4 Leadership Lessons from The Walking Dead

In spite of how loathsome he is, Negan can teach all of us some important lessons in leadership - lessons that we can even use sans zombies.

4 Leadership Lessons from The Walking Dead

Posted Friday December 16th, 2016 by in Analysis + Strategy.

Negan and Lucille. They're like Bonnie and Clyde, only bloodier. One thing's for sure: I'd opt to encounter just about any other duo throughout infamy besides Negan and Lucille. However, from within the depths of their apocalyptic relationship and the havoc it has wreaked on The Walking Dead, another theme has emerged: Negan is one hell of a leader. In fact, I would argue that Negan is a better leader than Rick, at the risk of being highly unpopular with every Walking Dead fan including yours truly.

However, in the spirit of healthy comparisons, let's explore 4 leadership lessons from The Walking Dead that indicate that Negan may in fact be the superb leader - no matter what we think of him as a human being:

  1. The greatest leaders have the largest vision. You have to admire what Negan has put together: Not simply a compound with what appears to be multiple security measures and personnel systems, but an intricate web of communities held together by a concrete set of symbiotic rules. Like it or not, Negan thinks big, and has put together the infrastructure for a grand mission - bringing "civilization" back to the broken world. Compare that with Rick, who was content to build a friendly, self-sustaining community somewhere in the woods of Georgia. To the big vision go the followers!
  2. The best leaders inspire specific actions from their people. Negan is able not only to inspire action, but also to inspire direct, intended action by his people. One could argue that he does this through brute, dictatorial force, but nonetheless he has persuaded a massive following to join him. To be honest, I'm not sure that his followers stay with him only out of fear. In fact, Negan himself makes it a point to highlight how he rewards individuals who acquiesce to his rules and fall in line (and we see evidence of that with many of his followers who seem to enjoy living under Negan's rule). Although his tactics don't seem to bode well for pretty women (his harem is of course appalling) or those who stand up to him (Exhibit A: Brains splattered in this season's first episode), he seems hell-bent on following his own rules and he certainly inspires others to follow them, too. On the other hand, Rick's story is one of constant struggle to achieve unwavering dominance. Think back through all of the communities he has entered and failed to establish a clear and obvious hierarchy. For some reason, he always seems to inspire some, but leave others to question his authority.
  3. The leaders who overcome adversity always follow through. It appears that much of Negan's success hinges on a sometimes-grotesque amount of follow-through. Time and again on The Walking Dead, we see people set intelligent expectations for themselves, fail to follow through, and pay the price (Exhibit B: Carl's empty eye socket, the price he paid for allowing his idiot-shooter to live. Would Negan have made the same exception?). Rick and his ideals are at fault for a whole host of missteps, many of which directly resulted in death and dismemberment, but not necessarily in that order. His struggle with establishing boundaries and keeping them is almost a tired tune at this point, which might leave some fans (like me) to wonder why Rick never decided to take an aggressive stance and follow through with brutal action (oh, that's right, he did - and got blindsided by Negan. Bad reconnaissance, dude!) Negan, on the other hand, always follows through (Exhibit C: Hot iron to the face!). His follow-through has seemed to help him overcome any struggle that he may have faced in establishing unmatched leadership.
  4. The leaders who win are the leaders who are willing to adapt. It's clear that nowhere in Negan's playbook existed the arrival of Carl on his doorstep. Negan didn't set out to develop a turn-Carl-on-Rick strategy (I mean, that is where Negan is going, right?), and yet as soon as Carl showed up, you could almost see the chess moves playing out in Negan's mind. He's obviously the kind of leader that allows for lots of strategic detours while still maintaining his grand vision. Compare that with Rick, whose modus operandi is to charge head-first into problems with nary a pause for a much-needed strategy session (Exhibit D: The Governor).

The sad truth is that, in this very special case, Negan seems to have figured out the rules of leadership, despite leaving his morals behind in the world that used to be. In spite of how loathsome he is, Negan can teach all of us some important lessons in leadership - lessons that we can even use sans zombies.

I offer one last piece of advice, though: I don't recommend partnering with a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat, even if you, too, decide to give it a friendly name. Here's to the mid-season finale!


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