Leadership Lessons from “Scandal”…to Un-Learn

It all happened one fateful Friday morning; Black Friday after Thanksgiving to be exact. I woke up sick. With a three day weekend stretched ahead of me, I knew what I had to do. What I always had to do when sick if I had any hope of a quick(ish) recovery: rest and ginerale. Turning on my Netflix for the first time since summer (don’t scoff, I don’t watch that much TV), I perused a few popular titles. As ABC’s “Scandal” scrolled by, the voices of friends and relatives came trickling in “you’d LOVE Scandal.” Well, seemed like a good thing to watch then. If I liked it there’d be plenty of episodes, as I was starting with Season 1 Episode 1, to keep me distracted from the flu/cold hybrid developing. And then I was hooked.

The good news, is that 1 sick three day weekend + 7 more days of feeling terrible/needing rest + time off around the holidays = I’m all caught up and ready to resume real-time with my fellow Gladiators in Suits. And with the season finale right around the corner, we are on the edges of our seats! The bad news, there is ALOT of bad leadership going on in that show. While I understand, without the scandals, “Scandal” would be quite the snooze-fest; making for terrible prime time Thursday night viewing and not at all an escape to an exciting world of politics and pale pink pants with oversized jackets, I can’t help but comment to an impressionable young professional generation that may look to these strong characters for guidance. The “Friends” craze of the 90s brought in a social dynamic of sitting around with friends getting coffee and talking about life (good). So not all TV lessons we try to emulate are bad! But here are a few from “Scandal” we shouldn’t seek to follow or need to un-learn.

  • Lying: Despite Olivia Pope’s constant “Tell me the truth!” declaration, she rarely gets it. Plus, the major draw of the show is the constant fact that we never know who is or isn’t telling the truth. And while our lies may not be in the same scale as a scandalous I-swear-I-didn’t-murder-the-Senator’s-wife level, we still need to be truthful and honest. This point is especially important as Judy Smith, the inspiration for Olivia and the show, gave this same “Tell the Truth” advice to the audience at the 2014 Massachusetts Women’s Conference in Boston, MA. Not telling the truth can be what gets you in real trouble.
  • It’s OK to not cook: WRONG. Remember people. TV.SHOW. In four seasons of Scandal, we’ve seen Olivia Pope order GettysBurger (but never eat it due to some phone call or other distraction), push food around her plate or stare at it during Sunday dinner with dad, or munch a popcorn dinner on the couch. Now, we may not be watching TV to watch other people eat (exception: FoodNetwork). But frequently comments are made in the show about the fact that Olivia doesn’t cook. And not in the, I’m terrible and it’s funny, sitcom way. In the, I’m too busy to cook or use my kitchen. (Almost identical to the character trait of Carrie Bradshaw who never used her kitchen or cooked as her life was always full of brunches and dinner plans). In order to be successful in the business world, you do NOT have to shun cooking. You don’t have to be so busy with work that you don’t make time to teach yourself how to cook healthy meals. Women in particular, you do not have to shun the “house hold work” of cooking in order to be seen as successful in the business world.
  • Who needs work-life balance?: Since we are on the topic of time and life balance, let’s discuss the fact that, other than red wine collecting and the occasional workout, Olivia appears to have no other life or hobby or friendships. All work and no fun makes Gladiator life seem kinda sad. Olivia and crew’s constant “I need to get this” as their Samsung product placement gadgets start ringing makes me cringe. (yes, it’s a tv show, crisis is more interesting) Remember the importance of powering off at the end of a workday and on weekends, and stop checking email when on vacation. You really do need the relax time. You need to have hobbies and outside interests.
  • Letting your life be absent of color or flare: The color palate of Olivia’s wardrobe (pale gray, pale pink, pale blue, white and black) is designed to soften her tough character. If she was in red and bright green she’d come off too harsh. For this point, I’m not just talking about clothes (but a varied and colored wardrobe IS more fun) but about life in general. Get outside your comfort zone, try new things, try something you never would have. Yes, you COULD buy your third black winter jacket because it goes with everything, or you could buy the purple one because it’s fun. Don’t limit yourself to what is safe or what you know works. If I had continued to shy away from spicy foods, I never would have discovered the tastiness of sriracha, yummy spicy tuna sushi or delicious yellow curry at the local Thai place.

All this being said. I do LOVE Scandal. It’s edge of your seat, what will happen next excitement in fabulous clothes. But it is entertainment, not lessons we should bring into the conference room and team meetings.

P.S. Now that I’ve watched all the episodes and am totally caught up…I’m not sure why so many people thought I’d “LOVE” Scandal. I’m hoping it is because of the strong female characters and twisty plotlines I so often enjoy in movies and books….and not because of all the crazy.