Frank Underwood lies, steals, and blackmails. He pushes people into oncoming trains, destroys reputations that threaten his own, builds up when it’s in his self interest and tears down when it isn’t. Yet he’s on the fast track to reach the most powerful job in the land: the U. S. Presidency.
As the popular protagonist of the wildly popular Netflix series House of Cards, actor Kevin Spacey’s vainglorious political character is astonishingly fruitful while displaying the sort of deliciously Machiavellian scheming where ruthlessness and cunning always – not some of the time, not just a few times, but always – wins out over integrity and civility.
Still, don’t try this at home.
Yet. . . there are some read-between-the-lines lessons on business one can take from our favorite bad boy politician to improve leadership in business and not be tossed in prison for life. Especially Underwood’s finely tuned skill of relationship building.
1. Relationships Are Everything
Some relationships just happen. Most have to be cultivated with intention. Perhaps Underwood’s best skill is first establishing and then intentionally building relationships to his benefit.
Relationships are vital everywhere, not just for egomaniacal politicians. Respect is at the heart of building the kind of business relationships that pay dividends in the long run. It is the glue that holds together the functioning of teams and partnerships, whether it is boss to staff, peer to peer, internally or externally.
Remember this: relationships matter.
2. Develop a Supportive Core Team
An organization’s success isn’t dependent on its idea or product. It’s dependent on the team. Handpick your inner circle and take great pain to do so. Know well the playing field and put pieces in place that will make your business competitive. A team must contribute to a common goal and have the right skillset to help.
An Underwood skill is valuing individuals and what they bring to the table. His goals were self-centered. Yours will be at the behest of the business.
3. Know Your Staff’s Strengths, Weakness, and Motivations
Do everything possible to identify the strengths and weaknesses of hires before they are hired, even though that’s a difficult proposition at times.
Underwood understands clearly that in politics, peers have ulterior motives. Knowing your staff gives you the leg up on knowing how to motivate them and how to get the best out of everyone, since all staff members are different in skill and temperament, and value different aspects of their jobs.
4. See Everyone As Potential Allies
Building long-lasting relationships are one thing. Diplomacy is another. It is always the best way to go. While Underwood’s way is manipulation, try and understand the motives and ambitions of everyone around you and carefully move forward. Putting out short-term fires is fine, but make long-term goals the top priority even when it comes to dealing with difficult.
5. Having a Plan B Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Trust Plan A
When things aren’t working to your liking, it is best to be flexible. Change. Being able to effectively control the conversation and switch up a bit is diplomacy at its highest and most artful. It also requires great skill, as Underwood often displays and makes look so easy. Of course, when you’re blackmailing someone that always helps. (Not that you would.)
6. Don’t Lose Sight of the Long-Term Goal
Keep emotions at bay. One of Spacey’s gifts as an actor is his stoic facial expressions, which plays out well when plastered on the face of a character whose entire life has been one big calculation. Emotions can help at times but usually it’s best to put goals ahead of emotions. Keep the end goal in mind, whatever that may be. Move on by making decisions based on what will get you closer to your long-term goal.
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