Three Steps Towards Career Advancement: 4th Annual Leadership Lessons from “The Walking Dead”

Can you believe its time for a new season of The Walking Dead? While I’m anxious to find out how our heroes will overcome Negan and his army, I don’t look forward to the inevitable nightmares that tend to accompany my obsession with the show. Until recently, I focused on all the ways I would be a hero in their hellish wasteland. Then reality struck and I succumbed to the truth—I am more likely to become one of the zombies.

So how do you become a zombie? Not a real zombie (we’re years away from that transpiring). How do you become a zombie on The Walking Dead? According to TWD executive producer and director Greg Nicotero, the answer is not much different from how we work our way up the corporate ladder. Here are three things to consider in both your TWD audition and in the office.

Don’t Pigeonhole Yourself

When Nicotero is recruiting actors to play zombies, he’s looking for people with versatility, not one synchronized movement. “You don’t want us to give you a nickname. For instance, you don’t want us to say, ‘Oh, there goes the get-out-of-my-yard-angry-zombie,’ or the, ‘dragging-your-feet-there’s-the-ice-skating-zombie.’ So, no nicknames.” Same thing with work.

Do you want to be the “only-speaks-in-meetings-to-make-a-joke-guy” or the “fantasy-football-guy” OR do you want people to call you by your first name because you are too multitalented and adaptable to be pinned down by one nickname? Make jokes in meetings, organize the fantasy football league, but don’t rely on these behaviors to define all that you are.

Know Thyself

Zombies-in-training spend weeks perfecting their character. “With the role you’re playing, think about how you were killed, and how that affected you physically,” states Nicotero. To develop their zombie part, actors know whether they drowned, broke a limb, or were in a fire. A chainsaw incident with their leg can affect how they walk, while a machete in the arm can severely limit ambidextrousness.

The point here is to know your backstory. What makes you great? What skills have you cultivated? What limitations must you overcome? This self-examining deep dive will make you more capable and better prepared for your next assignment.

Maintain Composure

Playing the part of a zombie is arduous physical activity. Between the temperature and the humidity, the TWD set can be over 100 degrees. Plus, you’re wearing full zombies prosthetics and positioning your body is some uncomfortable poses. As a result, Nicotero says, “We’re looking for stamina—almost for people to approach it as if you are training for a marathon… You have to exit with the same energy you entered with. If you exit out of character, the whole effect is ruined.”

In your office it’s not enough to be “on” periodically throughout the day. You must be able to keep a clear head and unvarying poise, even when frustration, exhaustion, and Friday afternoon sets in. Otherwise, “the whole effect is ruined.”

At TWD, Nicotero says, “thousands of requests come in to be zombies, but very few can actually do it.” This is equally true on the path towards career greatness. Too many people approach work like the walking dead; they do the bare minimum and wonder why they are passed up for promotions. Aim higher. Put in the discretionary effort. Be the leader zombies want to follow.