Frank Underwood is the definitive villain that we love to hate. Ethics and morals don't really apply to Underwood. He's a bit like a 300 ton locomotive; once he starts down a path, nothing is going to get in his way, and nothings going to stop him.
House of Cards debuted on Netflix last week to 15% of Netflix's 31 million subscribers. That's a lot of viewers and a lot of people eager to see this malefactor make his next move. However entertaining, the writers have constructed a relentless, educated and very calculating character; of which we can actually learn something from.
What follows are 5 lessons in leadership that I learned from Underwood.
1. Dedication and perseverance is almost always rewarded
Underwood rewards his loyal followers with more opportunity to follow Underwood. There is little reason for them to be loyal to him, other than the risk of being left hanging in the wind.
There is still something to learn here. Underwood still has an amazing ability to recruit and build a following. A strong leader can build fellowship through poignant and strong messaging. Regardless of how Underwood uses his people, there is no doubt that when he moves people follow.
2. Patience works until it doesn't
Underwood is a careful planner. He throws a pebble into a pond and watches as the ripples reach their targets with exacting precision. However, there is the occasionally unpredictable ounce of chaos that falls into the pond. Underwood would rather wait it out than dive in and expose any element of his plan, but there are times where he must wrap his hands around a problem and fix it expeditiously.
The nature of a great leader is found in their ability to think before they act. Brash decisions are usually fed from impatience, and the need to move faster than competitors, threats, or the chase of defeat. Methodical beings stow their ideas, and launch them in profound and powerful ways.
Whether you're building software, running a team, or in Underwoods case a government, you need to plan ahead. This plan must compensate for all the players. If things don't go as planned, do not panic, get your hands around the situation and fix it.
“Indecision is the thief of opportunity” – Jim Rohn
3. Define the goal, then never ever take your eye off it
Underwood is a champion in the ring, and his biggest heavyweight competitors are disruptions. He lines up barters, bribes, and even dirt on everyone he knows he'll come in contact with. Like Muhammad Ali, he wins the battle before it's even begun by knowing his enemy and putting at their feet, their own personal demons.
A great product manager will define the finish line on paper. This finish line is the solution, the product that they are building, and this manager will also be aware of the distractions that will get in the way.
A distraction can be feature creep, people, sales teams, and much more. A smart product manger will not only know what's coming, but they'll have a plan to get through these distractions.
Never be surprised! Surprises should be kept to Birthdays, which oddly enough, Underwood refuses to celebrate. If you're surprised at work you didn't plan accordingly. Know your market, your product, your team, and who's going to expect what when.
4. Words are only counted on paper
Journalists line up at Underwoods door at an opportunity to break his resolve. Some as we know, have gone to jail to bring out the truth. They are relentless, and their weapon is the written word.
Words are just that, words. No matter what you put down in paper, or on screen, you have to build an actionable reliance to backup those words. As they say "Actions speak louder than words".
In House of Cards the journalists make a lot of reference to the length of their articles. You could do the same with your product plan, wireframes or prototypes. Documenting code, user stories and market plans are a great way to plan.
However if you're not moving forward, working on your project, and actually building none of it matters. It doesn't matter how great your idea is, it will never build itself.
"Always be shipping" – unknown
5. Learn from smart people, know your history and then forge your own
Underwood is a student of history. As we all know if we don't learn from our history we are doomed to repeat it. Since Underwood doesn't see anyone (currently alive) as his equal, he relishes in the legend of leaders past.
A good leader should always surround themselves with mentors and people they can learn from. Their position on the hierarchal org chart doesn't matter. I refuse to work at companies where I'm the smartest person on the team. I have literally left jobs because of it.
An open mind and a free spirit will keep your mind moving. You'll always be innovating, growing and you'll have great people to help you get where you're going.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill
And since Frank Underwood is the down right dirty scoundrel, here are 3 things that would should never learn from Frank.
1. Don't use people
2. The ends don't always justify the means
3. ****SPOILER ALERT**** Don't throw Kate Mara in front of a moving train! It’s seriously not cool.
I hope I didn't spoil too much of Season 2 for you. Feel free to share anything you have learned from Underwood or other fictional characters.
Jesse Friedman has been building websites for 18 years, and exclusively with WordPress since 2006. Since then Jesse has written several books, taught 100’s of students as a professor, and organized dozens of local meetups along with a few WordCamps.
Jesse has spoken at tech conferences around the world including SXSW, HOW, Future events and many more. Jesse has consulted for a wide array of companies from small agencies to multi-billion dollar international companies.
Today Jesse is a proud team member of Jetpack at Automattic, where he spends his time growth hacking and building strategic partnerships.