House of Cards Frank Underwood’s Healthy Leadership

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House of Cards

Our offices sit directly across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.. Much of our view is just like the opening sequence of the Netflix original hit series, House of Cards. This American political drama series is filled with back-stabbing leadership moves and intrigue. We thought it would be interesting to see if we could find any “healthy leadership” in the show’s main character (played by Kevin Spacey). It has been reported that even President Obama has “Frank Underwood envy”.

Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know anything about Underwood’s leadership abilities and characteristics, stop here.

Bob Rosen’s new book, Grounded, outlines the six roots of healthy leadership: Physical, Emotional, Intellectual, Social, Vocational and Spiritual health. Healthy leaders make a difference in their organizations and the world because they use their beliefs, values, aspirations and commitment to a higher purpose to succeed.

Let’s calibrate how Frank Underwood is doing on his path to healthy leadership.

Ruthless Bully or Ruthlessly Efficient Leader?

UnderwoodeatingPhysical Health: Frank attends to his physical health with workouts on his rowing machine and running with his wife, Claire. He even vents his frustrations by regularly playing a video game. His continuing vice, smoking, he tries to keep to a minimum along with his love of a rack of ribs. Frank seems to understand the need for energy management and a peak performance lifestyle to cope with the long hours and job stress.  Physical Health Grade: B

Emotional Health:  One out of three for Frank on his efforts for emotional health. How you feel – your ability for self-awareness, positive emotions, and resilience – make you an emotionally healthy leader. Frank is all about resilience, repeatedly bouncing back from failure or disappointment. But his moral compass is broken using manipulation and negative emotions to control others.  Emotional Health Grade: C

Intellectual Health: Frank is well prepared to confront his complex world. His adaptive mindset, deep curiosity and paradoxical thinking are clearly well developed. He does extensive research on his friends and foes. He tirelessly plans (or schemes) thinking through possible actions and considering potential reactions.  Intellectual Health Grade: A

Social Health:  A master at creating mutually rewarding relationships, Frank’s ability to convince you he is only doing what is in the best interest of both parties is exceptional. He is perceived as an authentic collaborator.  Frank is the guy you turn to when you are in trouble. And that is where the trouble starts.  Social Health Grade: B-

Vocational Health: Undoubtedly, his strongest suit. Frank pejoratively asks: “There are only two types of Vice-Presidents – doormats and matadors. Which one do you think I intend to be?” Frank’s drive to succeed, personal mastery and meaningful calling (to serve his country) are what House of Cards is all about. Even President Obama joked to the media “…Man, this guy is getting a lot of stuff done.”    Vocational Health Grade: A+

Spiritual Health: Here is where Frank’s leadership goes missing. His higher purpose, feeling of global connectedness and generosity of spirit are non-existent. He is a vengeful persona, bent only on his own achievements and narcissism.   Spiritual Health Grade: F-

There is no middle way with Frank Underwood’s leadership health. His intellectual and vocational health should make him a superstar. But his emotional and spiritual health status leaves him morally bankrupt (or psychopathic). He exudes confidence, especially in crisis, with his ability to be calm and in control. He is willing to show weaknesses and admit failure but only as a calculated risk to manipulate and maneuver events to his favor.

Frank Underwood is just a TV character, one we can easily analyze and scoff at all his negative, ruthless behaviors. But he does provide leadership lessons.  Balance, finding the middle way and getting grounded is what makes healthy leaders. No one health is more important than the other.  Leaders need to be ever vigilant to develop all six healths to become a healthy, Grounded Leader.

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