I am a strong believer in the statement “fiction imitates life”. I have often derived the best of life, business, relationship and leadership lessons from fiction. Great authors are great gurus.
Inferno by Dan Brown has been on my reading list for a long time. Last week, I finally managed to read Dan’s worldwide bestseller.
For those who have not read Inferno yet, it is a “2013 mystery thriller novel by American author Dan Brown and the fourth book in his Robert Langdon series.” The book received some mixed reviews from critics, but managed to be number one on the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction for the first eleven weeks of its release.
Sony Pictures released the film adaptation of the book by the same name in 2016. The film happens to feature two of my all-time favorite actors – Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon and late Irrfan Khan as the Provost.
Rest in peace Irrfan.
Okay, now 2 leadership lessons from Inferno.
Lesson no. 1
Bertrand Zobrist, the novel’s antagonist who is a transhumanist genius scientist, is obsessed with solving the world’s overpopulation problem by releasing a virus.
Zobrist arranged for a meeting with the Elizabeth Sinskey, Director of the WHO. He shared his fears with Sinskey – if overpopulation is not controlled, the human species is heading towards extinction in less than a century.
Although his approach and the meeting circumstances were shady at best, he was seeking cooperation and support from the most influential person in the world in matters of global health.
However, Sinskey rebukes Zobrist and puts him on a global bio-terror watchlist.
This led Zobrist to go underground for a year. He secretly worked on a vector virus and released it that affected the global population rendering one in every three infertile.
Had Sinskey listened to him and reasoned to him, they may have debated and worked on a better solution.
The Lesson: It’s unwise to reject unpopular suggestions without due consideration.
Leaders are in a position of power – they control and influence. Employees, customers, suppliers often approach leaders with suggestions.
Their views may be contrasting, opposing and at times reckless.
When in a position of power and leadership, our views are obstructed by ego, pride and a false sense of security. It’s unwise to reject unpopular suggestions without due consideration.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, novelist and screenwriterTweet
Lesson no. 2
When Elizabeth Sinskey, the WHO Director, put Bertrand Zobrist on a global bio-terror watchlist, he went underground for over a year to develop the airborne infertility virus.
However it was not going to be easy to hide from Sinskey and her global army of governments and organizations. Hence, Zobrist hired the services of The Provost, the head of the notorious Consortium that offered all sorts of assistance to wealthy individuals and groups with no questions asked.
Unknowingly what he was getting into, The Provost uses the might of his organization to provide cover to Zobrist. He helped Zobrist secure the location of the deadly virus from Sinskey and Robert Langdon.
It was too late when he figures out the true intentions of Zobrist and offers assistance to Sinskey to abort the virus outbreak. However it indeed was too late.
The Provost had the opportunity to act a little sooner when he was alerted by one of his trusted employees. However he refused as divulging the details of a client’s business would be against their protocol.
The Lesson: Work policies and procedures are not set in stone. They are to be treated as guidelines and not word of law.
I have first hand witnessed managers and leaders act blindfolded. Employees have been forced to resign as they had requested for a rather long leave of absence from work for exams or health procedures. Reasons cited – this is against the leave policy.
Customers have been made to run pillar to post to ensure some written policy or process flow was followed.
Effective management and leadership needs flexibility. Too rigid and the system breaks down.
“Stay committed to your decisions (cause), but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins, author and coachTweet
Conclusion: Leadership Lessons from Inferno
Employees are happy when they feel empowered. They feel empowered when there is participation in decision making.
Be open to ideas – do not reject ideas on the face value. Reason and question. Offer counter views and invite rebuttals. Let the best idea win the day.
Second, use policies for what they are meant for – guidelines for decision making.
They are not set in stone. I strongly believe that policies need to be work in progress. There needs to be a constant review of their usefulness and context. Don’t hesitate from making a bold change or taking a deviation.
Sometimes it pays to take the road less travelled.