April 23, 2014

Management Excellence: The Joker

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I’m a fan of Christian Bales, so I was excited to see him win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor a couple weeks ago for his role in The Fighter. Adding a little extra sentimentality to his award is the fact that my son received a callback for the role of Little Dicky in that movie. (Although he wasn’t chosen for the part, it’s still pretty cool that he got that far!)

Nonetheless, the Oscar buzz and the wonders of cable TV had me watching the Dark Knight again for about the 25th time. (OK….you caught me…..it was about the 125th.) As I watched the film, I started to notice that the Joker just might be the perfect manager. All those things we expect managers to do for their teams he does with an exceptionally high degree of excellence:


Make sure everyone knows their role

[Grumpy and Bozo are busy stacking the stolen cash]
Grumpy: That’s a lot of money. If this Joker guy was so smart, he’d have had us bring a bigger car. [draws his gun on Bozo] I’m bettin’ the Joker told you to kill me as soon as we’d loaded the cash.
Bozo: [checking his watch] No no no no… I kill the bus driver. [edges to one side]
Grumpy: “Bus driver?” What bus driver? [A bus reverses into the bank, knocking him down]

No one respects an expensive suit. They respect your actions and abilities.

[The mob bosses are assembled together, videoconferencing with Lau]
Gambol: Give me one reason why I shouldn’t have my boy here pull your head off.
Joker: How ’bout a magic trick? [he slams a pencil into the table, point first] I’m gonna make this pencil disappear.
[Gambol's henchman stands up and goes to attack him; in one swift motion the Joker then slams the man's head into the pencil, forcing the entire pencil through his eye socket; the man falls over dead]
Joker: Ta-daa! It’s, ah, it’s gone! And by the way, the suit? It wasn’t cheap. You oughta know, you bought it!

State objectives clearly and simply, even if others think the goal is impossible.

Joker: A guy like me… Look, listen… I know why you choose to have your little, ahem, ‘group therapy’ sessions in broad daylight. I know why you’re afraid to go out at night: The Batman. You see, Batman has shown Gotham your true colors, unfortunately. Dent? He’s just the beginning. And as for the television’s [points at the TV showing Lao] so-called ‘plan’, Batman has no jurisdiction. He’ll find him, and make him squeal. I know the squealers when I see them, and… [points at Lao again, who covers his camera with his hand and turns it off]
The Chechen: What do you propose?
Joker: It’s simple, we, uh, kill the Batman.
[The mobsters laugh]

Give everyone an equal chance to perform at their best.

[The Joker turns to address Gambol's men]
The Joker: Now, our operation is small, but there’s a lot of potential for aggressive expansion. So, which one of you fine gentlemen would like to join our team? Oh, there’s only one spot open right now, so we’re going to have, [he snaps a pool cue in half] tryouts! [drops a sharpened end on the floor] Make it fast.

Gain a true understanding of people’s inner workings and emotions.

Joker: I want my phone call, I want it, I want my phone call.
Detective Stephens: That’s nice.
Joker: How many of your friends have I killed?
Detective Stephens: I’m a 20-year man. I know the difference between the punks who just need a little lesson in manners, and the freaks like you who just enjoy it… and you killed six of my friends.
Joker: [mouths "six?"] Do you know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can’t savour all the little emotions. Y’see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are, so in a way I knew your fiends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?

Operate efficiently. Revenues are secondary to establishing the culture of your organization.

The Chechen: Joker man, what will you do with all your money?
Joker: See, I’m, a guy of simple tastes. I enjoy gunpowder, dynamite… and gasoline! You know what they have in common? They’re cheap.
[Joker's men douse the money with gasoline]
The Chechen: I thought you were a man of your word!
Joker: Oh, I am — I’m only burning my half. [throws the Chechen's cigar onto the money, setting it ablaze] All you care about is money. This town deserves a better class of criminal, and I’m gonna give it to ‘em. Tell your men they work for me now; this is my city.
The Chechen: They won’t work for a freak!
Joker: [mocking The Chechen's accent] “Freak”? Why don’t we cut you up into little pieces and feed you to your pooches, and then we’ll see just how loyal a hungry dog really is! [Joker's men lead the Chechen away] It’s not about money… It’s about… sending a message. Everything burns!

Be willing to experiment with new approaches by testing out theories.

The Joker: [over the PA] Tonight you’re all gonna be part of a social experiment. Through the magic of diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate, I’m ready right now to blow you all sky high. Anyone attempts to get off their boat, you all die. Each of you has a remote… to blow up the other boat. At midnight, I blow you all up. If, however, one of you presses the button, I’ll let that boat live. So, who’s it going to be: Harvey Dent’s most wanted scumbag collection, or the sweet and innocent civilians? You choose… oh, and you might want to decide quickly, because the people on the other boat might not be so noble.

Have mitigation plans in place to make sure you reach your objectives.

Joker: You can’t rely on anyone these days. You got to do everything yourself. [to Batman] Don’t we? That’s okay. I came prepared. [takes out a detonator, presumably the one that will blow up both ships] It’s a funny world that we live in…speaking of which, know how I got these scars?
Batman: No… but I know how you got these!
[Batman fires his steel spike protrusions from his gauntlet, hitting the Joker in the face. The Joker falls from the building, but Batman snares his legs with a grapple, and hoists him up]
Joker: Uhh, you… you just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun! I think you and I are destined to do this forever.
Batman: You’ll be in a padded cell forever!
Joker: Maybe we could share one! You know, they’ll be doubling up at the rate this city’s inhabitants are losing their minds.
Batman: This city just showed you that it’s full of people ready to believe in good.
Joker: Until their spirit breaks completely! Until they get a good look at the real Harvey Dent, and the all heroic things he’s done. You didn’t think I’d risk losing the battle for Gotham’s soul in a fist fight with you? No… You need an ace in the hole. Mine’s Harvey.
Batman: [horrified] What did you do?
Joker: I took Gotham’s White Knight, and brought him down to our level. It wasn’t hard. See, madness, as you know, is like gravity: all it takes is a little push! [laughs hysterically]

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