What I’m Learning from House of Cards

I’ve recently gotten hooked on the Netflix series House of Cards. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

While I’m enjoying the series as something to relax and shut the brain off with, I am also fascinated by Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood.

Frank is as Machiavellian as they come, seeing life as something to be manipulated in your favor and every interaction as a win or a loss. He is ruthless in his pursuit of power and willing to win at any cost. His ability to manipulate and use people is something you don’t see every day, and he freely discards people when they no longer serve his purpose.

While Frank’s morality and ethics leave a lot to be questioned, there are some traits about him that I appreciate and can learn from.

First and foremost is his ability to plan. Everything he does has a purpose, especially his conversations with his colleagues. He anticipates how people are going to react to the things he does and says. His actions and words are done to prod, provoke and bring out a reaction. While it is never explicitly stated, he has an endgame and an objective in mind at all times.

As coaches, it is very easy to fall into the trap of acting according to how you feel/reacting to what others do or say. The master coach is one who is always planning and looking to manipulate (in a positive fashion) the team to create the best conditions for success. Conversations with players, reactions in practice, decisions in games. The master coach is very precise and understands what will bring out the desired result.

Frank Underwood is relentless in the pursuit of his objectives. He is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone around him that might help him achieve his goals. He is ruthless and not afraid to make hard decisions.

Coaching is a people driven business. But it is also one that requires coaches to make hard decisions in pursuit of their objectives. Playing time, lineup, roster, recruiting – all areas that require a coach to say no or tell someone they aren’t good enough. While coaches should never discard people on their teams, they should be ready to make the hard decisions that will move them closer to their objectives.

Pardon the pun, but Frank has a lot of frank conversations in his job. While it is very much part of what he does, it seems as though he spends most of his day in a confrontation with someone. This is an unnatural human state – we can be hostile and confrontational for a time, but humans are programmed to be at ease for the majority of their day. Frank is not afraid of this aroused state and embraces most of the battles head on.

Confrontation, especially with a colleague or someone you like (friend, co-worker, spouse) is never easy. But it is a necessary part of life and when used properly can help to mend relationships and fix things that aren’t working well. Often, people try to avoid or hide from confrontation, ignoring people or ducking the problem. Facing issues head on, embracing the confrontation and looking to grow from it is the best way to handle it. Frank’s ability to be upfront, honest and blunt about what he wants is a refreshing reminder about the value of confrontation and how it can be beneficial when used properly.

While I just hit on a few key themes from Frank Underwood’s character, there are dozens of things in House of Cards that any leader can learn from. A fascinating drama that shows what the world of politics looks like and might also help you become a better coach.

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