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  • Writer's pictureVikrant Vartak

Leadership Lessons from The Professor@Money Heist

Updated: Oct 16, 2023




There are many individuals who play a big role in shaping your life. However, learning is never limited to these few Gurus. Someone who is observant & discerning enough, ‘Gurus’ are all around us; they could be in the form of a junior colleague, your kids, or someone serving you in a restaurant & providing you with a delightful service. To go a step further, it need not even be a real person with whom you deal with in flesh & bone. It can even be a character in a movie or a TV show.


One such TV show character who I got to revere very highly is The Professor of Money Heist. Let’s draw some LEVEL 5 Leadership lessons from The Professor of this super popular show.


Complete Article


We recently celebrated Guru Purnima, a festival observed in India, Nepal, and Bhutan by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. Wiki describes it as, “A tradition dedicated to all the spiritual and academic Gurus, who are evolved or enlightened humans, ready to share their wisdom with no monetary expectation, based on Karma Yoga.”


There are many individuals who play a big role in shaping your life. However, learning is never limited to these few Gurus. Someone who is observant & discerning enough, ‘Gurus’ are all around us; they could be in the form of a junior colleague, your kids, or someone serving you in a restaurant & providing you with a delightful service. To go a step further, it need not even be a real person with whom you deal with in flesh & bone. It can even be a character in a movie or a TV show. One such TV show character who I got to revere very highly is The Professor – played by Alvaro Morte – of Money Heist. Let’s draw some LEVEL 5 Leadership lessons from The Professor (Sergio Marquina) of this super popular show.


In the bible of management 'Good to Great', author Jim Collins describes how some companies transition from being good companies to great companies, and how most companies fail to make the transition. He says that an essential ingredient for taking a company to greatness is having a 'Level 5' leader; a leader who paradoxically demonstrates extreme personal humility with intense professional will.


Jim Collins observes that Level 5 leaders are humble, quiet, reserved, shy, mild-mannered, self-effacing, and understated. This is in contradiction to conventional fascination for charismatic and egocentric leaders. Level 5 leaders never want to become larger than life heroes. They never aspire to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They are seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results. They channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.


If Level 5 leaders are quiet, shy, and reserved, how do you trace their existence? Look for situations where extraordinary results exist, but where no individual steps forth to claim excess credit! You are sure to find a Level 5 leader.


In this popular show, a team of robbers, under the able leadership of the Professor, pulls off the biggest heists known to mankind. As described by Jim Collins, the real hero of the Heist prefers to stay behind the curtains unlike what most ‘so-called flamboyant, extrovert, and charismatic leaders of today’ would ever be comfortable with. ‘Humble, quiet, reserved, shy, mild-mannered, self-effacing, and understated’ Professor is acutely focused on pulling off his herculean mission rather than ‘placing himself on the pedestal or becoming an unreachable icon’.


Let’s draw some leadership lessons from The Professor’s masterclass.


1) By failing to plan, you are planning to fail”


The Professor not just plans each and every detail to its minutest level; he is shown to have hatched his plan for years before thinking of bringing it to execution. His plan not just involves a lot of ‘drawing board’ level thinking, it also involves a lot of ‘field work’; for e.g. Tokyo & Rio’s multiple visits to the Mint for a detailed study.


2)If you think the enemy has only two courses, you can be sure that he will choose the third


This is what Otto Von Bismarck – The Iron Chancellor of Germany – used to say to his generals. The kind of scenario planning Professor does is incredible. He has a plan for every eventuality – Paris Plan, Plan Valencia, Plan Hamelin, Plan Alcaraz etc etc. He is often seen talking about ‘activating’ Plan B, C, and so on! Some of these plans are in fact intentionally ‘designed’ for the enemy to get manoeuvered into. Each of these alternate and backup plans is carefully crafted too.


Despite this intense planning, he is aware that plans can and do fail. He also respects his enemies and their capability to come up with something that he could not envisage. He therefore plants a bug into Deputy Investigator Angel Rubio’s spectacles. To make his plan even more fool proof, he even poses as Salvo and befriends (& falls in love too – something not in the plan!) the main investigator Raquel Murillo.


3)If I were to sum up in one word the qualities that make up a good leader, I’d say it all comes down to DECISIVENESS


In this quote by Lee Iacocca, he singles out ‘decision making’ as the ability which most saliently distinguishes a strong leader from a weak one. Lee Iacocca further adds, "My policy has always been to be democratic all the way to the point of decision."


