Leadership Lessons from British Crime Dramas

Minnesota’s long stretches of sub-zero temps this winter gave me a good reason to curl up on the couch and watch British crime dramas, like Shetland, Broadchurch, DCI Banks, and River. I’ve been a fan of mysteries since my childhood—the suspense, problem solving, emotional struggles, and resolution tickle my fancy. The British take on crime drama keeps my attention with charming settings, good acting, British humor, and intriguing plots. Compelling characters and their relationships pull at my heartstrings and get me emotionally invested in the shows.

But I’ve also started to observe some interesting themes about leadership in this genre:

Gratitude and Respect

When a subordinate brings evidence and insights to the team, the DCI (investigative leader) says, “Nice job. Well done.” No matter how much time pressure they’re under, the boss usually delivers concise words of praise and gratitude. They all display politeness and decorum that’s a breath of fresh air.

Creative Problem Solving

Their briefings generally are standing affairs around a display of evidence. As they gather more facts and insights, the display grows, adding connections, revealing patterns, reconstructing timelines, and cataloguing unanswered questions. These interactive and iterative visual aids keep the team up to speed. Visual problem solving and communication tools like this can be used to tackle large business challenges and everyday business problems.

Decision Making

Each detective constantly makes split second decision when in the field gathering evidence. They poke around challenging situations, often with limited information. When working in pairs, the senior detective makes the call. DCI’s also must contend with layers of bureaucracy and politics as they solve a case—often encountering competing priorities and murky questions about right and wrong. Business leaders encounter similar circumstances, from leading a team to delivering their own goals to bringing stakeholders on board.

Tedious Work

The shows don’t dwell on the painful process of gathering and reviewing large volumes of evidence because it would be like watching paint dry. When pouring over data or staking out a scene, detectives’ vigilance and curiosity frequently yield important clues. Similarly, problem solving in business also requires analytical rigor, critical thinking, perseverance, and imagination to determine a path forward.

As an American, I also like that these shows don’t involve long, drawn-out gun fights. The Brits leave more to the imagination when it comes to gruesome scenes, which is just fine with me. The contrast illuminates how much American culture glorifies violence.

If you have watched any of these shows, I’d love to hear what you think about my observations and if you have any of your own. Also, if you like this genre, do you have any recommendations for similar shows for me? If I got you curious to watch these shows, let me know if you check them out and what you think.

Happy to talk British crime!

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