5 Small Businesses Leadership Lessons from ‘The Walking Dead’

Whether you're facing zombies or customer retention problems solutions may be one and the same
Walking Dead
Defeating zombies and keep a small business afloat aren't as different as you might think. (Photo: AMC Networks)

“The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular shows on TV, isn’t just about zombies who take over Earth. It’s about the remaining humans who struggle to survive and the drama among them.

Any group of people who band together for a common purpose — whether it’s to defeat zombies or sell products or services — share a lot of the same interpersonal dynamics. Working together and with the right person in charge, they can survive just about anything.

If you’re looking for advice on leadership, take notes from some of these plot points. (Spoiler alert!)

1. Be a big thinker

The survivors of “The Walking Dead” have long rallied behind their fearless leader, Rick Grimes. And why not? He’s a big thinker. Just take a look at Season 6, when they discover a herd of zombies in a nearby quarry. Many in the group suggest ignoring them. But Rick devises a plan on par with “The Great Escape” to lead a parade of zombies away from them. Later that season, Rick thinks outside the box again when he hatches an idea for his group to barter for goods with another group, something that hadn’t been done since the start of the apocalypse.

You don’t need to be Rick Grimes to come up with an idea that changes everything. Small businesses are fertile grounds for big ideas. Indeed, their size and nimbleness often make them the greatest beneficiaries of the proverbial “Aha!” moment.

2. Don’t get too comfortable

Zombies — and business competitors — love complacent humans. It makes them easier to catch.

In Season 5, the survivors come across a town that’s surrounded by high walls, shielding it from the zombies. The problem is, everyone inside drops their guard and becomes oblivious to the shifting threats outside. As viewers of later seasons can tell you, it doesn’t pay to get too comfortable.

The same holds true in business. Don’t settle for the status quo. Always look for ways to better yourself and your business. Stay on top of trends in your sector. That vigilance will not only benefit your business but will also make it better able to withstand changing market pressures.

3. Make sure everyone’s a team player

The main cast of characters who inhabit the world of “The Walking Dead” know the way to survive — and thrive — is by working together. It’s no surprise that when one of them goes rogue (we’re looking at you, Daryl), the rest of the group can suffer. Running off in one direction without consulting the group or devising a plan can lead to disastrous consequences.

In a small company, each employee plays an integral role. It’s important to let them know that. Show them how their role fits into the bigger picture. Be in constant communication and work together to survive whatever may come your way, from a zombie apocalypse to a rush holiday order.

4. Under­-promise and over­-deliver

In the world of “The Walking Dead,” people sometimes over-­promise and under-­deliver. Remember those signs leading the way to a utopian life at Terminus? Needless to say, as viewers of Season 4 recall, that didn’t turn out too well.

A better approach: under­-promise and over-­deliver. Customers love to be pleasantly surprised. A perfect example is Chewy.com, a Florida­-based company that sells pet food online. They often tell customers they’ll get a delivery in a couple of days — then surprise them by overnighting it.

5. Know when to let someone go

Despite being one of the original survivors and as close to family as one can get when the world has completely fallen apart, Carol is forced by Rick to leave the group after she betrays its trust through an act of violence. This is one of the hardest decisions Rick has to make, but he does it for the good of the group and its survival.

Deciding to let someone from your inner circle go can be wrenching, especially if that person has been with your company a long time. But in the end, it’s often these hard choices that help propel a business to success.

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