7 Productivity Lessons From the Big Bads of Buffy

Whether or not you’ve watched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, you probably have a sense of the premise: A superpowered Sarah Michelle Gellar battles vampires to save the world (a lot). And if you have watched it, you already know that it contains at least one metaphor for every single moment you might encounter in life.

Feeling powerless at work? Watch how Buffy handles losing her superstrength in “Helpless” (Season 3). Frustrated by how draining your day job is, when you have vampires to slay–or a side business to start? Buffy knows just how you feel, per “Doublemeat Palace” (Season 6). Wishing the people around you were better communicators? You’ll relate to the challenges our heroes faced in “Hush” (Season 4).

My colleague Leigh has written about some of the valuable lessons from the Slayer herself. But it’s not just the powers of good that have useful things to teach; the “Big Bads” are some of the most alarmingly productive characters ever on television. After all, you don’t get to be a leader of demons without some serious entrepreneurial chops.

Whether you’re running a business or trying to destroy the world, here are 7 key takeaways from some of Buffy’s top “nemesises-es.”

1. Use Storytelling to Inspire Your Team

Would Buffy’s Season One supervillain be nearly as scary if he were named Stan instead of The Master? Or if he lead Team Vampire instead of The Order of Aurelius? While The Master merely wants what many demons want (to open the Hellmouth in Sunnydale, California, in order to destroy the world), he’s extra-intimidating thanks to a carefully-constructed legend spanning centuries of evil. He also benefits from a prophecy that the Slayer will face the Master … and die.

Talk about good evil branding. If you truly want to become a legend for the ages, make sure to build a narrative that helps get your followers fired up for your mission.

“This is what we know. Some sixty years ago, a very old, very powerful vampire came to this shore, not just to feed…. The Spanish who first settled here called it ‘Boca del Infierno’. Roughly translated, ‘Hellmouth’. It’s a sort of, um, portal between this reality and the next. This vampire hopes to open it.” – Giles

2. You Can’t Do It Alone, So Respect Your Colleagues

When you’re trying to achieve something epic, whether it’s disrupting an industry or snuffing out humanity, you can’t just focus on your own desires. You need to think about what drives the people around you.

In Season Two, formerly-lovable-but-now-evil vamp Angelus wants to open a pathway to a demon dimension (yep, to destroy the world). Along the way, he gets so carried away by the fun of torturing innocents that he fails to value his team. He alienates co-conspirator Spike by going after Drusilla, Spike’s girlfriend. Feeling disrepected, Spike turns on him and reveals the plans to Buffy, who then saves the world (again). So take a lesson from Angelus: If you want your team to stay motivated, they have to feel respected.

“We like to talk big, vampires do. ‘I’m going to destroy the world.’ That’s just tough guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got the dog racing, Manchester United, and you’ve got people; billions of people walking around, like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here.” – Spike

3. Good Manners Will Get You Everywhere

If you need to build alliances with powerful demons, convince them to help you become a demon yourself, and rule over Sunnydale for three generations without arousing suspicion or ire, it pays to be remarkably polite.

Mayor Richard Wilkins sold his soul for a chance at ascending to demonhood, but that doesn’t mean he allows his henchmen to use four-letter words, forgo hand sanitizer, or forget to say “thank you.” And while the Mayor’s evil plan doesn’t work out quite as intended–he doesn’t even get to finish his graduation day speech before turning into a giant snake-demon and getting attacked by the entire student body–he does stay polite to the end.

“Well, gosh.” – Mayor Wilkins’ last words

4. Strive for Clarity of Purpose 

In Season 4, Buffy encounters The Initiative, an underground government agency focused on demon-fighting–and, it turns out, on turning human soldiers into demon hybrids. Adam is the Initiative’s ultimate creation, a Frankenstein monster pieced together from humans, demons, and technology. After killing his creator, the self-aware creature keeps a laser-like focus on his mission: death and destruction.

If you’re leading millennials instead of monsters, matching this level of focus becomes even more important: a recent study found that 60% chose their current employer due to a sense of purpose.

“I have a gift no man has, no demon has ever had. I know why I’m here. I was created to kill, to extinguish life wherever I find it, and I have accepted that responsibility. You have lived in fear and desperation because you didn’t have that gift. But it’s time to face your fear.” – Adam

5. No Matter How Busy You Are, Prioritize Your Mental Health

Although she’s incredibly fast, strong and powerful, exiled god Glorificus has one big weakness on the human plane: She periodically starts to lose her mind, so she has to recharge by sucking the sanity from a nearby human. While this isn’t great for those she brainsucks, it is a good reminder that even a god has to take care of herself first.

If you let stress get to you, you won’t be an effective leader, and you’ll certainly never put an end to human life as we know it–or achieve hopefully more benign goals. Wondering if you might be in need of a brain recharge? Here are 4 signs it’s time to take a mental health day.

“I look around at this world you’re so eager to be a part of, and all I see is six billion lunatics looking for the fastest ride out. Who’s not crazy? Look around. … At least I admit the world makes me nuts.” – Glory

6. You Need People Who Will Tell You the Truth, No Matter What

Willow’s witchcraft is normally on the side of all that’s good, but in Season 6, she becomes addicted to her growing power, and spirals into a deep depression. As she’s about to end all of the pain for everyone on the planet–by destroying the planet–it’s her lifelong best friend Xander who stops her. Weaponless and alone, he walks up to Dark Willow and drops a truth bomb: She can’t end the world without destroying him.

As a leader, it’s important to have people who are willing to risk your wrath in order to say it like it is. If you don’t have a Xander on your team, it’s not too late to encourage a culture of honest feedback.

“The first day of kindergarten you cried because you broke the yellow crayon and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You’ve come pretty far, ending the world–not a terrific notion. But the thing is, yeah, I love you. I loved crayon-breaking Willow and I love scary veiny Willow. So if I’m going out, it’s here. If you wanna kill the world, well then, start with me. I’ve earned that.” – Xander

7. If You Get Too Comfortable, You’re Ripe for Disruption

Sure, The First Evil earns its name by preceding all other evil. But maybe being the original player makes it a little too comfortable; if The First didn’t spent so much time enjoying its mind games, total destruction might seem well within its grasp. Instead, Buffy seizes the opportunity to disrupt the entire system.

Historically, there was just one slayer at a time, with a new one chosen only after the old slayer died. But Buffy and her team see an opportunity for major change: they unlock the power of every potential slayer in the world at once, creating an army of badass ladies to stand beside Buffy. Together, they put The First out of business, making sure the demon-fighting industry will never be the same again. If only The First hadn’t forgotten the cardinal rule of disruption: You’re either Uber or you’re getting Uber-ed.

“It’s not about right, not about wrong… it’s about power.” – The First

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