How Watching Borgen Can Make You A Better Leader

I am currently watching the first series of the Danish political drama, Borgen. It is an excellently scripted and acted show and my Danish vocabulary now covers two words – “Tak” (Thanks) and “Statsminister” (Prime Minister).

The series focuses on how a new “Statsminister” – Birgitte Nyborg – manages to turn her party’s minority status into a functioning government. Here in the UK, coalitions are a new, and not always welcome, feature of government, but in many European countries they are a way of life.

My big realisation was that coalition government is also an effective model for how many business leaders, particularly those that are in key positions outside of the CEO’s office, need to work to get things done.

You don’t often have ultimate power. Instead, you must engage, understand and persuade others to help you achieve your objectives. The episode I watched last night was called “The Art Of The Possible” and here are five techniques that Birgitte Nyborg used to get things done that can also work for you:

  1. Have a trusted, objective adviser. Birgitte Nyborg has a trusted lieutenant in her deputy, Bent Serjø. Coalitions are complex beasts and you often need a different, and sometimes brutally honest, perspective to work out the best way forward. Who is your trusted adviser, helping you to work out the best way to get things done?
  2. Create options – always. Bent is always challenging Nyborg to consider her options. This process prevents her from making ‘knee-jerk’ reactions and enables her to develop new ways round seemingly intractable issues. How often are you truly developing and reviewing a range of credible options to accelerate implementation of your priorities?
  3. Meet your stakeholders individually. Nyborg leads a centre-left party. In most of her meetings with more right wing parties she met with them as a group. But in last night’s episode she made more progress – in the development of her relationships and her ability to sign-off her first budget – when she met with the leader of one of the smaller right wing parties on a one-to-one basis. How often are you making time to meet with your fellow executives one-to-one, rather than as part of a group meeting?
  4. Understand your colleagues’ objectives. The key to getting her budget signed-off was for Nyborg to realise that some potential partners were merely playing games and had no intention of supporting her, whereas other players had certain objectives that she could meet within the financial constraints in which she was operating. How well do you understand the priorities of your executive and managerial colleagues, and to what extent have you considered how you could help them achieve their objectives alongside your own goals?
  5. Understand and use your own power. Bent tells Nyborg that she must realise that she is the one that is “Statsminister” and that she needs to realise the power and position she occupies. Similarly, your position of power is important to other people. Confidence and body language is critical to Nyborg’s discussions with both her allies and her adversaries. How well do you understand your own power, and how do you demonstrate this in the way you talk with colleagues and through your overall body language?

Borgen is TV fiction, but sometimes art can teach us important lessons about the human condition. Which of these five lessons from Borgen could help you become a better leader of your organisation?

© Stuart Cross 2013. All rights reserved.