5 Leadership Lessons from Harvey Spectre

Reading, going for a run, cooking and other similar activities are often the best ways to unwind after a long day, but Aaron Korsh’s US legal drama ‘Suits’ has been comfortably doing the job over the last few months. Filled with tenacious characters, beguiling cases and intriguing sub-plots the series is unrelenting in its entertainment. At the heart of proceedings is the immaculate, revered (and feared if you end up in court against him) Harvey Spectre – the crown jewel in Jessica Pearson’s law firm and one of the best lawyers in New York. Similar to the sports industry where the pressure cooker is constant and unforgiving, Harvey’s (Gabriel Macht) exploits teach those of us in the coaching and high performance domain some thought provoking lessons with regards to leadership.

  1. Fight Your Team’s Corner Behind Their Back

It seems an obvious statement to make, but it can pay huge dividends in the long run. Harvey’s staunch defence of associate Mike Ross – an unorthodox youth with a genius mind who has some downright questionable past encounters – is a testament to that. It’s one thing to stand up for your players, team and/or employees in front of them, but most of the important battles are often won behind closed doors, be it in the boardroom or elsewhere where they are not around to defend themselves.

Harvey Spectre 4

That task falls to you as the leader, coach or manager and your words in that moment can have a huge amount of impact. More often than not your team will never know the extent of your defence of them, but words equate to actions and the actions that come as a result of your defence will speak for themselves. Even when some home truths need to be said, Harvey outward projection of his and Mike’s partnership to any adversary is never in question; there is simply no chink in the armour.

  1. Play the Player, Not the Cards

My poker is average at the best of times, mainly because I play with the cards I am dealt rather than the player. Those that have seen Harvey play actual Texas Holdem as well as the high stakes cases in court will know that Harvey’s success is largely because he plays the player he is up against, irrespective of his cards. He finds their weak spot and then uses it against them to his advantage –making it as personal as possible. Whilst that might appear high risk we as coaches and leaders, often encounter situations or moments in time when you have to make the most of a pretty ordinary set of cards. It’s not about finding colleagues, players or parents weak spots however, quite the opposite. By all means make it personal (it has to be for them to identify with it)  but find their strength, motivation and/or passion for doing what they do and use that as your starting point. Great organisations are built on great relationships so the more you keep playing the player, the less dependant you are on the cards you get given.

  1. The Private Stays Private

Harvey Spectre is an entertainer. He walks into work wearing a ten thousand dollar suit, smooth talks every woman that is interested (which is most), and has Michael Jordan on speed dial; the ultimate extrovert it would seem. Away from the day job though, when he’s not out at some event, Harvey’s private life is a book under lock and key. Few, and I mean very few understand and know who he is beyond the office. His stunning apartment in central Manhattan is his sanctuary where he can escape the rollercoaster world that he consumes.

Harvey Spectre 3

The nature of coaching and high performance these days often make the lines between work and ‘play’ increasingly blurred to the point where serious considerations must be given, even to the most attractive of roles, to comprehend and grasp just how intense life can be. It is vitally important that coaches and leaders are able to compartmentalise their work in a bid to maintain a semblance of balance.  Creativity and innovation are at the forefront of most successful teams, but one needs energy and unrivalled dedication levels to make it work. Follow Harvey is making sure the batteries are recharged enough to keep you on the top of your game.

  1. There’s ALWAYS a Way

The reason why Harvey Spectre is the most successful and formidable lawyer in the city, is because he finds a way to win – always. It doesn’t matter how, it doesn’t have to be pretty or textbook, it doesn’t even have to be him that lands the killer blow. What is does have to be though is not a loss; that is simply not an option. Grassroots sport does not subscribe to this, and nor would we want it to, but the attitude and sheer bloody-minded outlook that Harvey has ingrained within him gives hope to aspiring sportspeople, and those of us lucky enough to influence systems and shape the sporting landscape for the better. Yes things are often tough, are rarely perfect and it can be hard to see light at the end of the tunnel on occasion. But…and it is that word ‘but’ that ensures that there is always a way to fight back, to rectify the situation or to turn the corner. Never accept you are beaten, and instil that mindset in your teams, players and coaches and you won’t go to far wrong.

  1. The Truth Doesn’t Hurt For Long

Harvey and Mike Ross have a brilliant relationship – both are cut from the same cloth; highly intelligent minds, same sense of humour, industrious with their thinking and capable of delivering a power play right at the crucial moment to win a case. Both however, have an ego that doesn’t like it when they are wrong. Whilst that is a flaw in itself, they get away with it because they are both strong minded enough to point out when the other is at fault. It might take them an argument and 48 hours to realise that the other was actually right, but they get there almost every time.Harvey Spectre 2.jpg

The point is that often the truth, although not always the perfect tonic to make you feel better does not hurt for long. It can be really healthy to receive some feedback of a negative nature to help you, your team and/or the organisation to move forward in a positive direction. You’d much rather it hurt for 48 hours and do something about it, than never be told until it’s too late where you have little or chance to do anything about it. The world of talent development is filled with these types of conundrums where honesty is 100% the best policy – the delivery of that honesty is a skill but it starts with the transparency and respect that having a good relationship brings.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s