Zombie-Levelled Leadership

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Sure, your team follows your instructions when they’re not being eaten alive. But when the zombie apocalypse hits, will you become just another meat-bag for the walking dead, or will your leadership skills help the last of humanity survive the end of days?


As far as worst-case scenarios go, reanimated corpses wantonly feasting on everyone you love (and hate) pretty much ranks super high on the universal ‘we’re-totally-screwed’ scale. To which this makes the undead-Armageddon-circumstance a very effective tool in reflecting on the effectiveness of your leadership style. For one, it’s a do or die (horribly) situation that forces the most feral of our survival instincts to kick in – yes, it’s a false dilemma – but the endgame element should account for at least some learning points for any leader. The beauty of this fallacy of false choice is that it forces you to acknowledge the fragility of your perceived authority. Plus, almost nothing else automatically switches us to tribal or pack animal mode, other than the thought being alone, surrounded by ravenous flesh-reapers and praying for a quick death.

So when the proverbial crap hits the fan, an Alpha must prevail, may it by sheer brute force, clever manipulation, or an overwhelmingly natural inclination to be the messiah, a leader must emerge – or else the group is doomed to be eaten in a messily haphazard and unceremonious way. So when the dead arise, here are your choices:

  1. BECOME the Alpha and lead your pack of survivors to long term safety and sustainability, or
  2. Recognise that your Alpha skills are imagined at best and you suck at leadership, and submit to the real Alpha, to achieve long term survival, or
  3. go lone wolf solo, lose your mind from loneliness and eventually become a light snack to a horde of brain munching corpses after you get caught having a demented monologue about leadership with yourself

At this point, some folks are probably kicking back and thinking, sure, I’ll do just as Rick did in The Walking Dead. Sounds like a decent enough game plan, but just because you’ve watched all the Bond movies, it doesn’t automatically make you an international covert assassin. So for the purposes of pseudo-realism, here’s what you need to mentally prep – when all hell breaks loose.

The Beginning of the End

If you call yourself a leader based on the fact that your name is on an organisational chart on a slide deck that you put together, there is a high chance that your subordinates will throw you into a zombie scrum as soon as the outbreak begins. Just as a nickname is only legit when you didn’t give it to yourself, the same goes for leadership. So calling yourself a ‘leader’ without actually doing anything to earn it, especially if you’ve been put in a position based on what you studied in school (unless of course, it’s a Masters in Surviving & Leading in the Zombie Apocalypse), means jack – especially when everyone is screaming and running maniacally to save themselves.

So step back and ask yourself:  At the point of time when the zombies are at the office door clawing their way in, and if I shouted, “everyone, follow me!” how many of my colleagues will actually follow, and more importantly, will they instead, use me as a doorstop?

Supply & Demand

So let’s say you’ve established yourself as the Alpha for now and you and your ragtag group of office survivors have run far enough to take stock of your situation. Survivalist dynamics guarantees that your group of fellow escapees will start questioning your leadership position. Slide deck leaders who have lucked their way into this spot this far into the game will undoubtedly be challenged by an incumbent Alpha. This is also the exact moment when everyone will realise that the walking dead are not the real enemy, and that humans are their greatest threat. Infighting, betrayals and tears will follow. Also, if the pantry thief is in your group, be forewarned, there is a high chance that fellow will stab you in your sleep to get to your coffee supply.

So step back and ask yourself: Besides the undead who are looking to consume me, am I a disposable afterthought whose worth is quantifiable by the supplies I carry? In other words, as soon as the instant coffee sachets I carry run out, will the group kill me, or worse use me as zombie bait? What else do I bring to the table besides barking orders and providing coffee?

Decide & Die

It’s been months since the outbreak of undead chewing on everything alive and your group has succeeded in building a stronghold, but now, sustainability is becoming an issue. You have to decide on whether to continue holding fort, in a futureless state of existence, or to get out and find the rest of the humans so that you can regroup and create a new ecosystem. Bear in mind that this is when your position as the leader moves beyond your natural leading ability, experiential skillsets and overall charm – and actually becomes a high stakes game of ‘I am your messiah’.

So step back and ask yourself: Of the two options, (a) holing up forever and eventually inbreeding a colony of mutants and (b) packing up and fighting against a legion of walking dead every waking hour for possibly the rest of my existence – which will be an easier sell, and of the two, which will result in my untimely demise as a leader, and will it even matter?

As far as leadership self-reflections go, there are definitely no right or wrong answers in this exercise, just the stark brutal reality of an endgame that leads to suffering and more suffering. The question then is, apart from the pain of uncertainty and the immediate possibility of being ripped apart into bite-sized chunks, are you a leader worthy of inspired survival, and if you are, for how long? In fact, are you a leader at all? And if you aren’t, are you prepared to play the role of a useful supporter and group member? Regardless of the answer, we must all step up our leadership game and never, ever, let the pantry thief be part of the group.

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Categories: The Big Q

Imran Johri

Imran is a media and communications geek with a media career spanning 18 years of collective experience in television, publications, communications as well as in marketing and digital strategy development. He's also an avid social media observer and indulges in feature writing projects as well as scriptwriting for stage and TV when he has the time. But he doesn't. He's got two kids.

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