What Sharknado Taught Me About Leadership

by Audra Baker
20 August 2013

As part of a recent birthday celebration, I was treated to a viewing of Sharknado, the made-for-television disaster film about a hurricane that lifts man-eating sharks out of the ocean and deposits them into the flooded streets of Los Angeles. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: it is a cinematic masterpiece, and one of the best birthday presents a girl could ask for.

As you have undoubtedly guessed, Sharknado has a complex plot. One man – a surfer and bar owner cleverly named Fin – sets out to save his family from the terror swimming through the streets. He is up against some very tough odds, with a small team of people. Some don’t like each other, and some have even been estranged for years. And yet? Through all these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, including being swallowed by a shark, Fin succeeds in his mission.

Sharknado and Leadership

And that’s when it hit me. Just when I thought I couldn’t love Sharknado any more, it had to go and teach me something. Below are the top five things Sharknado taught me about leadership. Leaders:

1. Evolve – Leaders are constantly looking at ways to evolve, they are never satisfied with the status quo. My “aha” leadership moment as a young manager came when a colleague told our executive an improvement hadn’t been done due to lack of information from another team. The executive was less than pleased, saying leaders don’t make excuses, they drive improvement. The executive was harsh, and he was right.

This trait is especially important for data center employees. We tend to have small teams – so our employees are encouraged to drive continuous improvement and their own increased knowledge and responsibility in the organization.

Fin didn’t wait for information or action from others, he drove his small team to victory even with the odds stacked against him. And given the sharks’ growling in the film, they must have done some evolving of their own.

2. Trust – As basketball Hall of Famer John Wooden said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything… a doer makes mistakes.” Great leaders trust their employees. This trust fosters an environment where people are encouraged to take risks and innovate.

While the best data center facilities and IT staff have stringent operational procedures, their ability to innovate is not lost, it just has to be part of a controlled process involving a development environment. Mistakes – a natural outcome of taking risks – made along the way are used as learning opportunities. This all equates to a very healthy business environment, the kind proven to foster exceptional results.

Fin trusted his team with the risky move to throw bombs into the sharks’ mouths to stop the threat of more sharknados. While some mistakes were made along the way (like when someone fell into a shark’s mouth), I am sure they developed into a better team from their mistakes.

3. Prepare – Effective leaders are prepared, they anticipate future needs and plan accordingly. For data center operators, this area is especially important. We anticipate potential disasters such as severe weather – like Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – and put plans in place ahead of time that cover as many eventualities as possible. Then we test those plans to the letter. Without last minute crises to take care of (because of good planning), there is time to evaluate plan effectiveness and make improvements as necessary. That’s not possible if you’re running around trying to find blankets and cots at the last minute for your operations teams and customers.

Fin anticipated being swallowed by a shark, so he came prepared with his chainsaw. I shudder to think of how Sharknado would have ended had Fin not been prepared, it’s just too upsetting to think about.

4. Are Authentic – Leadership is all about building strong relationships. And you simply cannot do this without being authentic and genuine in dealing with your friends, peers, and customers. Let’s throw integrity and sincerity into the mix here too. To have any level of employee and customer engagement – critical for any organization – people need to be able to relate to you. If they don’t trust you, you will never have the influence required to lead a team to victory. Or through the shark-infested streets of Los Angeles.

5. Execute – Thomas Edison said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” I love this quote for its simplicity and its truth. Wall Street winners and losers are punished or rewarded based on their earnings – not their vision – because at the end of the day it’s about results. As a data center operator, results mean delivering 100% availability for our customers.

Sharknado 2 is only possible because Fin was able to execute his vision.

Why is leadership important? Because the leadership of your organization dictates its culture. Culture dictates the level of talent you are able to recruit and retain. And talent dictates your success or failure.

There are sharks everywhere in business looking to take your greatest assets: your customers and your employees. Defeat these sharks by arming your organization with strong leadership qualities like the ones mentioned above. And… perhaps a chainsaw or two just in case.

Audra Baker

Director, Client Services