Business Lessons in “The Walking Dead”


“I like what, uh, a father said to son when he give him a watch that had been handed down through generations. He said “I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire, which will fit your individual needs no better than it did mine or my father’s before me, I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you may forget it for a moment now and then and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it.”

Business academia and film theorists have often cited “The Godfather” as a film that can exemplify the “top down” business philosophy. And for a long time, that was the standard business practice. In the “top down” world of the Mafia, the decisions pushed down from Vito Corleone, and then Michael Corleone, were then executed (pun intended) by the families underlings. This is pretty much the perfect representation of that type of hierarchical business structure which is all but ingrained in corporate America. But both the Mafia and corporate philosophy have changed so much since 1972. And while the Mafia is still somewhat beholden to the “top down” paradigm, large corporations have attempted to shy away from the “top down” philosophy, albeit unsuccessfully.

There are two upsides to corporations continued inability to adapt and move beyond a militaristic “top down” regimen. One, they have quarantined great minds and two, technology is evolving ever more rapidly which is in turn providing ample opportunity to those quarantined minds. As these technology companies continue to compete with the staid monolithic companies new business ideas and practices are coming into play; ones that are less dictatorial and more empowering to the lower strata.

AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is the perfect cinematic allegory for these new and continually evolving business philosophies. Where “The Godfather” represented the structured classical business model, “The Walking Dead” exemplifies the always in flux and fast moving modern day business model. The zombies represent the drones suffering through the myopic cubicle culture of large corporations and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group on the run represents the “on the fly” philosophy of the tech companies or start ups.

Just as Facebook has Mark Zuckerberg and tumblr has David Karp, the zombie apocalypse survivors on the run have Rick Grimes. He is the determined and focused leader who isn’t afraid to step up, accept the challenges, make the hard decisions and lead his group toward someplace safer, if it exists. If there is a better allegory for entrepreneurship on television, I would like to know.

Rick Grimes is the consummate leader. He recognizes the importance of empowering other members of his group, he redistributes responsibility, encourages other members to take risks and work within their strengths as long as it serves to benefit the group. Grimes will make the ultimate decision but not without consideration from the group, like any good leader would.

Some leadership lessons to be learned from “The Walking Dead”:
(This list is neither all inclusive nor definitive.)

  • Lead by example – Subscribe to an ethical and moral code you want your team to have. And then follow it. A title does NOT denote a leader.
  • Empower your group– Let others in your group take charge. Not all decisions are going to work and as a leader you may not like them, but you have to let them happen.
  • Take Responsibility – The decision may not be yours and you may not have supported it, but you approved it…it’s yours. Own it.
  • Teamwork – Gotta have it. You won’t survive in a zombie filled world, or the real world, without it.
  • Transparency – Critical to helping your group stay alive and understand your vision.
  • Coach – Pull you team up and let them in to help them understand what is working and what isn’t working.
  • Get Your Hands Dirty – Don’t rely on your team to constantly dig the graves. Get in there and do it with them.

One thing both “The Godfather” and “The Walking Dead” have in common is that they both suffer from some gender role problems. While “The Godfather” keeps women out of the day to day operations entirely, “The Walking Dead” represents a modest nod to the women’s movement as women are allowed to fight, when necessary, allowed to carry guns but are still expected to cook and clean. Even though Rick Grimes is a modern leader, his trusted right hands have all been men, to date. The difference being, of course, “The Walking Dead” women do fight and contribute to the decision making process, but are not necessarily part of the leadership. This is sad fact of many corporations today; but not all.

The “top down” philosophy shown in “The Godfather” still has some merit as a business practice to people who have family owned business but it should have no place in today’s corporate environment. Unfortunately, whether spoken or unspoken, the practice still permeates that world.

Where corporate culture may not have evolved as much as it should, at least cinematic storytelling has evolved to a point where it can represent some more solid and modern business practices. Certainly, the more fluid and transparent leadership shown by Rick Grimes in AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is representative of a more modern and ideal work place and points to a substantive move away from the “top down” practice of “The Godfather”.

Who says you can’t learn from a television show about zombies?



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