HR & Management

12 fictional characters that leaders can learn from

20 min read

12 December 2013

Movies, TV programs and books have played a part in our lives for decades. So, from Darth Vader and Walter White to Iron Man and James T. Kirk, here are 12 fictional characters from which every leader can learn valuable lessons from.

1. Aragon Elessar

From: Lord of the Rings

Although Aragon isn’t tasked with destroying the ring, nor taking it toward destruction, he protects Frodo for as long as he can. Even when separated, Aragon goes out of his way to create diversions to help Frodo enter Mordor. The point is that in the midst of chaos, and probably a tremendous amount of stress, Argon always stays focussed on the task at hand. In that same sense, remember your beginning goal and never be tempted to stray from your beliefs, not even for all the money in the world… or in this case, a ring.

Even with companies now pulling out of the recession it’s a battle out there! Just remember that no one should get left behind. When Merry and Pippin have been kidnapped by orcs, Aragon diverts from the original quest to save his team– where they spend a multitude of chapters merely running. Staff members have all most likely given something up to see the business through the recession, so throw them a lifeline and help, all be it merely listening to their problems. If not, you stand a good chance of loosing loyal and exceptional talent to competitors.

All in all, Argon demands the best from those around him, knows his own limits, likes to get his hands dirty – he’s literally King, but would rather be part of the quest as a ranger – and puts the good of the whole above his own welfare. With great power comes great responsibility, and Aragon is the perfect role model of someone who leverages it not only to benefit others, but the future kingdom as well.

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2. Darth Vader

From: Star Wars

Although Darth Vader proves that it’s never too late to be redeemed and forgiven, Vader is a prime example of the common mistakes a leader should avoid! Top mistake to avoid: punishment by force choke! The first time we see him use it? Someone expressed an opinion he disagreed with. To sum it all up, Vader rules by fear, and that instilled fear would make his staff work harder just to stay alive. But fear will lower not only morale, but also productivity! You also stand a chance of losing valuable talent who now hate their jobs.

And rather than cultivate innate talent within his own employees, Vader tries again and again to recruit Luke Skywalker. He’s so obsessed with gaining someone from the opposition, that he’s left his company without a successor. No one on the Death Star has been trained to take over! So, what ends up happening? His demise now means the literal collapse of the entire Empire. Encourage talent within your employees, pay attention and pick the people who can keep your business afloat.

Most of all, the Empire regularly fails to learn from their mistakes. They spend millions on the first Death Star, only to have it destroyed by one simple structural flaw. They didn’t waste much time building the second Death Star, which they spent a lot more money on and had an even bigger structural flaw! When you’re leading a business, accept your mistakes and learn from them. Go back to the drawing board to figure out a better way to accomplish what you want.

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Wall Street

3. Gordon Gekko

From: Wall Street

Most of Gordon Gekko’s quotes have made history on Wall Street. Gekko points out that “a fisherman always sees another fisherman from afar.” When it comes to business there are many people who have no good intentions at heart. It’s important that we know who those people are and learn how to recognise that share our same interests.

Another key point he underlines is that when you seek a co-worker’s approval to make business decisions, you will sometimes get turned down. But don’t get discouraged and drop your decision. Follow your own path as often as you can.

His best piece of advice? “What’s worth doing is worth doing for money.” Don’t be one of those businesses that give away free content or hesitate to raise prices just to attract customers. If your product is worth it, people will buy it.

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4. Indiana Jones

From: Indiana Jones

Do what Indiana Jones does best – be adventurous and take calculated risks. But Jones is also known for being sensible. He only takes risks when he knows there will be a favourable outcome. So, don’t be afraid to reach out, but whether it’s simply introducing a new product or targeting a new market, take the risk potential of business ventures into account.

Make sure to do your homework, Jones certainly does before starting on his newest quest. This lesson is often overlooked. Before you start a business or launch a product, make sure you’ve researched the market and your target audience, or your plan might backfire. After all, adding another similar product to a crowded market is not the road to a successful business venture.

But through Jones’ continuous comic moments, he reminds us to show our human side. Don’t throw in all the corporate jargon when talking to a client, or maybe a crack a joke or two – all talk doesn’t have to centre around your business.

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5. James Bond

From: James Bond

What would James Bond be without his nifty gadgets? Every Bond film has had numerous gadgets to aid Bond in his adventures. From ejector seats to exploding key chains, Bond is never afraid to take advantage of the latest gadgets. At the pace in which technology is moving, this has become a must-do on every business checklist!

Above all else, be ready to improvise! To name an example: In Goldeneye, Bond is surrounded by a Russian army so he decides to escape by hijacking a tank and driving it through city streets. And you don’t always have to inspire people with motivational speeches to get them to do what you want. Bond often forgets his powers of persuasion and simply charges forward with enough confidence and courage that people will follow his lead.

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6. James T. Kirk

From: Star Trek

It is often easy to forget what life is like on the frontline, so make sure to be part of the away team. When you start to lose that perspective, it becomes more difficult to understand what is actually going on. And if you don’t engage with staff, it becomes easy for trust to be lost. Kirk was always part of the away team, and his crew trusted his decisions because he knew the risks of command personally.

Having advisors with different world-views is extremely important. Kirk’s closest advisors were Commander Spock, a Vulcan committed to the philosophy of logic, and Dr. Leonard McCoy, driven by scientific curiosity. The two often clashed, recommending different courses of action. But the advice was there, none the less. And it shouldn’t stop there! Bring a range of races, different genders and ages onto your workforce to grasp the full potential of a variety of unique ideas.

But what makes Kirk a brilliant leader, is the ability to know when to let a branch of the company go. In this case, he blew up the Enterprise to save the Federation. Sometimes it is important to let go for the bigger benefit. This may include products that are no longer needed or a service that is no longer fit for purpose.  

