HR Leadership lessons from Frank Underwood

by John on January 23, 2016

FU Cufflinks There have been some really amazing television characters created over the past few years. A few of my personal favorites include NPH as Barney Stinson, John Stamos playing John Stamos, and Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood from Netflix’s “House of Cards” series.

I’m a fan of well written, funny, acerbic witted, and general bad-ass characters on TV or in movies. I would also bet that we’ve worked for, or may have know a few individuals who fit his profile over the years and that’s what got me thinking about Frank Underwood and his “leadership” style.

(Note: For those of you who have not seen the series, Kevin Spacey plays a character in the semi-current political climate of Washington D.C. He lies, cheats, “influences” others in a way that makes you cringe. Totally worth watching.)

This got me thinking about his leadership style and if he would have been asked to write an HR blog post about leadership lessons what would he say? If I had to take a stab at it, I think this is what he’d say:

So you want to be a leader AND you want to be a leader in HR. Well in order to be successful, then I have 4 simple rules for you.

1. Your managers and other executives are going to take credit for your work.

Once you get over it, you need to sabotage what you’ve done and let them take the blame. Face it kid, this is the real world, everyone and I mean everyone is looking to stab you in the back to climb the ladder, get used to it. When it happens, know that you’ll need to work creatively to get them back. Use a cats paw, a monkey claw, hell you can use a pair of BBQ tongs, just don’t get any sauce (or blood) on your suit.

2. You want confidentiality? Go to a priest(maybe) or tell your dog.

HR is not there for the employees; HR is there for the company. And the HR leaders? Son, they’re in it for themselves, screw the company and the workers. You want to complain, go to the confessional, but even I don’t trust those men in the box. Dogs are good, they don’t talk back and they’re incredibly loyal. Just don’t get more than one or two dogs, because then you create a pack and if you’re not an Alpha, well, then it gets messy.

3. Everyone can spot a narcissist by now, but not the psychopath. Always be the psychopath.

Every two years the Harvard Business Review publishes an article on narcissists in the workplace. It’s as if they have to sell that rag to the teeming millions of wannabe MBAs. By now, folks may have read a few of those articles or passed them out to their friends on that LinkedIn thing, so they may have a tiny clue. You know what they don’t ever see coming, the psychopath. You know who sees the psychopath coming, the psycharicist and even he’s too busy to deal with them unless he takes their co-pay or isn’t reacting to the meds he’s prescribed. If you’re the psychopath, then when you get screwed over (see rule number one) getting even is easy, and in most cases fun!

4. Never underestimate your ability to kick your loyal lieutenant on to their sword. If they won’t take the fall for you, don’t be afraid to give them a little push.

Good leaders have highly efficient minions lieutenants that will help make you look good. If perchance you make a mistake, or it looks like you’re going to get caught, push them. History is replete with men who’ve fallen on their swords for their masters. Gengis Khan, Alexander, Napoleon, all had men that would take the fall for them. Don’t worry about the long term, because if you’re popular and you get shit done, then there will be a line of misguided and blinded youth ready to take their (former) places.

Bonus Tip: Always remember that when someone from the press says that this is “Off the record” they’re lying.

Nothing is ever off the record to a reporter, don’t get sucked into their web of lies. Your standard answer is “I could never comment on something like that!” and then stop talking or send them to your boss, and let them bury themselves.

This little exercise got me thinking that maybe this could be applied to the workplace, and then again, maybe not. Either way, I could never comment on something like that. : )

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