11 Leadership Lessons from The Walking Dead

For those who aren’t familiar, the TV show The Walking Dead, is a story about people forced into extraordinary circumstances (a zombie apocalypse). The human survivors are forced to band together to survive, and the seemingly random assortment of people gradually become a functional team with individual roles and a common purpose—survival.

It’s no surprise that over five seasons, the character-driven drama has taught invaluable leadership lessons that carry over into real life. Here are 11 that really resonate:


“I can’t stop you. But you can’t stop me from helping you.” —Michonne

Help your employees by contributing your own skills to their projects. This will help them to not only meet their goals, but exceed them through synergy and collaboration. This will make your team so much more successful in the long run as you work to contribute to the company mission. So don’t try to stop your employees. Supply them with the tools they need to do great work and serve them as they achieve greatness.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” —Max DePree



“Just tell them a story…People are children and children like stories.” —Carol

Leaders must have a vision, but if they want to guide a successful organization, they need to be able to communicate their vision with the rest of the team so they can get buy-in, loyalty, excitement and energy. So tell your story so everyone can share the vision and help create a successful brand, product, and company.

“It’s not just the leader’s vision that’s important. It has to be a shared vision.” —James Kouzes

“I did something. I stepped up. I had to do something.” —Carol

Sometimes the best leaders are those who recognize that the current circumstances require their particular proficiencies, and they step up to lead the project and the team. An even better manager will foster this organic leadership as it emerges on the team from project to project.

“Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” —Harry S. Truman

“Even though you were wrong…You were still right.” —Carol

Help your employees to recognize when they make a mistake, but also to understand making mistakes is part of learning and growing, and it’s an essential part of succeeding. Make sure your employees feel safe trying new formulas, approaches, and techniques. Teach them how to accept and learn from failure so they can gain insight and become successful.

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” —Theodore Roosevelt



“I had to keep hope alive…There is always hope.” —Rick

Successful leaders keep their teams motivated and excited about the work they are doing, even when it hits roadblocks or deadlines get pushed back. It’s their job to keep energy and morale high.

“The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others.” —Gilbert Amelio

“Things don’t get better because you want them to. Starting right now, we have to live in the real world. We have to control who lives here.” —Rick

Recognizing that goals can’t be accomplished without dedication to specific actions is vital to success. It’s also important to consciously hire new employees that fit the culture, ethic, and drive of your organization. By getting the right people on the team and working to meet goals, you will build positive momentum.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” —Will Rogers

“You don’t know what it’s like out there. You may think you do but you don’t.” —Rick

You are a leader because you have gone through the school of hard-knocks. Your experience matters and should be used to guide your team. If you can minimize their mistakes and help them gain perspective, they will be much more equipped for the task at hand.

“Dale…wasn’t afraid to say what he thought, how he felt. That kind of honesty is rare and brave. Whenever I’d make a decision, I’d look at Dale.” —Rick

Be the leader who encourages your employees to own their data, speak their minds, and stand by their values. If necessary, assign a member of the team to be the counterpoint, or devil’s advocate, to avoid groupthink in meetings where important decisions are being made that will affect the direction of the team’s mission and goals.

“Effective leaders reward dissent, as well as encourage it.” —Warren Bennis

“We survive this by pulling together, not apart.” —Rick

Similar to loyalty, a team must be solidified in a joint purpose, working together to accomplish a shared vision. One-on-ones, team building activities and collaborative projects all help to build unity, but it is the leader’s job to make sure the team is cohesive and works together well.

“In order to have a winner, the team must have a feeling of unity; every player must put the team first ahead of personal glory.” —Paul Bear Bryant



“You two get the fence. Too many pile up, we got ourselves a problem.” —Daryl

Manage the little things so they don’t become roadblocks. If you conscientiously make small strides toward a goal each day, those actions will compound into success and rewards you didn’t realize you were achieving. But if you neglect employee development, daily sales calls, or regular marketing efforts, you and your team will quickly become overwhelmed.

“Miss only a couple weeks of anything…and you don’t just lose the results those two weeks would have produced. If that’s all you lost (which is what most people assume), not much damage would be done. But by slacking off for even a short time, you killed Mo. It’s dead. And that’s a tragedy.” —Darren Hardy

Rick and Daryl


Rick: “I know what you did for me…while I was working things out. Thank you.”

Daryl: “It’s what we do.”

Take care of your team. Help them and have their backs. This will breed loyalty and encourage a culture of camaraderie. No one should be above receiving help when they are having an off day, and no one should be above giving it.

“The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals.” —Rensis Likert

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Rick and Daryl