Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Leadership lessons from 'John Wick'

I like to find leadership lessons in unusual places. If you are willing to look for them, you'll see leadership lessons all around you. For example, you can find leadership lessons from Breaking Bad about partnerships, taking the initiative, and committing to decisions. You can see similar leadership lessons from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on building relationships. And you can even find leadership lessons from zombies (The Walking Dead) on leading teams and building momentum behind your vision.

Recently, I found leadership lessons from another unusual place. The 2014 action movie John Wick provides a very simple premise: thugs kill John Wick's dog, and John (Keanu Reeves) gets revenge. I'm not kidding; the movie really is that straightforward.

I watched John Wick recently on our campus movie system. As the story unfolded, I recognized several obvious themes in leadership. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Keep the mission simple

The whole movie is about John Wick seeking revenge on the bad guys who killed his dog. That's it. The movie makes this very clear; thugs kill John's dog, so John kills the thugs. It's a timeless story that everyone can get behind. You understand the vision, and the movie strives to keep the mission simple. Where are you going with your idea? What is the vision behind it? Does everyone on your team understand the "end vision" and how to get there?
2. Reputation is important

John carries a big reputation in this movie. Almost everyone knows John by his reputation alone. Remember that your reputation always precedes you. What do you want your reputation to say about you? John's reputation is that he is a superlative, violent assassin; his reputation says a lot about him. Your reputation should be one of trust, professionalism, and collaboration. Your partners and future partners will remember you by your reputation; make it a positive one.
3. Adjust your approach

In seeking his targets, John uses a variety of tactics. Whether he chooses a stand-up frontal assault, or sniping his target from a distance, John adapts his method to the problem in front of him. Not all problems can be resolved with the same toolset. As you work with others, exercise all the tools and techniques available to you. What method works in one situation may not be the best approach for the next.
4. Maintain relationships; they will pay off

An important part of leadership is building your relationship network. Relationships are currency—you sometimes need to use your relationships to make deals, smooth over conflicts, and generally just get things done. John leverages relationships wisely: engaging with former colleague Francis to help him in a tough moment, or using his relationship with Jimmy to smooth over a difficult situation. Take a few moments to map out your social network. Consider who you look to if you had a problem, or needed a favor, or simply had a question. Do you have relationships that are so strong you could rely on confidential advice? Do not overlook this part of your leadership development.
5. Remain professional

Conflict is a part of everyday life. Conflict isn't necessarily bad, but the key to healthy disagreement is to recognize your "hot" buttons. This is part of your emotional intelligence. Do you lose your temper in the heat of the moment, usually during a disagreement? Or do you acknowledge your feelings, and maintain a calm presence? While John's initial motivation is emotion, John finds a way to stay focused and "in the moment" when it matters. John remains "present" throughout each confrontation. Use emotional intelligence to keep your interactions calm, or you'll find meetings and discussions getting out of hand and people losing temper.
images: IMDB, YouTube(1), YouTube(2)

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