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Be the Jack Bauer of your company
Great organizations are made up of people who are leaders -at all levels- not purely management. The world has a leadership crisis, and embracing Jack's ethos is a good starting point to address this.
The fictional character Jack Bauer of 24 was indispensable as an agent for the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU). He ignored orders. He went off protocol. That didn’t matter, he was critical to the success of the agency and the safety of the country as a whole within the context of the show.
You should seek to be equally valuable to your organization and your industry – that is, if you want to have the same impact in the real world as Jack does fictionally. But while his character and actions are fiction, his personality and actions hold lessons if you’re serious about changing the world around you.
How can you be the Jack Bauer of your company (without all the bloodshed)?
Break process when necessary to get things done
Processes are well and good for many things, but not much remarkable was ever done as part of painting by numbers. If you see opportunity to do something amazing outside your processes, do it. Don’t waste time asking permission, just do what needs to be done. If you break a process to achieve your objective and succeed, the right management team would never be upset. If they are you’re with the wrong team. Bonus points to managers who actively empower their team members to embrace this philosophy.
A quote from Jack solidifies this, remember competitors might be playing by a completely different set of rules. If your organization and team is too rigid, they might have already painted themselves into a corner they can’t escape from:
“For a combat soldier, the difference between success and failure is your ability to adapt to your enemy. The people that I deal with, they don’t care about your rules. All they care about is a result. My job is to stop them from completing their objective, at all costs. I simply adapted. In answer to your question, ‘Am I above the law?’, no sir. I am more than willing to be judged by the people you claim to represent. I will let them decide what price I should pay. But please sir, do not sit there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the decisions I have made. Because, sir, the truth is I don’t.”
― Jack Bauer
Believe in what you’re doing (and bring managed emotion to the table)
A lot of people check their emotions at the door when starting their day. You shouldn’t do this – especially if you are in a creative industry. Your emotions, directed by the high road, can be a powerful tool of persuasion and allow you to execute far better than you would without them.
“If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Believing in what you’re doing and having real conviction means emotions are a requisite. This does not mean letting your anger or negative emotions spiral out of control during stressful situations, it means harnessing the positive ones in a controlled fashion (and not simply repressing all of them during 9-5, as many in corporate America tend to do).
Never compromise when it counts
You can look the other way once, and it's no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time, and pretty soon that's all you're doing; compromising, because that's the way you think things are done. You know those guys I busted? You think they were the bad guys? Because they weren't, they weren't bad guys, they were just like you and me. Except they compromised... Once.
Former FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss has few equals when it comes to high stakes negotiations. Whether for your business or your personal life, his techniques work. If you’ve never read his book, “Never Split The Difference” it’s highly worth picking up a copy. Anyway, not only do actual government agents know when to hold tight to their convictions, our fictional hero Jack Bauer acted similarly. You should also learn to also embrace this ethos, if getting what you want in life is a priority.
Clip on Jack refusing to compromise:
Strategist and tactician
At different points, Jack had different roles: from being a government agent, to leading the entire counter-terrorism unit. At all points he actively contributed to projects large and small and was never above anything.
It’s a potent combination to be able to not just develop effective strategic plans, but also be part of putting them into action yourself. This is known as “leading from the front,” and as we saw in the famous movie Gladiator, Maximus who led his soldiers from the front lines, was the most highly respected leader in the Roman Army - to his soldiers far moreso than politicians who outranked him. It is the rare strategist who is able to masterfully execute on the front lines and lead other tacticians to success. That individual will have greater respect from the execution team than anyone else in management who simply sits in their ivory tower and never gets their hands dirty.
DoorDash understands the importance of this, they recently announced all team members, including executives will be required to participate in physical deliveries as part of their job. I was surprised to hear some employees were upset, as my friend Josh noted on Twitter:
This goes to show you how far removed many in corporate America have become from understanding what real leadership is. We absolutely have a leadership crisis, but that is an opportunity for you to step up and fill in the gap. And remember, leadership happens at all levels of the business, not simply with the C-suite.
Communicate with purpose
Jack’s main approach to asking for things he needs:
Ask again, less nicely
So, for us in the non-fiction world, this doesn’t mean you would ever use profanity with a team member or be a jerk. By “less nicely” on follow ups, let us interpret that simply as being more direct (but also still always professional). Communicate your sense of urgency so your team knows something is both mission critical and time sensitive. With things that need to be done now, you may have to shave pleasantries and cut to the meat of what you need done. Your team, who are no doubt busy, will actually appreciate the brevity (higher level management especially).
“Your fears are a kind of prison that confines you within a limited range of action. The less you fear, the more power you will have and the more fully you will live.”
― Robert Greene, The 50th Law
I’ve previously promoted the notion you should fear nothing. Just like Jack faced adversaries without fear, you too should embrace this in anything you do in your industry. The way we are wired for fear is dated, having little relevance in the modern world. In a corporate setting, your life isn’t at risk from wild animals chasing you down for lunch. So don’t let your lizard brain dictate you should feel that way. What’s the worst that can happen to you, really?
