilization. Who wouldn't get fired up at being part of that?
Most leaders have healthy egos. But if that ego fuels a grand vision, and you can make your people feel like they're a part of bringing that vision to life, they'll line up behind you. What's your vision--as Seth Godin writes, your BHAG, your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal? Don't keep a lid on it. Share it. Evangelize for it. Have a plan to bring it into being, and don't back down from it.
4. Don't ask your people to do anything you won't do yourself.
One of my favorite leadership maxims is, "Leaders go first." Meaning, leaders don't ask their people to do anything they're not willing to do themselves. I think that's what makes Negan so compelling. So many TV and movie villains have lackeys do their dirty jobs. Not Negan. He does his own killing, maiming and torturing. Okay, he does it because he's a vengeful sadist, but nobody's perfect. I'm not judging.
The point is, if you're hungry to take down a competitor or disrupt an industry, don't delegate anything until you've gotten your hands dirty first. Make the calls. Put in the long hours. Sweep the floors. Let your people see you give your blood and sweat and guts before you ask them for anything, and you won't have to ask.