@Forbes on TV #Leadership: Seduced by Survivor

“Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.” That’s the motto of the riveting, ridiculous, highly staged and somewhat abusive TV “reality” show, Survivor. Drew Hendricks’ blog in Forbes about Survivor leadership lessons misses an important distinction between cut-throat competition and leadership. What’s scary about this is that he’s not alone — leading by “power 0ver” ultimately serves one person — the competitive climber. Wouldn’t you rather have a colleague as a leader than a competitor?
Let’s face it, Survivor isn’t really leadership – and only maybe is it about competitive entrepreneurship — because in order to make it exciting, there can be only one winner. Which means, there’s no leadership and little real-world complexity  involved in “outwit, outplay, outlast,” no matter how hard you try to translate the carefully edited game into terms like Collaborative, Strategic, Action-Oriented, Creative, and Tenacious, as Drew Hendricks does in his blog.
Survivor Logo

Survivor Logo

That said, Hendricks is a decent writer, and he offers some good advice to entrepreneurs, advice that describes Survivor strategies without muddying the rhetorical waters with the gameshow’s simplistic Darwinian entertainment. For example: “plan for the long term but be flexible enough to adapt along the way.” (Easier said than done, but good advice nonetheless.) As a business writer, he’s mastered the lingo, and he’s clever to apply it to Survivor, a grabber for entrepreneurs. Read his whole article here…

But I have a different – and bleaker – take on Survivor’s leadership lessons – they’re more a pro-greed, anti-leadership model of entrepreneurship, alive and well in the global economy.

1. Survivor reinforces the idea that it’s a dog-eat-dog world, a war of wits where the smartest and meanest and sneakiest survive. Ever since Richard’s villain game, the winners have worn a mask of friendship, and been celebrated for their cleverness as the biggest, most dramatic dog. That might be good entrepreneurship, but historically (think Rockefeller, Jobs, Gates, Kennedy) these entrepreneurs only became leaders after they became rich enough to stop eating their competition.

2. Survivor teaches us that motivation is the key to keeping going. OK, true enough. But what’s the motivation in that show? MONEY. Of course, money does motivate entrepreneurs — but traditionally, we don’t think about good leadership as balls-to-the-wall hunger for wealth. There has to be something more altruistic or innovative or forward thinking in the organization, the product, and/or the community around the entrepreneur to make them into leaders.

3. Hendricks falls into the show’s trap of equating  leaders with winners — making the losers into weaklings, failures, or suckered followers. I suppose this model works for cutthroat entrepreneurship, and reinforces the battle metaphor that motivates competition and keeps the adrenaline up. And if we’re honest, as a culture, we do celebrate the celebrity of wealth and power that results from being successful. We even call these people leaders sometimes, whether they’ve accomplished anything beyond being rich and famous, or not. But does this mean success is the same thing as leadership, and failure is the same as losing the game? No, except maybe in the world of Survivor.

Rabid Aggressive Dog -- The Survivor Winner Behind the Mask

 The Winner Behind the Mask

Basically, Survivor celebrates the most basic, untrustworthy kind of trickster — the kind that steals you blind and smiles to your face,  justifies the ends with the means. The unconscious, manipulative trickster is the ultimate greedy, opportunistic sneak. As a model of entrepreneurship, it’s well proven to work, in terms of making a profit, and a whole bunch of enemies. But leadership? Nope. The Survivor dog isn’t one you want in your pack, because they’re too hungry to be trusted.





One comment

  1. […] lone hero leader is a myth that haunts us as we create a leadership story to live by. Stories of the “great men” […]


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