Leadership Lessons from the Joker  


The Joker is my all-time favorite villain. What I absolutely love about his character is that unlike other villains, he gets stuff done. As a matter of fact, the Joker is so good at what he does that I think there’s a lot we can learn about how to be an effective leader from him. In The Dark Knight, he shows off three things great leaders have that inspired me and I hope will inspire you. To make things easy on the memory, all you’ll have to remember is three letters: PMS.


The first thing that great leaders have is a plan. When coming up with a plan, make sure it’s as clear, sharp and succinct as possible—I mean clear enough that a three-year-old could get it. The Joker was right: nobody panics when everything goes according to plan. So when you offer a clear, executable plan to a group of potential followers, they can’t help but make way for you.

The Joker’s plan was clear from the get-go: kill Batman. It doesn’t get clearer than that.

Not only does the plan need to be clear, but it needs to be, well…planned out. The entire Dark Knight movie was basically the Joker making a plan and us watching it happen. He put Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes in warehouses with explosives strapped to their backs and he knew that Batman would choose to save Rachel. He let the police arrest him because he knew what precinct they would send him to and he knew what officers would be watching him. He knew his henchman would be in the same precinct with a bomb ticking inside him and he knew when to ask for a phone call to make it detonate so he could escape. Nothing caught him by surprise because he had everything planned out of the wazoo. Good leaders plan ahead and don’t just wing it and hope for the best.


This is where the magic happens. My favorite quality of the Joker was that he knew people. He knew what made them tick and he knew what they wanted. Once you’ve got a plan and you want to find a team, figure out what they all want. Then, when you know what they want, show them how your plan will get them exactly what they want.

In The Dark Knight, the Joker waltzed into the mafia meeting and told them all, “I know why you have your group therapy sessions in broad daylight…the Batman.” He knew that what they all wanted was to be able to run their crime rings without being afraid of Batman pounding their skulls in. So after he hooked them with the motivation that was driving all of them, he sold them the plan.

Too often, though, I’ll find myself coming up with a clear, executable plan but no one on my team wants to do it. So I’ll get frustrated and angry and try to guilt trip everyone into doing what I want. But if I’d followed the Joker’s example, I would’ve figured out what everyone wanted. There’s another leadership lesson for free: leaders listen to their teammates.

Sense of humor

This is the quality that brings it all together. If you have a plan and you’ve motivated people to follow that plan, but you don’t have a sense of humor, you’re just a dictator. You actually have to be funny—because you can’t fake that. But part of being a great leader is not taking yourself too seriously, which the Joker was a master at. There’s nothing worse than to be following a leader who’s so uptight that you can never make jokes in a meeting or even laugh around them. This is also what keeps you from pulling your hair out when things don’t go according to plan. Some people are incredible planners and have every last cup of coffee calculated into their schedules. But because they’re so uptight, whenever something goes wrong, they freak out. Sometimes stress is the result of taking life way too seriously.

   So take the Joker’s example: have a plan, motivate people and keep a good sense of humor.

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