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Leadership Development

5 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From ‘Scandal’

Do you grab your popcorn and wine as you settle in to watch Thursday night’s addictive political drama “Scandal?” If not, too bad you’re missing out here’s a quick synopsis of the show’s premise: Former White House aide Olivia Pope runs a crisis management firm in Washington, D.C. and her employees — or “gladiators,” as they’re called — are rushed in to fix high-stakes situations for high-profile individuals who are about to commit political suicide.

Here are five valuable leadership lessons that the breakout hit show, and its lead character Olivia Pope, can teach us in a workplace setting.

#1: Build and tap into a network around you.

None of the show’s characters is an island; each dedicates time, effort and resources to build a strategic network of people around them that they can tap into to fix seemingly impossible situations.

We may not have to face the president of the United States or save the Republic every day like some of Scandal’s lead characters do, but there are undoubtedly lofty goals we can someday hope to accomplish with a little help from our friends (and preferably without guns, torture paraphernalia and death threats). Go out of your way by investing time and effort in extending a hand to others where possible, even if they aren’t in your direct circle. You never know when they can save the day.

#2: Don’t obsess over things you don’t have control over.

When Olivia plops down on the couch with a glass of wine and a bowl of popcorn, it’s usually because she’s frustrated, angry and dejected that circumstances are beyond her control, and she needs a shift in focus to get back on track. Similarly, other characters will sink into their shells — resorting to excessive drinking or even contract killing when the world doesn’t revolve around them the way they expect.

Perhaps this is one of the flawed traits of a perfectionist, but there are some things at work you simply can’t control or change. Not that you have to resign yourself to the fact that there’s no hope, but obsessing over tiny things will make you lose sight of the bigger picture. If a project has been put on hold indefinitely, stop obsessing over it and move on to the 50 other ways you can impact your company where you do hold the reins.

#3: Know when it’s time to work at Scandal pace.

OK, so this is something every die-hard fan of the show knows, but “Scandal-pace” — literally speeding up the pace of the show, including the dialogue, movement and thought process — is something creator Shonda Rhimes breathed into the show and holds every actor accountable to. You’ll notice the heightened pace of the show if you watch almost any scene — the end goal is to give off the vibe of urgency and to depict every character as being on their game at all times.

Not that we need to operate at Scandal-pace every minute of the day, but there are times that call for us to take things up a notch, up our game and give certain projects, presentations or tasks our undivided attention to knock it out of the park. Sit down for a minute and think about identifying what or when or where you need to move at Scandal-pace.

#4: Don’t be afraid to trust your intuition.

Olivia relies (almost to a fault) on what her gut tells her, which can sometimes be the opposite of what a situation presents.

While anyone will tell you it’s not wise to only make decisions based on your gut while ignoring the evidence or data presented, don’t discount the value your intuition can bring to the table in moments you feel torn to make a difficult decision. For instance, let’s say a potential hire looks really great on paper, it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she will be the best cultural fit for the position overall.

Don’t be afraid to veer off the beaten path every now and then. Thinking outside the box and coloring outside the lines when your gut tells you it’s right can pay off. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself: Do I just do some things a certain way because that’s how they’ve always been done — or because it can have the biggest impact on the business?

#5: Maintain your cool, especially under pressure.

This is something Olivia and most of her team has mastered. It’s almost comical to watch them walk into a room, discover a fresh corpse on the floor and proceed, without skipping a beat, to clean up the crime scene and flawlessly dispose of or clean up the body.

Thankfully our assignments don’t involve gruesome elements like cleaning up dead bodies — or we’d need an endless supply of wine and popcorn — but fires do burn around us that demand our attention. Remaining calm and collected under the gun allows you to think more clearly of rational next steps to attain a solution.

The next time someone comes up to you with a dire situation or even just a problem that’s beyond their purview, remain calm in their presence, take a step back to examine the situation, ask the right questions and calmly put one foot in front of the other until you arrive with next steps to resolving it.

Tell us: Which of these leadership lessons will you put into practice? Are there any others you can add? (You don’t have to be a fan of the show!)

Deanna Hartley

About Deanna Hartley

Deanna Hartley is a senior copywriter and community manager on the creative services team at CareerBuilder, where she writes about issues that are top of mind for employers and recruiters – including talent acquisition, employee engagement and retention. An avid social media user, Deanna is the face behind @CBforEmployers on Twitter as well as CBforEmployers’ Facebook and Instagram pages, so it’s easy to stay connected with her. Prior to joining CareerBuilder, Deanna was a senior editor for the Human Capital Media Group, publishers of Talent Management, Chief Learning Officer, Diversity Executive and Workforce Management magazines. Deanna holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She loves caffeine, social media, pop culture and dogs – though not necessarily in that order.


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