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Matt Damon - the actor that plays Jason Bourne

7. Jason Bourne

From: The Bourne Identity

Entrepreneurs often find themselves spending too much time looking for the perfect idea instead of trying to get the product or service out there. Although it’s good to think before implementing, you can sometimes stray from the initial focus, or lose the plot completely. Whatever the size of the challenge, Jason Bourne never hesitates to move forwards, but always makes sure his progress is towards achieving his initial goal. Bourne constantly made sure to execute – in more ways than one.

Whether in completing tasks or in combat, Bourne’s reflexes have a habit of getting him out of trouble. But this automated response all comes down to training and practice. It might not seem glamorous, but by ritualising the more mundane tasks to the extent of making it an auto-pilot job, you will have more power available for bigger challenges.

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8. Jay Gatsby

From: The Great Gatsby

Jay Gatsby plays the role of entrepreneur to perfection – there’s a reason why he’s called the “great” Gatsby. Gatsby is a believer of the first impression, and despite what anyone might say, first impressions do have the ability to make or break a deal. He dresses well and, as a master of networking, always makes sure to leave a lasting impression on key future contacts.

Forming a successful career for himself from humble beginnings, Gatsby shows that no ambition is too great! This comes hand-in-hand with the ability to focus. Although he focuses on his business, the desired result seems to be the heart of one Daisy Buchanan. By continuously believing his focus will gain the end result, he is driven to success. This also highlights the importance of setting goals.

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9. Sherlock Holmes

From: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes’ success, as he would surely like to remind us, rests solely on his innate talents. It is a congregation of qualities, amongst which includes the power of deduction – despite his visible vices – that make him so successful. The biggest lesson that can be learnt? There is more than one way to approach a problem, whether that is by going out in disguise or knowing the right questions to ask. If one approach fails, he merely comes up with another idea, no matter how silly it may seem.

This links to the importance of detail! Don’t let anything get past you! The minute a person walks into the room, Holmes can tell where they’ve been and even what they had for dinner. It requires a lot of patience, but always observe your clients and partners.

Although Holmes actively peruses cases, people often come to him from near and far to have their problems solved. No matter how hard he might be to work with, his reputation precedes him – everyone know’s that he’s the right man for the job. In much that sense, your brand showcases who you are, and the right customer service and business goal will work miracles for your reputation.

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10. Sulley and Mike

From: Monsters Inc.

From failing university and starting off in the mail room, Sulley and Mike quickly become the top scare team in the factory. The potential was there, and although university didn’t necessarily awaken any innate talent in them, the corporate culture in which they found themselves in were keen to give chances to those that showed possible skill. Leadership doesn’t always come from the top; those at the bottom that make their way up, often have a better understanding of the business. And when Sulley finally takes that top spot, he doesn’t hide in his office. So, a humble leader is an effective leader.

Team work is essential, and it’s even better if you get along. Mike and Sulley work together as a unit, and even though Sulley might be seen to be the star of the team, Mike is the strategist. Play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

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11. Tony Stark

From: Iron Man

The true mark of any tech leader is the ability to adapt. What one can truly learn from Tony Stark is that there should always be a plan A, B, C, or even D, in order to make sure you evolve accordingly. When your business becomes outdated, or even ineffective, embrace the change and look for ways that would address the situation. Take Stark for example, he shut down his company’s weapons division for a new direction in business. Iron Man spends a life-time improving his armour and coming up with better ways to make the suit work. In more than one case, the new upgrade saved his life – or even the world. Even in moments of crisis, never stop innovating.

So, of course, never give up! You certainly can’t stop Iron Man. Surely enough, people caught on and started copying his designs. This meant the relentless pursuit of trying to stay ahead of the game – innovation, innovation, innovation! Not everything will work out, but you’ll stumble upon something that will make you truly distinctive in your marketplace. By the time Iron Man ended, he was already on suit number 42.

Most of all, learn to recognise and nurture opportunities. This is best seen in Iron Man 3, when the Mandarin almost beat Iron Man to a pulp. But in the history of comic book tomes, the Mandarin once sought Stark’s help for a project called Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). After being shunned by Stark, the Mandarin made a profitable business for himself, always visualising a target on Stark’s back. Back in the day, when Yahoo! Was reigning champion of the search engine kingdom, Sergey Brin and Larry Page tried to sell their algorithms to Yahoo! for $1m. They were ignored, and long story short, look at Google now! You never know what alliance or partnership will become valuable, so treat everyone with respect and think about future impacts.

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12. Walter White

From: Breaking bad

Walter White is possibly TV’s most infamous entrepreneur. White’s success is largely attributable to his superior product – blue meth, which is 99.1 per cent pure. But apart from always refusing to compromise the quality of the meth, what makes his product so superior? He’s good at what he does. Although a brilliant scientist, White work’s below his potential as a high-school chemistry teacher. Only when he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, does he go back to the science he’s so good at – even if it’s out of desperation to make quick money to provide for his family after his death. It works: he takes the simple operation of cooking meth and turns it into an international powerhouse. Find something you’re truly great at and stick with it.

White is quite a brilliant tactician. And although he’s committed several murders, as a strategist, White has often proceeded by the book. After Walt and his partners steal 1,000 gallons of methamphetamine, Mike makes a deal to sell his and Jesse’s share to Declan, a rival dealer. Declan, however, demands Walt’s share as well so he can get the famous blue meth product off the market entirely. Walt’s counter is to make a deal of his own, so that Declan now distributes Walt’s meth. Through this strategy, Walt creates a new role within the industry as a pure manufacturer with no involvement in the street market.

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