Magnum PI and the Art of Leadership
In December of 1980, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) gave us a series that ran for eight seasons. Based in the Hawaiian Islands and starring Tom Selleck, Magnum P.I. focused on a veteran who, after returning from the Vietnam War,who came to live and “work” as a private investigator/security consultant.
Ostensibly, the show was about Magnum’s escapades as an investigator and security consultant who often could be seen coercing/ teaming up with his best friends Ric, TC and (arguably) Higgins to sort out the problem-of-the-week. While it could be occasionally goofy, Magnum P.I. received accolades for its portrayal of veterans and, on occasion, how it dealt with hard issues.
“I know what you’re thinking…” Why bring it up here? What does this have to do with leadership? Actually, I think there are a few observations about the fictional Thomas Sullivan Magnum and his stalwart band of companions with which we can draw some inspiration and observations about.
Commitment, Camaraderie and Codes of Conduct
When taking on any task, Magnum saw it through to the end, often times at his own expense and (maybe) to the chagrin of his friends. When a case was underway, he pursued the path, even, if at times it put him at odds with his own clients. Having the fortitude to tenaciously see something through is important. Viewing the forest and understanding intent will get you in… but without commitment, you may not get through.
His comrades-in-arms were a vital part of success. While there were times when Magnum (thru sheer desire to prove his personal mettle) would take on an issue, the majority of problems were solved by the collective team. Often the group rallied to support Magnum’s efforts (as the defacto leader) and he provided the intent for what was needed. However, when one of the team was in trouble it was Magnum who galvanized everyone into action. Whether it was Ric’s issues with bookies or Higgins sense of duty to “the Regiment,” when the team was in need, Magnum rallied everyone to support. The bonds shared amongst your team are sacrosanct. This doesn’t mean you will always see eye-to-eye (they often didn’t) but, once the decision was made, they moved forward. A leader’s job is to be the rallying point for activities and the guide. Being the technical expert is not always your job, but knowing how to manage and deploy your experts is. Only TC could fly the chopper…but Magnum often told where to go.
Along with their esprit-de-corps., came their code. While never written or stated, there was a definite ethos the group adhered too. Though it often seemed to have trouble fitting into a ‘peacetime’ society (which was a larger theme to the whole series) their code served as the honor guide by which their activities were philosophically directed. Do you and your team have a “warrior code” that helps to define yourselves? If so, what is it based in… duty, service, excellence, [insert cool Latin phrase here]? Having an ethos system helps define and drive many activities that go on in any group. From feedback loops to handling clients, understanding and communicating your value sets, as a leader, will set the bar for success.
The Tao of Magnum
Finally, we have Magnum himself. Ultimately, what do we draw from this character that has relevance today? Sellecks’ character was a Navy SEAL before they were a household name and while known for their stalwart and steely ways, he was extremely self-aware and many times seemed to be at odds with himself; where he was, what he was doing and where he was going. He was also very astute at dealing with his comrades and clientele, often seen appealing to their value systems or states-of-mind to ensure operational success. These characteristics made him extremely emotionally intelligent which is often discussed to be a key characteristic in effective leadership.
Almost an anti-hero in his questioning of himself, Magnum was a believer in karma:
“Fate has a nasty way of popping up and waving its long, bony finger under your nose. Sometimes it’s a squeaker at 70 miles an hour; Sometimes it’s a plane you missed that never makes it back from the Bermuda Triangle; but whatever it is, you always get the message: it’s time to stop taking your good luck for granted.” – The Eighth Part of the Village (Season 3 episode 4)
As the show progressed you could see Magnum’s character grow and learn as he dealt with his decisions and, ultimately, returned to naval service in the series’ finale; thus catching up and finding his place in the universe. We also grow as our experiences and maturation continues to expand. While the end point remains, the course by which we get there forever changes as our personal tides shift.
But at the end…Magnum and company were “of action.” Red Ferraris, helicopters, old west diplomacy, damsels’-in-distress, chase scenes and all of it make the show an essential part of this genre’ and, mostly, made for a lot of fun television. Looking back, while I don’t think it ever played an essential part in any one decision I’ve made it always seemed to be on (in my own background) at times of important resolution. Perhaps it was karma’s way of reminding me to listen to my own “little voice inside.”