Top 10 Leadership Lessons from the Villains We Love to Hate

Gollum: created by Weta Digital.

We love to hate these guys, but we gotta admit it. They really know what it takes to be effective leaders.

  1. Identify Your Goal and Stay Focused. Gollum wanted his “Precious.” He didn’t let anyone deter him from staying the course and retrieving the ring-to-rule-them-all. Evil sorcerers, orcs, warrior elves, nor the fires of Mordor could take his focus away from what he truly desired – even as those fires engulfed his entire being. He was so determined that he was willing to travel all over Middle-earth in order to reach his goal. This was a creature who knew what he wanted and kept his eyes on the prize, even up to the very end.  Have you identified your “Precious?” Are you prepared to go the distance to get it? Or are you gonna let little things like Hobbits get in the way?
  2. Never Give Up Hope. What can one say about the tenacious Lord Voldemort? He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named died multiple times and STILL never gave up hope that he would one day rule a Muggle-free world. And hope is infectious ain’t it? He developed a loyal following because of his ability to hold on to and spread his hope of world domination. This is the mark of true leadership. People are drawn to hope. Even at his lowest point, without a physical body, he willed his spirit to continue to move his agenda forward. How can one not be hopeful when one has so much to gain? So, what do you hope for? What gives you hope? Or have you given up hope already?
  3. Always Have a Plan. Bill “The Butcher” Cutting who ruled the Gangs of New York was a man with a plan. This was a man with a vision and a will made of pure American iron. And he surrounded himself with people he could trust to help him achieve this plan. But how does one get others on board? You must be able to articulate your vision and explain to others the plan to achieve that vision. Create common ground. When one can gather a following who share in the same plan, one will have more chance of success. Yes, sometimes circumstances dictate a change in the short-term plan, but keep your eye (even if you only have one) on the goal. A solid plan of action will help you get there.
  4. Ask for Help When You Need It. Sometimes you just can’t do it all on your own. Nor should you have to. Nobody knew this better than Sweeney Todd. The villainous barber would not have been as successful if it hadn’t been for the loyal Mrs. Lovett. But he had to be willing to let her in. He had to let her know what he wanted. What he needed. And how she could contribute. Everyone wants to feel needed. It’s nice to know you’re wanted. This relationship is the perfect example of how important it is to surround yourself with people who share the same values and goals and how, if you’re just willing to ask for the help, they will be willing to give it to you. He wanted to kill and she needed to sell meat pies. A match made in Hell.
  5. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. Darth Sidius, aka Palpatine, was a man who knew how to delegate authority in order to achieve his goal of universal domination. After all, one cannot rule the Empire, much less the universe without loyal followers and trusted henchmen. Think about it. Darth Maul killed Qui-Gon Jinn. Darth Tyranus closed the deal creating an army of Clones. General Greivous helped set the plan in motion that led to Anakin Skywalker killing Count Dooku. And we cannot forget Palpatine’s ultimate right-hand man, Darth Vader. He managed to kill off all of the Separatists, even the ones in training, which opened the door for Palpatine to declare himself Emperor. It really does pay to surround yourself with good, dependable help.
  6. Be Smart and Do Your Homework. The Goblin understood this concept very well. Do you think he figured out the connection between Peter Parker and Spider-Man just by sitting back and doing nothing? Heck no! As a matter of fact, he had to have a lot of fortitude and patience to do the amount of research it took to put those pieces together. He had to pause for a while, listen to his son complain and whine about his so-called girlfriend Mary Jane and his best friend Peter Parker. He had to watch the news, observe his surroundings. Only after quieting his mind, improving his situational awareness, and focusing on gathering his research and studiously observing the data was he able to connect the dots. Smart man yeah? Yes kiddies, homework does serve a grander purpose after all.
  7. Take Some Chances. Doctor Octopus wasn’t afraid to take chances. As a matter of fact, his willingness to go out on a limb (pun intended) to achieve greatness helped propel him to become one of the most reviled and revered villains in history. How many times have the rest of us wished we had multiple arms and hands to accomplish everything we wanted? Although it was by accident, Doc Ock managed to do just that. And it really doesn’t matter that it happened by accident because the point is he was willing to take chances and push his experiments to their limits. Sometimes you just have to push the envelope to see where it can take you. Push yourself and everybody around you to the brink. After all, the only way we grow is to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones. Yeah, it may feel a little uncomfortable at first. It may even hurt a little. But any successful person will tell you no pain, no gain.
  8. Smiles are Infectious so Have Fun. Sometimes you gotta be a clown and have some fun. Wear a funny tie. Some interesting shoes. Lime green and purple. The Joker didn’t desire money. He wasn’t a greedy man. He simply enjoyed the work for the work’s sake. He genuinely had fun blowing things up and causing mayhem throughout the city. Seeing others suffer added to the permanence of that smile. He loved his job and made that clear in every plan he put to action. Sometimes it’s okay to cause a little chaos and show a little irreverence for the stuffy establishment. Who wants to be viewed as a “company man” anyway? Besides, smarter people tend to figure out a way to have fun no matter what. And don’t you want to be smart?
  9. Be a Motivator. How can one lead if there are no followers? And how does one gain and keep followers? Why, through proper motivation of course! And who better motivates than Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket? He ensures that everyone under his leadership receives full, individual attention. This is important. No one ever wants to feel left out. And he doesn’t play favorites either. Everyone is mistreated equally. His motivation techniques show he is a leader who genuinely wants his men to reach their top mental and physical state of being. And who can’t appreciate a leader who has your best interest in mind?
  10. Dress for Success.Frank Costello. Patrick Bateman. Col. Hans Landa. Bill “The Butcher” Cutting. Captain Vidal. The Joker. Hans Gruber. Alex DeLarge. Dean Wormer. Gunny Hartman. Gordon Gekko. What do all of these fantastic villains have in common? They look good! They understand the power of a tailored suit and/or uniform. The way you dress says a lot about you. Leaders are not slovenly, messy beings. They have it together. Do you?

Jennifer Furlong has 20+ years’ experience in the communication field and is a communication and public speaking lecturer at various colleges in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. in Communication with a focus on Public Relations and an M.A. in Communication with a focus on Crisis Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her hubby, two teenagers, three dogs and two cats. You can read more of her work at her website and follow her daily Tweets at @speechteach912 on Twitter.

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