Work is probably the last thing on your mind when you cozy up, pop some popcorn, and settle in to binge-watch your favorite television series. But I recently found myself in a leadership conversation with a CEO who happened to compare a current situation at work to Sons of Anarchy (a show I haven't watched). Immediately, I realized that I've often related current work situations to fictional storylines--using characters to describe bad bosses, heroes to explain brilliant thinking, and conflict to showcase a scenario from an outsider's point of view.
This made me wonder what leadership lessons we could learn from some of the most binge-watch-worthy characters today--their strengths, weaknesses, and story lines that, whether their battling zombies, addiction, or the law, somehow connect us all to certain aspects of our own lives. Here's what I found:
1. Fiona Gallagher from Shameless:
Born into a life of chaos, addiction, and dysfunction, Fiona stepped up as leader of the Gallagher family. Sure, she slips occasionally due to necessity and a blatant lack of parental guidance. But, she understands when she makes wrong decisions, and she owns it. What leadership lessons can we learn from the character? Tenacity. Facing impossible odds, Fiona believes in consistent improvement, despite the setbacks--a character trait synonymous with the world's best leaders.
2. Ray Donovan from Ray Donovan:
A "fixer" for the rich and famous, Ray Donovan is a character that everyone (both his clients and his family) calls in times of trouble. They depend on him in bleak situations--which the show provides plenty. What leadership lessons can we learn from the character? Grit. Often forced into situations that require a strong stomach, a mop, and some creativity Ray understands that every situation--no matter what it is--must find resolve. This is a quality of true leadership--an attitude that says, "I'll figure out a way to make it work."
3. Marty Byrde from Ozark:
While the moral fortitude of this character may have swept him into a life he never imagined, Marty Byrde can teach any leader a lesson in innovation, and keeping a level head--a leadership quality desired by the world's best companies. Seemingly against all odds, and within stressful situations that should lead to his demise, this character always stays calm to find a new solution.
4. Piper Chapman from Orange is The New Black:
Mistakes happen. And even the best leaders make bad decisions or partner with the wrong people. What's interesting and admirable about the Piper Chapman character is that she accepts responsibility for breaking the law, even though she's somewhat of a victim of a simple bad decision. This is a highly admirable quality of leadership--failure might be someone else's fault, but you're in charge of your actions.
5. Walter White from Breaking Bad:
It's not uncommon to hear about that fast-moving company that seems to be taking an industry by storm, and then, they suddenly crash when the truth about their growth is revealed. The character Walter White began with what he thought was a good intention--to provide a better life for his family. But, those intentions were quickly surpassed by ego when his plan surpassed his own expectations. This is a leadership warning sign that no one should forget. Success has consequences, and you need to remain aware of them.
6. Colt from The Ranch:
Sometimes a dream comes to an end. The character named Colt is taught not only a hard lesson in humility, but also has to face a realization that he let down everyone in his life that initially made chasing his dream a reality. Humility is tough to retain for many leaders while they're experiencing success. But, the best lesson any leader can learn from this show is to never forget those people in your life that made chasing your dream possible in the first place.
7. Daenerys Targaryan from Game of Thrones:
Leaders discover power in various ways. Some, it's given to. Some demand it through force and fear. Others buy it. But the best leaders are not those who force themselves into a role, but instead empower the people around them. This character earns respect by giving respect. And, although she easily could guarantee followership through fear, she understands that true leadership happens only when people choose to follow you.
Great fiction is built on the premise of great struggle. It's built on storylines that allow us to watch how others handle problems. And, although our favorite characters and shows may face dramatic situations that we'll never encounter, they all can teach us something...especially about leadership. So, this weekend, don't go home to binge-watch your favorite shows. Go home. Get settled. And do some research. See what you can learn from today's most popular or unpopular characters.