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5 lessons learnt from Francis J. Underwood (House of Cards)

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“I can’t force you to see reason. But I will not allow you to become dangerous” -Francis J Underwood

Firstly thanks to Netflix that streamed House of Cards and made me do a 3 day binge watching session gulping down 4 seasons of it, I can’t help but write about Frank Underwood (FU).

To make it “not so obvious” for people not familiar with House of Cards, Francis (aka Frank) Underwood rises from being a Democratic party whip to the President of the United States. Also a word of admiration for Kevin Spacey almost getting under the skin of this character and playing it to perfection. Here are some of the valuable leadership and management lessons I observed from Underwood.

Persist, no matter what.

Underwood’s tenacity, creativity and negotiation techniques are aimed at only thing — what he wants. From the time he was a Democratic party whip to his presidency, he faced with numerous threats to his “goals”. But you can’t stop there or give up mid way. Make your goals clear and your paths even more clearer. You got to circumvent a path that doesn’t help you reach your goals. Persist till you get it. Period.

Keep emotions out.

Frank and Claire (the first lady) use an expression — “ thick skinned” very frequently. Its very natural for people at high positions and leadership to be attacked, insinuated and vindicated. However that shouldn’t bother you down. Underwood and his wife Claire have been targeted for being childless, unfaithful and disloyal. On the path to greatness, you have to ignore mediocrity. If you continue to read into what people think about you and get affected, you are playing their game, not yours. Nerves of steel and and a thick skin is warranted to keep distractions out and keep us focused on goals and insulate from the noises around.

Success is team work.

Once you are clear about your goals, and have managed to keep emotions out, you can’t possibly go alone. Successful people including Underwood have always relied on people around them, close or not so close to accomplish their goals. Success can’t possibly be conceptualized or executed if there isn’t a strong team on your side. Underwood was great in rallying a team around him based on circumstances and needs. Get the exact and the right people on board, on the same page as you, let them breathe and see the same dream as yours. The battle will be half won already.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

One art that shall outlive us human beings is the “art of communication”. Underwood used a combination of visual imagery, manipulation and subtle pushing of buttons to get his message across. Be it from nominating his choice of Secretary of State, New Whip or suggesting his own name for Vice President’s chair, he knew how to deliver the message to the right audience. Never stop communicating. Any leadership has to lean on this single most important skill if they are to persuade and win. Be it to your subordinates, peers or higher ups, we have to learn, practice and master the art of communication.

Do the right thing not the popular thing.

How strong are your instincts and how badly do you want something to succeed? Be prepared to displease, be hated and envied by people who matter around you. That’s the critical element of leadership. Underwood made sure his goals saw the light of the day regardless of what people said or thought about him. There will be times, when feathers will be ruffled however sacrifices have to be made for the larger benefit. History is filled with great leaders known to have made the right decisions, choices during their stints which have led their people to war, put their countries on harm’s way. However a great leader knows to trust his instincts well and believe in himself when no one else would.

These lessons are valuable and interesting undoubtedly, however Underwood also inspires me to write another post on “what not to learn ..”.

Maybe sometime later.

Do watch House of Cards and if you have something great or anecdotal to share, please comment!

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Originally published at on March 22, 2016.

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