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Beware of the Frank Underwoods!

by Krauthammer blog, on Oct 23, 2020 4:06:53 PM

“Task oriented”, “narcissistic behaviour” - two keywords from the short behavioural analysis two of our consultants made about their favourite TV characters. Which psychological features do you find in yourself or in other people around you?

Somewhere around the mid 2000’s, the quality of television series skyrocketed. Screen plays and acting drastically improved and three-dimensional characters that we feel for and care about were invented. This new TV show realism inspired three Krauthammer consultants to examine the personality and behaviour of complex fictional characters. Read on to find out which characters and situations they found worthy of discussion:   

Jos Dames, about Carrie Mathison from Homeland   

Carrie is Homeland’s protagonist. She’s a CIA-operative with a mission to protect her homeland (USA) from terrorist attacks. She is suffering from bipolar disorder so it’s not that easy to assess her personality. However, Carrie takes Clozapine to deal with her bipolarity and her subsequent behaviour is fascinating. 

Carrie is classically task-oriented. She focuses on missions, goals and results. She is hard-working, driven and successful. But her work ethics are both her greatest asset and her biggest pitfall, as is often the case for task-oriented people. When talking about the CIA, Carrie’s mentor Saul Berenson says to her “This is your life”. However hard she tries to have a life outside of work, her focus on the tasks at hand keep her from truly obtaining it.

When decisions need to be made, Carrie moves fast and decisively. She requires firm action and has little patience for people who don’t behave the same way. She usually has a team working under her, under being the key word here. Carrie has a direct leadership style. She tells people what to do instead of taking a participative approach. This leadership style is often very effective for her, given that the organisation that she works for is the CIA. However, her approach is sometimes described as cold and distant.

Indeed, Carrie can be a bit cold. She has low tolerance for other’s feelings, their ways of thinking and their advice. Most notably, she constantly ignores the well-meant advice of her sister Maggie, who in contrast is a deeply caring person. Carrie also cares deeply about certain things, only her passions are mostly related to her job. On the one hand, this makes her effective and successful, but on the other hand, she is also stressed and isolated.

Ioannis Lagoudakis, Partner, about Don Draper from Mad Men

Mad Men is a drama about a prestigious ad agency in New York at the beginning of the 1960s, focusing on one of the firm’s most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives, Don Draper.

Let’s see how the last season of Mad Men agrees with the Krauthammer attitude…

What do you propose?  

In one of the latest episodes, Peggy asks Don to do her appraisal. Don starts by asking her how she envisions her future. Peggy, irritated by a lack of concrete feedback and afraid a new idea of hers will be stolen, storms out.

Don did well to ask Peggy questions about what she finds important for her performance, what she feels excited about, and what the next steps for improvement should be. However, in a conversation about performance, don’t forget to balance questions with concrete observational feedback and beneficial results.

Trust & empowerment

What did Don do when he was pushed out of SC&P and it was decided that Peggy should hold the client presentation? Peggy hesitated and he pushed her a little. He explained that if the client signed she could claim it as her victory and keep the Burger King account instead of handing it to her supervisors. And when Peggy expressed her fears that she wouldn’t make it, he reminded her that she had done it a thousand times before. Empowerment needs trust, and trust is built on concrete facts.

Embrace Change

The final scene of Mad Men shows Don chanting in harmony with his fellow meditators. “The new day brings new hope,” says the group leader. “The lives we’ve led, the lives we’ve yet to lead. A new day. New ideas. A new you.” Yes, Don has failed many times, and has stood up again, adrift in the simulation of an idealised life that he helps create in the name of commerce. At the end of the show, however, he has realised that the lost Eden he has striven to create for himself and his loved ones is not an event, like the presentation delivered to his clients, or a destination, but a process itself, a cycle of renewal. “Nothing is permanent except change”. And with this insight he embarks on his new journey.

About Frank Underwood from House of Cards    

Congressman Frank Underwood is the protagonist of "House of Cards" – a popular and sensational Netflix series with Kevin Spacey. He devotes all of his energy, time and intelligence to one single purpose in life: ultimate power by any means. He gets enormous pleasure from manipulating and influencing others. Following the principle "democracy is overrated", he intrigues, lies and manipulates. His playground is the political scene of Washington DC. He is frighteningly successful because of his masterful skill in dealing with everyone around him, thanks to his superior intellect. He is assisted by his wife, who is equally ruthless and shares his lust for power.

What makes "House of Cards" so special is not just the original plot and the great performances by the actors, but also the portrayal of ruthlessness and the description of explicit pathological narcissistic behaviour. Frank Underwood sees life merely as a chess game (which he plays pretty well), but he completely lacks compassion for others.

In our work environment, we often have to deal with difficult people. According to scientific studies, we all have to deal with at least one psychopath in our life. The proportion of psychopaths is about 4% in a normal mixed population. However, there are many indications that the proportion is higher in some business environments. So not only your neighbour but also your colleague or boss might be one.

So if you think you have a Frank Underwood as a colleague, first seek to understand his behaviour. What could be motivating his behaviour? Is he really the person he pretends to be? Be careful with those who bend the rules of ethics and morality. Keeping a healthy distance is the best solution

Topics:Personal development articles