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#CareerTipsFromHollywood – House of Cards

The fourth season of House of Cards premiered on Netflix in Summer 2016. The political series revolves around the American presidency and focuses on one central theme: power. How to get it, how to use it to further your interests, how to keep it and how to multiply it – these are the protagonist Francis “Frank” Underwood’s (played by Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey) favorite subjects.

Frank Underwood uses extremely ruthless and treacherous yet equally fascinating methods to gain power, much to the delight of viewers. One characteristic element of the show’s style is how it breaks down what’s known as the fourth wall – Frank Underwood turns directly to viewers to give numerous explanations and offer comments and advice about leadership, management and pushing your own interests. Of course, this advice should not be taken at face value. Underwood lies, cheats and kills. But it wouldn’t be #CareerTipsFromHollywood if there weren’t a few valuable lessons to be learned from these power-hungry politicians.

Don’t let setbacks stop you

Pragmatism is one of Frank Underwood’s most defining characteristics. He has to fight his way back against bitter setbacks time and again in this political circus. When Underwood learns President Walker’s administration won’t be giving him the post of Secretary of State as promised in the first season, he doesn’t stay disappointed or frustrated for long. Instead, he accepts this new situation and immediately starts making new plans and developing new strategies. Numerous machinations and manipulations see him ultimately appointed Vice President at the end of the season.

We can apply this to our normal working lives. It may be that, time and again, you face situations you couldn’t foresee and you can’t do anything about. This can be frustrating since it means you’re unable to act independently on all aspects of your work, even if you put in all your effort and do a good job. In these moments it helps not to dwell for very long on personal feelings or disappointment. What seem like setbacks often result in previously unimagined possibilities. It pays to keep a cool head and look out for the next opportunity.

Get yourself a career wingman

I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood.
Frank Underwood about Claire Underwood

The partnership between Claire and Frank Underwood is not only characterized by a quite significantly love-hate relationship and a certain amount of discord, but also by the absolute will of the two partners to join forces to reach the top of the political game. Claire and Frank are constantly using their contacts to mutually support each other. They devise plans together and initiate elaborate campaigns to increase their influence in Washington. Neither Claire nor Francis wants to forego the best possible individual career they could each achieve, which does lead to numerous power struggles within their relationship, but they always end up finding solutions that mean they both come out on top.

Your own career wingman (or wingwoman) can support and challenge you far beyond just the start of your career. Providing mutual feedback, exchanging experiences and working in the same industry can foster a beneficial relationship between you and your wingman that goes the distance and crosses company boundaries.

Don’t get caught up in the little things

There, no more pain.
Frank Underwood

Right at the start of the first season of House of Cards, Frank Underwood kills a dog that has been hit by a car with his bare hands. Or, as Francis says, “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that's only suffering. I have no patience for useless things. Moments like this require someone who will act. Who will do the unpleasant thing. The necessary thing.”

Thanks to Kevin Spacey’s impressive performance, we know right from the first time we meet Frank Underwood that he has no time to be held back by minor details or diversions. He relentlessly pursues his ambitious goals with efficiency. He willingly accepts stress and suffering if it will truly advance his goals.

And Frank Underwood has an important lesson to teach us, especially those of us with a great deal of professional responsibility: It is crucial not to lose yourself in the operational trifles when occupying a leadership position. As professionals take on greater responsibility, they must learn to delegate tasks. Those who are unable to let go of the little things will lose sight of the real issues and key projects.

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