Tommy Shelby: Leadership Lessons from the Peaky Blinders Boss

“The only way to guarantee peace is to make the prospect of war seem inevitable,” says Thomas Shelby, the fashion-forward gangster on Peaky Blinders, a business and executive strategist. As its fifth season begins, let’s take a look at six character keys to leadership:

1. The Pillars of the Leader

      If you want to be a good boss, you have to consider three pillars: passion, vision and mission. Tommy is passionate about breaking his family out of their old ways and entering the world of legality. His ancestors would turn in their graves if they knew Shelby’s family address. Their original vision for this is pubs and legal gambling sites. He knows his mission is to cause trouble with the police, the IRA, Billy Kimber and rival local families. All members of the Shelby family and their close associates understand Tommy’s passion, vision and mission. Does your team understand yours?

      It is important that all team members have a common goal and work for the same interests. In The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen R. Covey, the author suggests that people making a statement with their company’s goals is one of the most important points when it comes to entrepreneurship.

      2. Company meetings

      The Peaky Blinders are famous for their meetings. All members of the group attend these events and if someone is absent, you have a good excuse. These meetings create clarity, solve problems and can establish new perspectives. In addition, they do not have to be long, but short and concise. Tommy Shelby only holds these meetings when necessary.

      Research conducted five years ago by Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics showed that we spend a third of our working week in meetings. Researchers also showed that the more employees attended meetings, the more tired they felt and the more stressful they felt about their work. Make meetings efficient and useful.

      3. Another one in the family

      Remember that sometimes the boss draws the company’s attention simply because of his position in the company, not his actions. So it’s good to remember that nobody is too important in the company. Even bosses need to roll up their sleeves and work side-by-side with the lowest-ranking employee in the company. Tommy Shelby does. Last season, Shelby helped the swineherd (if you can call him that) cleaning the stables on his farm.

      This is an example of leadership, employees follow the leader ahead of the ideals he preaches. Working together with your employees is not only a role model, but also creates a desire to follow you. Shelby never had any betrayal within her family.

      In parallel, your team sometimes looks at you when times are tough. Colleagues delegate responsibility to the boss and look the other way as the team expects the boss to take matters into his own hands. It sounds bad, but Arthur, John Boy, Curly and Johnny Dogs carry out dangerous missions on a daily basis, like assassinating someone, but when the situation calls for it, Tommy steps forward and serves his purpose.

      4. Enjoy the applause, but be responsible

      Don the badge when things are going well, but be ready to take responsibility when your actions as a boss have negative consequences. Reliable leaders take responsibility for their decisions, their actions and their behavior. A culture of accountability can improve employee engagement and keep teams together longer.

      5. Patience is a virtue

      Shelby has attended numerous meetings over those five seasons, many of which have been filled with absolute suspense. Surprisingly, he manages to get out of all of them almost without a scratch. Why? What is your secret? Tommy Shelby doesn’t talk much, instead listening carefully when others speak: allies, family, enemies, whatever, first of all he’s a curious listener. This gives you a competitive advantage over your opponents, in negotiations you need to be able to listen before you speak in order to act skillfully.

      6. Respect everyone equally

      Thomas Shelby belongs to the lower class of society, which was considered almost an outcast back in the 1920s. Born Gypsy, he grew up understanding that the world only cares about those who have money, and upon his return from World War I he realized that winning a nation simply by fighting for it was not enough.

      Because of those periods of discrimination where Tommy was insulted and hated because he belonged to the lower classes of society, he never showed any dislike towards anyone. He treats both the government and ordinary civilians equally, only using violence against them when they pose a threat to his family.