5 Leadership Qualities Employers Can Learn From The Joker

Every now and then, we look to fictional characters for inspiration. Here are 5 things we can learn from the Clown Prince of Crime about how to lead a team.

the joker with the coffee "best boss"

7 min. read

From Rocky Balboa to Walter White, everyone loves a flawed anti-hero from whom we can draw life lessons. But characters don’t need to be slurring idiots or meth cooks to get some respect. 

Take The Joker for example. He gets a lot of flack for being “criminally insane”, but few people appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit that drives him to build warehouses full of mad stacks (and then burn them).

Hell, show me a boss who isn’t a little crazy sometimes!

Here are 5 things we can learn from the Clown Prince of Crime:

Ability to Motivate

Employees without purpose get restless and unmotivated. As the leader of your team, you need to make your people feel like they aren’t just a hamster on a wheel. They need to feel a sense of common purpose that will light a fire under them to perform, even when you aren’t there in the room.

There are many ways to inspire your team to over-deliver. One way is to provide incentives, like vested stock options, free gym memberships and unlimited vacation time. Another way is to take two employees, place them in a room with a broken pool cue, and let them fight to the death to see who gets to keep their job.

Which tactic do you think will be more effective?

What else could he do? There was only one spot open.

Equal-Opportunities Employer

Let’s be honest, most managers will not hire a person with acute mental illness and a checkered legal past unless they're a non-profit mandated to rehabilitate convicted felons with a fully functional silent alarm system in place.

But a great leader looks past superficial factors like gender, appearance or paranoid schizophrenia to discover the true talent inside each and every employee. How does The Joker fare in this department? According to Batman, The Joker attracts the criminally insane. It's his recruitment strategy.

Some may call it rehabilitation, others say it’s taking unfair advantage of the less fortunate – but either way, it’s comforting to know that anyone with a debilitating mental illness can find enjoyable, meaningful work, even if it includes impersonating a cop and firing off rounds of ammunition at the mayor as he delivers a eulogy for the recently murdered police commissioner. Hey, dressing up is fun!

You know you’re making a difference when you can incite the DA to kidnap you at gunpoint.

Working with your team

Too many bosses are far removed from the day-to-day job of working with clients, dictating policy and procedure from on high while their worker bees are left to sort out the details.

Not The Joker. He isn’t sitting in some ivory tower, letting his team do all the leg work while he takes the credit. He gets right down in the trenches with them and helps them execute the plan.

Just look at how he burst into Bruce Wayne’s dinner party with his crew to hunt down Harvey Dent. He could have just cut the cheques and let his team do it all while he sat back and retold his facial scar story for the eighteenth time to his accountant.

Tell me again how you got those scars?

Instead, he wanted to be part of the action and share in the risks and the rewards of infiltrating a party run by the wealthiest man in Gotham, and attempt to murder the city’s recently appointed DA.

Did he flee when Batman showed up and started kicking all kinds of ass? No. Again, he stuck with his team and helped them get out of the situation the only way he knew how — dropping Batman’s girlfriend out of a 34 story building, providing a clever opportunity for him and his crew to escape, whilst delivering a delicious pun.

He also taught his team the value of hiding switch blades in your boots.

Sure, your job may not include crashing parties and threatening celebrities (unless you’re in journalism), but we could all learn from The Jokers’ hustle and willingness to get involved.

Making Work Fun

With all the stress and concern of running a successful business, many entrepreneurs allow stress to rule them and forget that life is too short. That’s why it’s important to allow yourself to laugh. Afterall, we spend 30% of our life at work, shouldn’t it be a place we all want to come to?

As you can imagine, The Joker is the expert on making people smile. And he doesn’t just reserve those talents for the innocent people of Gotham, he lets his whole team in on the fun.

Whether it’s enjoying a painting party at the museum, running a parade of giant balloons or racing 18-wheelers through the tunnels of Gotham, The Joker knows how to let loose and make work feel like anything but!

Always remember that great teams work hard and play hard, so brainstorm some team-building exercises that will really get everyone together and form meaningful relationships. You’ll get better collaboration from staff, retain your talent and have more fun in the process.

Just make sure your employees sign waivers if there’s alcohol involved. I can’t stress that enough.

Delegation & Trust

We already discussed employers who aren’t engaged enough with their team. Too often though, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction and bosses obsess over every detail, and micromanage their employees into disillusionment.

This is where delegation comes into play. A great leader knows what she’s good at and leaves the rest in the capable hands of people she’s entrusted to get the job done.

This is yet another area where The Joker shines. Let’s examine the ferry scene in The Dark Knight as just one example.

Think of the intricate planning required to pull off this kind of project:

  • First of all, one or more team members would need to sneak onto, not one, but two ferry boats, get down to the basement, rig it with explosives and make it out without being seen, while leaving the detonator for the opposite boat packaged in colourful wrapping paper.
  • He needed a way to hijack both ferry’s audio signal so he could speak remotely to both boats simultaneously. Someone on his crew presumably needed to be handy with electrical engineering.
  • But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The day prior to this, The Joker blew up Gotham General Hospital and took a bus full of terrified hostages to an empty office building in the heart of Gotham City with a clear view of the harbour — without being seen by anyone.
  • Then he made a video threat that appeared on the news, warning Gothamites to evacuate the city. He also somehow knew that the two ferry boats would be leaving the dock at precisely the same time, one boat carrying law-abiding passengers, the other carrying prison inmates.
  • The Joker also knew that as soon as Batman and the police figured out what building he was holed up in, he needed a way to keep them from crashing in and spoiling the party early. In a devilish twist, he dressed the hostages as clowns and his team dressed as doctors so that when the police called in sharpshooters, they would target the wrong group and feel really bad about themselves.
  • And lastly, he needed personal protection from Batman, which included two large Rottweilers who presumably needed food, water and a place to go poo.

The concentration required to keep these details straight throughout a 24-48 hour period is mind-boggling. No one person could have pulled this off alone, even a criminal mastermind, so The Joker needed to trust that his team wouldn’t blow a single detail, otherwise the entire plan would come crumbling down.

So just remember that the next time you obsess over the font-size in your email newsletter. You’ve hired professionals. Let them do their job.

What do you think? Is drawing inspiration from a purely evil fictional character irresponsible of me? Let me know on LinkedIn.

5 Leadership Qualities Employers Can Learn From The Joker

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