Life Lessons From the Walking Dead: Part 1

This week on the blog I’m writing about the Walking Dead. The season premier is this coming Sunday. Whether you are a fan of the show or not I believe you can get something out of these posts.

The Walking Dead is not for everyone. It is gory and at times brutal. Because of the action and the zombies it is easy to miss the themes that run throughout the show.

Sure there are zombie killings, but the human characters are what the show is about. In season five it is stated by the leader of the group, Rick, that “We are the walking dead.” The title is a reference to the humans and not the zombies.

I started re-watching the series a couple of months ago. There were a lot of things I picked up this time around that I missed when I originally started watching the show.

The theme that stood out to me the most in season one and two was, everybody needs a leader, but nobody wants to follow.

Leadership is incredibly important. The way of the leader goes the way of the organization, family, church, and friendship. Without leadership everyone is left to deciding what they think is best.

That works for the mundane, but when the poo hits the fan every group needs a leader.

In the Walking Dead the leader quickly becomes Rick Grimes. He is a police officer and family man. He leads because he wants to survive.

When I first watched season two I was pretty bored with the first half of the show. The second half was amazing, but I remember feeling like nothing significant happened in the first half. I was wrong.

With watching the show again I was captivated by the struggle of leadership all throughout the show.

Rick was the leader, but no one wanted to follow. Everyone had their own ideas of what to do and when to do it.

When Rick would try to lead the followers would push back on every idea. It was a constant tug of war for power.

Rick, being a nice guy, tried to lead by committee and failed gloriously.

Without spoiling too much of the show, the group was almost torn apart because of an unwillingness to follow the leader.

Season 2 ends with the famous scene where Rick declares the new way things are going to be.

He doesn’t actually say the line, “Ricktatorship” but it’s become Internet famous.

Season three has the group following Rick. Finally everyone is in line and doing what they are supposed to be doing.

That doesn’t work out very well either.

By the beginning of season four we have a leadership counsel. And Rick has become a farmer.

Once again when the poo hits the fan Rick steps up to be the leader.

This time though he balances leading with caring about what his followers say. He takes advice. He listens to those he trusts.

The group is run the best when Rick leads, but allows for input from his group.

Re-watching the Walking Dead has made me think a few things about leading and following.

  • Leading is difficult. When life is hard no one wants to be the leader. The leader takes all the blame and then gives the praise away to the team. If you are under a good leader show some empathy. It’s not easy bearing the weight of leadership.
  • Not everyone will make it. Some people can’t follow. Some people can’t lead. Some people can’t lead some people. If you are leading an organization what you need to know is that not everyone who starts with you will finish with you. Some people will feel called to try something new. Some people won’t like the way you lead. Some people will want things to stay the same forever. As a leader you want to change. Leading change means some people will not be with you until the end. And that’s okay.
  • Decide what type of leader or follower you are going to be. One key to leading or following is to be consistent. Decide who you want to be and stay in your lane. Not every leader is a right fit for every type of follower. But there are some followers who will respond to every type of leadership. When a leader is all over the place it confuses those who are trying their best to follow.
  • Leading alone is a bad idea. The leadership burden is heavy. When people push back the easiest answer is to declare, “This is not a democracy” and push forward. That’s the easiest way to try to control people, but not the best type of leadership. If the best ideas, and most of the decisions are being made by one person there will be a lid on how far you can lead.
  • Choose to follow or choose to leave. If you are not the leader you can either choose to follow your need to choose to leave. Complaining about how bad the leader is toxic. If things are so bad then step up and become a leader. If you are not willing to step out and lead, even if this means leaving, then become a follower leaders love to work with. This doesn’t mean you are a puppet who doesn’t have a voice. In the Walking Dead, Daryl, is a perfect example of what a great follower is. He is a leader himself, but he makes the leadership Rick does easier. Be that type of follower or go find a place where you can.
  • You have to change if you want to survive. One of the most difficult things about leading or following is the need to adapt. With each new season comes change. It’s difficult to lead change and it’s really difficult to follow through change. But if you do the same things over and over again you will become ineffective and extinct.

I am truly fascinated with the amount of leadership nuggets I’ve pulled from the Walking Dead. There are a lot more, but I’ll stop for there.

Do you watch the Walking Dead? What are the best leadership characteristics you look for? Are you a good follower when you are not the leader? Why or why not?

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Rob Shepherd

I am the full-time husband of a wonderful woman! I love being married! We are proud parents to twins, Hayden and Reese. In my spare time I am the pastor of Next Level Church. I have a relationship with God and it is an adventure. Oh and I wrote a book. It's called Even If You Were Perfect Someone Would Crucify You.


  1. Karen
    October 17, 2016

    I don’t watch the show. Not my cup of tea but I like your analogies. I guess I tend to be a fruit inspector with leaders. I like to see the fruits of the spirit that then assist the leader with wisdom, strength, decisions, people and technical skills as well as a tablespoon of humility. I tend to be a good loyal follower.

    • October 18, 2016

      Karen, great stuff. Thanks for taking the time to comment even though the show is not your cup of tea.

  2. Randal
    October 17, 2016

    I do not watch The Walking Dead. I’m glad we can still be friends despite this.

    I tend to look for a clear vision from the leaders in my life. If the leader has a clear vision it is easier to get behind that vision, fit into the game plan and help to realize it. If the vision is not clear, it gets frustrating for me as I don’t then have a clear idea of my role or tasks to accomplish the goal.

    I also appreciate a leader who is willing to listen to the advice and ideas of others. The ideas may not always be the correct way to go about achieving the goal, but treating followers and their ideas with respect and value is incredibly important.

    • October 18, 2016

      Randal, great insight. Thanks for commenting event though you don’t watch the Walking Dead.

  3. Lauren Cory
    October 18, 2016

    “everybody needs a leader, but nobody wants to follow.”

    TWD…can’t wait for season premiere!

    I was impressed with the amount of analogies about leadership you pulled from the show!

    God has been speaking to me a ton about leadership in the last year since I joined a Campus Leadership Team at WEC Yorktown. He’s been teaching me about boldness, humility, leadership styles, and so much more! I’ve been watching the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcasts on Youtube and they have been really good!

  4. October 30, 2016

    What is interesting to me is how little difference there really is between Rick and the Governor or even Negan. None of them have great moral compasses.


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