Human resource directors who watch the hit television series NCIS must cringe at the leadership style of Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
Special Agent Gibbs, played on the long-running show by actor Mark Harmon, is the fictional head of a team of federal agents who investigate crimes involving U.S. Navy personnel.
His methods result in plenty of solved cases, but in real life, they would undoubtedly get him fired.
2-4-6-8 Everyone Intimidate
Gibbs is a former marine sniper who leads by intimidation.
As a manager, he’s demanding, impatient, and highly intolerant of mediocre effort.
He often interrupts his employees while they’re talking, seemingly eavesdrops on their private conversations (how else does he always know what they’re talking about when he’s out of the room,) and often sneaks up on them from behind.
Gibbs barks orders; He never asks.
From the way he treats his employees, it would seem that Gibbs hasn’t cracked open an employee manual in the past twenty-five years. Seriously, he won’t hesitate to give his investigators an occasional head-slap when they mess up.
Nor does he think twice about kissing his forensic scientist on the cheek whenever she uncovers helpful evidence.
My Way or The Highway
Instead, he prefers to follow his own list of rules, even if they might conflict with ordinary HR policies
Rule #9: “Never go anywhere without a knife.”
Rule #7: “Always be specific when you lie.”
What’s more, despite his military upbringing, Gibbs doesn’t even try to respect authority. He barges into his boss’s office, talks back to his superiors (even presidential cabinet members), and blatantly disregards directives with which he disagrees.
Question is—ignoring the fact that he’s a fictional character—why hasn’t his boss tossed Gibbs out on his ear?
On the Brighter Side
As it turns out, in spite of his shortcomings, Special Agent Gibbs also has some admirable leadership qualities.
First of all, Gibbs is a hands-on, lead-by-example manager. He eschews a private office and occupies a cubicle along his field agents.
An investigator first and a boss second, Gibbs is not averse to getting his hands dirty—or getting himself shot at—in the trenches (rule #15: always work as a team).
In the process, he sets an example for his agents to follow.
Along those lines, more often than not, Gibbs is the smartest person in the room. That’s important when you’re leading highly talented employees. Top performers respect technical knowledge far more than where a person resides on an organizational chart.
The more proficient the boss is in applying that technical knowledge, the higher that leader’s status is among skilled workers. Furthermore, Gibbs is smart enough to surround himself with people who know what he doesn’t (technology, for example, is not his strong point).
Leading With Clarity
Next, although he’s quick to point out their mistakes, Gibbs insists that his employees never apologize for the ones they make (rule #6).
Apologizing, in his view, is a sign of weakness.
Better to learn from your mistakes and move on, than to grovel for a pardon.
Gibbs also recognizes the loyalty of his team members, and, in return, he always has their backs. It’s one thing for him to criticize his employees, but he won’t stand for anyone else—including the agents themselves—second-guessing their actions.
Finally, Gibbs has a simple leadership vision: catch the crooks. His strongest leadership trait, perhaps, is his ability to inspire that desire in those who work with him. He might not be a touchy-feely kind of leader (head slaps and kisses, notwithstanding), but his passion for getting justice is contagious.
If you’re looking for a leader to emulate, and you have aspirations of moving up the corporate ladder, I suggest you turn the channel.
However, if you’re looking for results that only a heart-felt leadership approach can produce, watch and learn from Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
George Brymer is the creator of The Leading from the Heart Workshop®
He delivers Leadership Workshops that help leaders at all levels evolve
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