6 Leadership Lessons from “The Walking Dead”


There is an awesome show on AMC called The Walking Dead, which is on Sunday nights at 9:00 PM (EST). The series is based off of a comic book (graphic novel) series of the same name. The show is rife with action, suspense, character development, and of course…walking zombies! (hence the title of the show). While the series is based on a fantastic premise of a zombie apocalypse, there are some real leadership lessons that can be learned from the show’s protagonists.

1. Be Prepared. As the characters learn quickly in the show, they need to be fully prepared in order to navigate around and avoid the zombies. They scavenge for supplies, create a plan of action ahead of time, and try to avoid the walking dead as much as possible.

So how does this relate to campus leadership? For instance, if you are planning a campus event you will not only want to layout plans for the day of the event, but you will want to create a game plan for the days and weeks leading up to the event as well as any wrap-up following the event. Think about ways you can keep track of schedules to keep your team moving toward the ultimate goal. Make assignments clear and establish deadlines.

2. Have a “Plan B.” The show would not be suspenseful and worth watching if there weren’t situations in which the characters end up trapped in zombie-filled cliff-hangers. However, they always seem to find a way out (granted, if they didn’t find a way out, there wouldn’t be a show to continue!) As is the case with #1 above (“Be Prepared”), you can never be over-prepared in planning for the unexpected.

When the day of your big event comes and your entertainer is stuck on the highway because his car broke down or the day of the big outdoor carnival the weather man is calling for three inches of rain, what is your back-up plan?  Brainstorm some “what if’s” ahead of time and decide how your group will handle some predictable situations. There are some things that you just cannot plan for. However, you can be resourceful and adaptive.  Seek guidance from your advisors and administrators.

3. Understand that Everyone Has Different Motivations. Obviously the main motivation for the characters in the show is to stay alive and to avoid the walking dead. However, there are the underlying motivations that drive the characterization: Sheriff Rick Grimes always needs to be the hero; Deputy Sheriff Shane Walsh is eager to win the affection of Rick’s wife, Lori; and Dale Horvath attempts to be the “father-figure” to establish his own legitimacy within the group.

Some of your team members will be completely devoted to the cause, some may be looking for a resume boost, some might be student workers, and others may be there to simply fullfill disciplinary requirements. Although all of your team members may have different reasons or motivations for being involved, they are still your greatest resource. By working with your team, you will discover their abilities and be able to manage the workload while playing to the team’s strengths. Maintain clear expectations, be fair with assignments and rewards, and find ways to keep the work fun and interesting.

4. Be an Advocate for All of Your Team Members. Rick Grimes always seems to be there for the people in his group. He cares about their safety and does his best to look out for those in the group that may not be as hardcore as he and Shane are. Be consistent and fair with all team members. Being a good leader means not playing favorites with friends over other group members. Include the entire team in achieving goals by considering members strengths and delegating attainable objectives. Reward your team with praise, notes of thanks, or small treats. Find ways to get your group recognized on campus or through national organizations for your achievements.

5. Realize That You Cannot Do It All By Yourself.

As illustrated in the show, Rick more often than not needs to rely on the members of the group in order to get out of zombie-filled situations. As a leader you are aware that “the buck stops here” and ultimately you are responsible for getting the job done. That does not translate into “No one else can do this as well as me.” Utilize your human resources. By allowing your team the ability to have input in creating goals, tasks, and scheduling, they will demonstrate more accountibility for the work. Promote one of your group members to “task master” and make that person responsible for keeping track of timetables and objectives.

6. Don’t Give Up!

“The Walking Dead” is compelling because it leaves you excited to see the next show. Rick and his group never give up against the zombies, which always ensures another show. Likewise, your group should always press on despite adversity and challenges. Be resourceful, be constructive, be adaptive, be collaborative, and most importantly, don’t give up until the goal is achieved.

What are some other leadership lessons you’ve spotted from “The Walking Dead?” Please feel free to share your comments.

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2 Responses to 6 Leadership Lessons from “The Walking Dead”

  1. mhelfrich98 says:

    Fail fast and adjust quickly. Not everything is a life or death situation as it is in the Walking Dead but it may seem so at the time. Learn from mistakes, make modifications, and move on.

  2. [...] all else, remember to be a good leader among your community, you never know when someone may need [...]

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