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Is Gibbs a Good Leader ?

Fictional characters often bring lessons for the real world – after all, the scripts are (hopefully) still written by humans. If, like me, you enjoy watching « NCIS », you may have thought that team leader Gibbs sometimes pushes very much and reacts in a quite ruthless manner. Can he be qualified as a good leader under the standards of non-fictional management?

Want to work for a boss like that?

It is true that Jethro Gibbs has some traits for a boss that one may find irritating or depressing – and which are not what leadership manuals recommend:
- He doesn’t give much verbal feedback to his team members – at least once per episode, a teammate talks to him expecting a feedback…without success;
- He puts a lot of pressure with apparently little empathy: even after having worked around the clock, DiNozzo and McGee are expected to react within a second when an order to rush to a crime scene comes;
- He expects people to anticipate what he needs for the next investigation step, and fresh and relevant information to be ready for the brief whenever he shows up in the office – funny to see how the team members even fight to be the first one to provide the breaking news!
- He doesn’t tolerate too much small talk and jokes whenever talking ‘business’.

And under the armor?

Digging a little further – indeed beneath his tough-guy shield -, one can observe many leadership qualities that any team member can appreciate in the real life:
- Gibbs really cares for his teammates, and proves it with acts and not only words – they’ve been rescued and ‘covered’ countless times over the seasons;
- He possesses a very discreet but real kind of empathy, feeling each time a colleague is uncomfortable (of course, he will handle that in his style, sitting and saying directly “ok, let’s talk” before any other word!);
- Even with a not effusive style, he actually provides positive feedback when it is deserved – look at the sunshine face of Tony when hearing simply three words “Good job, DiNozzo!”;
- He empowers his team to a very high degree. What strikes me is the motivation of each team member to find a solution instead of just raising a problem to the boss. McGee often seems embarrassed if he hasn’t already started an action after having mentioned a point to Gibbs, being the ultimate illustration of General Patton’s quote :“Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”.
- He uses the talents of each team member extensively and adequately (McGee the nerd, DiNozzo the actor, Ziva the charming spy, …);
- Last but not least, he does not explicitly share his vision, but the team goal is always obvious – to find a murderer as quick as possible, and it is in Gibbs’ DNA to transfer his chasing virus to the team (a perfect “leading-by-example” case).

Lessons from the fiction?

Looking at the above list, it appears that Jethro Gibbs, despite his harsh style, ticks many prerequisites from leadership literature, especially when it comes to motivate the team (for French readers, see a recent post on the subject of motivation).

Even if Gibbs is a fictional character, at least two lessons learned can be drawn here:
1. Under several management standards, yes: Gibbs is a good leader!
2. The perfect leader only exists in the books, and it is sometimes worth to not only focus on the irritating side of our boss, but also try to honestly give him/her some credit to his/her leadership style where it is deserved.