The Professor is shown to be extremely accessible, easy-to-deal-with, open-to-feedback, open-to-criticism. Anyone can barge into his room at any goddamn hour to give him his/her piece of mind! Professor is shown to respect everyone’s point of view and gives them a patient hearing. However, when it comes to taking tough decisions – many times quickly too – he suddenly gets mighty strong and even authoritative.


4)When you enrich the relationship, you enhance the leadership


The Professor is shown to love his team mates. He builds a person rapport with each one of them and thoroughly empathizes with them. When any one of them meets with an unfortunate fate, he cries over the loss. His team mates not only respect him, but love him too. Tokyo calls him her ‘guardian angel’ and trusts him to the extent of blindly believing in his capabilities & intentions.


Some wonderful people management lessons that we can draw are as follows.


a)Good leaders blend humanity with courage. They are tough when the circumstances call for it.


While, the Professor loves his team mates, he is equally tough with them when the circumstances demand. He strongly punishes Berlin for the blunder he commits without being weighed down by the fact that he is his elder half-brother.


b)Great leaders are great teachers. See yourself as a coach inspiring your team to manifest your future vision.


Leaders coach and not preach. The way the Professor coaches the team for three months is remarkable. One would pay any price to be a part of his Management Development Program! – Of course, w/o wanting to risk being a part of the heist J. He imparts them with every required skill; be it using an LMG, performing a basic surgery, and so on. He invests heavily on team building so that a strong, well-gelling, and focused team is built out of complete strangers.


The Professor successfully sells his vision to these strangers; successfully transforming his vision into a ‘shared vision’, by convincingly addressing the crucial “What's In It for ME?” question for each one of them.


c)The best leaders turn their teammates loose. They clearly communicate their vision, coach and develop their people, and, once done, set them free.


The Professor needs to do this in the literal sense of the phrase. With all his team mates holed up in the Mint (or Bank of Spain in the 2nd heist), Professor is faced with the challenge of remotely managing his team using sophisticated decoded communication channels. Despite being at a distance, he doesn’t lose control of the mission (barring an exception or two) and his team.


d)Leaders tend naturally to give the reason why something has to be done; bosses just tell you to do it


The Professor creates an environment where everyone can be at their best and contribute. Every member is free to share his/her opinion even if it’s a contrary one. Professor patiently hears everyone and invests time in addressing & resolving their concerns. He explains the ‘why’ behind everything rather than simply compel them to comply. This helps to covert his vision into a share vision effectively without much of a resistance.


e)Clarifying expectations about roles and goals is the essence of team building


Every member of his team is cleverly headhunted by the Professor after having deeply studied them over a long period, and with crystal clarity on what their role is supposed to be.


Every member of the heist is very clear on their roles & responsibilities. The leadership line-up is clearly established and well communicated. The succession plan is also well known.



5)There are a lot of things behind a negotiation process


Money Heist is a masterclass on negotiation tactics. It also proves that information is a negotiator's greatest weapon. The phone calls between the Professor and the police negotiators are full of surprises, demonstrates effective use of presence of mind & humour, and an amazing combination of strategic & tactical abilities to gain an advantage.


6)If you want everyone to work hard, you must not give the impression that you are standing around with nothing to do


The Professor is a workaholic and acutely focused on this goals and his work. He proves to be a role model and inspires others to put in their best towards attainment of their common goal.


Setting an example of hard work is always a good idea for a leader, as long as it doesn’t detract your function as director and controller. The Professor is not just masterminding, strategizing, negotiating (with the police), and controlling, but also takes to the field and gets his hands dirtied when the situation demands; For example, he goes in search of the car which was supposed to be destroyed after its use by Oslo. He goes through hell while trying to locate the car and destroy the evidence.


On the Closing


Wisdom is a combination of three elements: experience, intelligence, and goodness. Unless your sub-ordinates appraise you highly in all three aspects, he/she is unlikely to want to learn from you. No wonder the Professor’s character in Money Heist is extremely inspiring. Despite being portrayed as shy, introvert, un-romantic (at least not romantic in a ‘conventional’ way), loner, and so on, the Professor is attractive enough for both Tokyo & Nairobi to get drawn to him!!


What the world overall and the corporate world needs is Level 5 leaders like the Professor rather than the typical flamboyant one’s who talk a lot but deliver little (or possibly nothing!)

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Connect With Vikrant
 

Vartak Heritage, 100 Ft D.P.Road,

Near Mhatre Bridge, Opp Gharkul Lawns,

Vartak Baug, Erandwane, Pune-411052

vikrant.vartak@thesenate.in

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