So Many Leadership Lessons from The Walking Dead

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When’s the last time a TV show had your full attention? I’m not talking about something you casually like. I am referring to a program that you look forward to all week. You analyze and re-analyze the latest episode and try to predict what surprises await next week. You might listen to a podcast about it, search the internet for additional insights, and/or watch a show who’s sole focus is to discuss the show you just watched. For me, that show is The Walking Dead.

For those who aren’t watching AMC’s The Walking Dead, this is a show about life after a zombie apocalypse. It is gory and creepy, but the real draw is in the way people adapt and try to survive when the world has fallen apart. The mid-season finale was a few days ago and as I continue to process what happened, a few questions popped up that every leader should consider.

Before you continue, please note that I will be discussing details up to and including Sunday’s Season 5 mid-season episode. If you aren’t caught up, I encourage you to come back to this article in a few days.

How Far Will You Go to Succeed?

This is a constant theme on The Walking Dead. Our heroes have tried to hold onto their moral compass but this is not always easy. We’ve learned through the course of the show that the other survivors are much more dangerous than the zombies. Recently, a place that promotes itself as a sanctuary for those seeking refuge turned out to be a group of cannibals who invite strangers in only to eat them.

Those belonging to this group did not start out this way – time and self-preservation changed their outlook on what is acceptable. They may argue that food is scarce so sacrifices had to be made. As a leader (and proud anti-cannibal), I argue that it is our responsibility to maintain the line between right and wrong…and this line cannot waiver with the circumstances. Before crossing into ethically questionable terrain, we must identify what we are willing to do to win and how much of ourselves we are willing to sacrifice to get there.

How Do You Get What You Need?

After a worldwide disaster where stores are no longer operational and any useful items have been picked over by others, people find creative ways to utilize old materials. Want to fortify your home base which happens to be a church? Dismantle the pews and use them to secure windows and doors. Need to catch fish? Use the mesh liner of a jacket to serve as a net. And don’t get me started on the inventive ways household items can be converted into weapons.

We are not that different from those on The Walking Dead. None of us have unlimited funds with which to purchase everything we desire to complete tasks. Operating on fixed budgets forces us to be innovative and resourceful. When we really concentrate, computer programs may not be as limiting as once assumed. Stretch assignments push us to think beyond are current limitations. Projects can be completed in new and different ways. Start with your and the team’s imaginative skills before throwing money at the problem.

Do you act as if today matters?

In a heartbreaking scene, our heroine Beth is speaking with the leader of another group. This other group is operating on the false assumption that help is on its way. The zombies, they believe, are an isolated problem and it is their duty to keep the peace with any means possible until the military saves them. While they are trying to justify their immoral actions, Beth explains that you are who you are and there is no “when-this-is-all-over.”

We cannot conduct ourselves with the idea that next time we’ll be different. Live up to your own standards every time you react. If you know that you are doing something wrong, don’t try to validate. Change now. As Beth said, there is no next time.

We all have zombies in our lives that are slowly trying to get us. Deadlines, impending projects, and all other sources of stress are out there. But like The Walking Dead, the people around us can be more dangerous than our personal zombies. Surround yourself with trusted allies (like Michonne and Daryl) and behave accordingly (unlike Eugene). Avoid succumbing to convenient ethics (like Dawn and Gareth). Works towards constant self-development (like Carol and Beth). And whatever you do, when Rick Grimes tell you to stop running, stop.

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