Don’t do things purely for recognition
If you notice something is broken, quietly fix it and move on. You don’t need to bring it up to others that you’ve done it — if you’re committed to what you’re doing it’s not about recognition anyway, it’s about winning. Those seeking recognition instead of actually caring about what they are doing don’t deserve to stay at your company. In one scene in 24, after completing his mission, the president tells Jack he basically will not only not be recognized for his work, but be considered dead by his administration. Of course, few of us have risk of ending up burned spies, but that sort of commitment where it’s not about being praised, but about doing what’s right, is a rare and admirable quality.
Clip on Jack succeeding in his mission, but being told no one can know about it, or that he even still exists:
Ability to persuade others to your line of thinking
“Persuasion is often more effectual than force.“
If you’re serious about the idea of becoming a linchpin as the concept of this post implies, you need to get your unique ideas executed and change your organization for the better. However, the extent to which you can evoke change on your own may be limited (especially if you’re in a larger company). If you can persuade others at targeted levels of the organization (for many projects this requires people both above and below your rank) you will be far more adept at bringing big ideas into reality.
Fierce loyalty to those who matter
If you’re going to become the Jack Bauer of your company you’ll never get away with that sort of reputation unless it’s combined with loyalty. But ensure your loyalty is to the right individuals, otherwise this can and will backfire. In one scene in 24, Jack literally trades himself (and potentially his life) for his team member Chloe. So while the character is a bit of a renegade (definitely a quality to look for in leadership) he still values his team above himself.
Clip on Jack trading himself to be a hostage for Chloe, his valued team member (and friend) to be set free:
The rules don’t apply to you
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
― Pablo Picasso
Rules are for NPCs, and if you blindly follow them all day you deserve to stay in precisely the position you’re in. If you’re okay with this, today’s post is not for you (and that’s totally fine). But always remember, if your heart is in the right place and rules stand in the way of something you know is right, ignore them. If it comes back to bite you later but the rule was absurd, say so and make your case why. Again smart management team members want to see this – I would always rather work with a group like this vs. a team of staunch bureaucrats.
Take risks, but take responsibility & have contingency plans
You’ll never achieve anything of value without taking risk. And risk is like a muscle, you need to flex it repeatedly for it to strengthen and to be comfortable with larger stakes on the line. Valuable things just aren’t easy to achieve — everyone else is already accomplishing the easy stuff, meaning none of it is rare or of asymmetric upside. However, along with taking risks, always think several steps ahead and ensure you have a contingency plan available should the situation go awry. Failure is always an option, but – be ready to also take responsibility for it.
“Some part of getting a second chance is taking responsibility for the mess you made in the first place.”
― Jack Bauer
Be irrationally committed
If you consider your work merely a “job” – you can never be as valuable a team member as someone who is irrationally committed to what they’re doing. Note in the show, Jack never gives up. He was irrationally committed. His enemies knew his convictions so feared him to the point they realized if he wasn’t completely neutralized, he would always be a threat.
Parents or other adults who are irrationally committed to a kid’s well being make a huge (perhaps the biggest) difference in that young person’s life.
Entrepreneurs who are irrationally committed to their business are far more likely to get through the Dip.
Salespeople and service providers and marketers who are irrationally committed to customer service can completely transform an ordinary experience and make it remarkable.
Is being irrational irrational? Of course it is. That’s why it often works.
If you’re looking for the sensible, predictable, long-term strategy, this probably isn’t it. Except when it is.
-Seth Godin [via his blog]
Clip on Jack’s enemies noting if he isn’t crushed totally, his irrational commitment to success means he will never stop pursuing them:
Have opinions, take sides
Standing on the sidelines is for the weak. If you really want to be a key person at your company you need to have opinions or take sides even if it’s not your job to do so. Take a stance on things when you have data to back your position up and know it’s the right action, and key people will respect you for it.
Be a jack of many trades
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
All industries have specific areas of specialization within that industry. But you unlock an even more valuable and unique skill set when you study and become proficient at many as opposed to only having knowledge of one area. Interesting results always happen at the intersection. Jack was many things: from skilled negotiator to tactical and political strategist. Work to figure out what the important skill gaps are for you and fill them in. You’ll be surprised at how doing this also helps you view your core competency from fresh, valuable perspectives.
Not everyone will love you, but they will respect you
Inevitably, if you are doing things in a different or unique way, not everyone is going to love you. Many people have a knee-jerk reaction against change of the status quo as opposed to realizing embracing a changing world is a superpower. This means you may create some enemies by doing things a bit different, a bit bolder, a bit more ambitious. But consider this a positive: people who disagree with or doubt you can inspire you to live up to your potential and work with greater focus and creativity to prove your worth. Competitiveness is a positive and should be embraced and leveraged. And no doubt, the type of leadership Jack embraces meant universal respect, even from adversaries. His reputation always proceeded him in new situations, and you want yours to as well (for the unique version of you).
Jack Bauer is a controversial character. He did things others on the show didn’t always understand or agree with and even caused critical reactions in real life. Not everyone liked him – but he got things done, solved problems creatively, was respected by those who mattered and ultimately did what he was passionate about. Can you say the same thing about yourself? Your team members? If not, make 2022 the year you change that.
Happy New Year to all readers of Hot Takes. As this is my final post of the year and I’ve never asked: if you haven’t recommended us to a friend yet we’d love you to consider sending them a link. Hope you all have a restful holiday.