What wicked wonders await us in the next season of the hit series, House of Cards? If you’ve been binge watching, you know that the main character, Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, is a politician with some violently strong management methods.
With Season 3 of House of Cards premiering on Netflix on February 27, 2015, it’s time to reflect on the cunning tips that Frank Underwood has shared about leadership, power, and managing all the cards in the deck.
Now, don’t take everything that Frank says under advisement if you’re looking for management lessons. The man is a demon…or is he just a politician? That’s a plot twist that hasn’t been explored yet.
Can you really get useful management advice from a cold-hearted manipulator like Frank Underwood? Let’s find out.
(No need to worry if you haven’t watched the show. The quotes below aren’t plot spoilers, though they do reveal some of Frank Underwood’s depraved character qualities.)
Whether you’re leading a team of one or a team of hundreds, your first obligation is to the people you manage. Pick people up instead of putting them down. Never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. And, simply, be nice—nice doesn’t mean you have to be friends, but don’t condescend, don’t take your feelings out on anyone, and treat people with respect, even if you need to reprimand them.
Leaders shouldn’t surround themselves with Yes Men (or Yes Women for that matter). To manage effectively, you want to work with people who can spot new opportunities as easily as they can overcome obstacles, and who will also offer you an informed opinion when their honest input is needed. Pessimists can serve a purpose in a team, if they understand that the real power of pessimism is the ability to spot a problem before it becomes a crisis. Pessimists, cynics, and realists all need a leader’s guidance to use their insight for good.
There’s nothing more constant than change. Your team may be pulled in many different directions and your team’s shared and individual priorities, and even job descriptions, may need to change frequently. What really matters is how you manage your team to come together when it needs to and in the way it needs to. Your team’s harmony in the moments that demand it will depend on your nimble and adaptive leadership skills.
As a leader you are only as good as the people who work for you. They—and the quality of their work, their attitudes toward the job, and their successes—upholds and even uplifts your stature. Put your energy into making all the people on your team into great fighters in your army.
Don’t let your authority go to your head. Set standards of behavior for yourself the same as you do for the other people on your team. Don’t overestimate the sway you yield and even if you have a lot of power, use it with care. Power manifested too strongly can easily transform into arrogance.
Stasis demotivates as much as a lack of clarity. Set SMART goals for your team—goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Thrilling (yes, I know, T usually stands for time-bound, but just mush that into measurable to free up the T). If your goals are thrilling that means you won’t be treading water, you’ll be invigorating your team to rise to the surface and possibly even walk on water.
Your job isn’t to do all the work or, worse, micromanage. Your job is to set a path for your team that helps them reach your shared goals, no matter how ambitious and whale-sized those goals are. You need to set the path and uphold the vision, and also give your team the tools and confidence that can empower them to charge forward. To keep them energized, you’ll need to get their input on the plan you set, provide ongoing clarity and feedback, and back it all up with trust and accountability.
You must pick your battles wisely. Pick the wrong battles and you’ll waste energy and diminish the good will people have for you. It’s not about courting and counting favors, or playing favorites, it’s about knowing that all the resources you manage are always limited. Put your energy toward the decisions and battles that matter most.
If you want to have influence and be a leader, you need to bring others along for the ride. As those you surround yourself with rise, so will you. Open doors for them, guide them up the ladder, and help them gain the skills and experience that can make them stronger assets to your team or for wherever they go next. Most importantly, always say “thank you” to the people who have had your back—and to those who have kept others from stabbing you in the back.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and trainer. Find her on Twitter at @girardinl.