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How ABC’s Scandal Is Helping Me Run My Business

By Cynthia Nevels

Shonda Rhimes has changed the way we watch and interact with television.  Scandal, which airs on Thursday nights on ABC, has made its mark on women and men across the United States. The fervor, excitement and water cooler buzz centered on this show is – refreshing.

I have watched this show for a different reason. I am a female business owner with a small group of employees and subcontractors. I have had my share of hiring challenges over the years and finding that right mix, that perfect recipe for successful hiring or the right team has presented tremendous opportunities for assessment and change.  As an employer, I am always searching for loyalty, dedication, commitment and independent thinking. Is that too much to ask for from an employee?

For the past three seasons I have watched, well I think we are in our third season, Scandal’s Gladiators in Suits investigate, incriminate and humiliate some of the trickiest criminals known to mankind. Like millions of Americans who watch Scandal I return each week to see what are the Gladiators in Suits up to this week. Which Gladiator is going to fold, which is going to take charge or which is going to make me want to throw something at my television?  Each Gladiator has a unique talent, gift, skill and characteristics that are used to create a team that is undeniably intoxicating and addictive to watch. However, after analyzing my own team I thought to myself, what’s missing in my company? “You have to understand what it is you need from the talent you hire,” states Jim Del Rosario, Head of Global Talent Acquisition for Sonos in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

So, I took a look at each character to try to understand what each brings to the table.

–Harrison is the blindly loyal and enigmatic fast talker who always remembers why the Gladiators are there – to support their leader no matter the circumstance or personal sacrifice required.

–Huck is the fiercely obedient and cunning mercenary who will solve the most complex or technical problems with carnal focus and delivers insight from global experiences. My place is to not always know how he got the job done but to appreciate the fact that he did.

–Quinn is the innocuous, yet inquisitive follower who will question everything but creates a reason for the team to think twice. She’s eager to learn, craves understanding and is disconnected from her real family which forces her to transfer all of her emotion into her new family, her fellow Gladiators.

–Abby is the beguiling firecracker that can charm a man right out of his socks without ever saying a word. That team member who’s close enough to the edge but doesn’t lose sight of the main goal; albeit she may hate herself the next day. She keeps her eye on the prize for the sake of the team and the mission.

Elizabeth Moffitt, President of Christopher Quinn Group a Human Resource Consulting firm in Dallas, TX states, “What makes Olivia Pope’s team work is the diversity in each person. Olivia creates an environment where ideas can flow freely and sharing of ideas is welcomed.” This past season, I noticed Huck cross-training Quinn on some of his mercenary and investigation techniques.

What small business owner wouldn’t want a team that encapsulates smart people who are committed to the cause of helping their leader win every battle through the use of their own internal forces for the sake of the team? Team members who are not on the job solely for a paycheck or reward? If you are trying to build a team Del Rosario believes, “You have to have a sense for it. You must start with a profile of the organization, then you profile the skill you need but you cannot dismiss the diverse nuances that cannot be found on a resume.”  On the show careers are not the focus, the purpose is the focus.  “In our careers we are taught we can have success or meaning. That’s not true. You can have success and purpose. You have to have the right persona,” states Terri Maxwell, CEO of Succeed on Purpose.  What is the key to the success of Scandal’s team where individual gifts and talents come together for the common good? The key is in the organization’s leadership. Moffitt states, “Olivia gives them [Gladiators] the satisfaction of being able to do what they love to do.”

As I analyze the episodes, assess the dynamics of the team members and compare it to the way I manage I noticed two common factors as to why the Gladiators are fiercely loyal to their leader. Olivia Pope, played by Kerri Washington, creates an environment where the Gladiators have the freedom to operate and to do what they do best without reprisal or oversight. After all they are capable adults. There is no micro-managing at Pope and Associates because there is no time. But, also she has freed them from their worst nightmares and horrific pasts.  “There’s a trust that has been built which removes distractions and increases productivity,” states Del Rosario. This trust is the magic bullet.

Terri Maxwell, founder of Succeed on Purpose, has created a system for analyzing personas and characteristics of a team. Her system identifies and places individuals into three groups:

The Doer             The “Doer” is not a good entrepreneur, they are task oriented.

The Solver           The “Solver” does not want to build anything, they want to be given problems to solve.  They can figure any problem out on their own if given the resources and time.

The Builder         The “Builder” is the entrepreneur who ties all of the pieces together to get it done.

How could you lose with a team of doers, solvers and builders who can see the big picture, who can support each other through the trials of the work day and who return to work each day armed and ready for war?   Building the right team takes time, requires a strategy and an understanding of the internal gaps your organization has today. “You don’t want five people who are just like you on your team, if you had a whole group of yourself…you wouldn’t be as productive,” states Moffitt.

I wonder if today’s entrepreneurs were to find the right combination of Gladiators in Suits just how much further would our companies be tomorrow. I guess we’ll keep tweeting and watching Scandal to find out. But as Scandal has taught us, sometimes the unconventional methods become the conventional success stories.


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