The road to leadership with Hercule Poirot
As Agatha Christie's world-famous detective turns 100 this year, it's worth taking a leaf from his book for some real world applications too
The quarantine life has affected people differently. Some have taken to baking, others to exercising and some are exploring latent talents. I don't fall into any of those categories but I have binged my way through potentially all of Netflix's crime shows and was left with what I call, whodunit withdrawal symptoms. There is always something about crime shows and not knowing the unknown that is intriguing and stimulating to the mind.
While contemporary shows really refine the genre and elevate it to a new level, I still love going back to the ones I grew up with. I know I am dating myself here but, shows like Street Hawk, Perry Mason, Columbo and Agatha Christie's Poirot series with their red herrings and high-stakes intrigues were the original 'binge-worthy' shows way before the notion of bingeing became part of popular culture.
It worked well for me that life in lockdown also coincides with the 100th anniversary of Poirot, which has given me a chance to binge my way through David Suchet's perfectly helmed episodes.
I started reading the Poirot novels when I was around 10, and as I grew up, I began to understand his character better. But re-watching the episodes against the backdrop of a global pandemic has been something of a revelation. For weeks, I have been discussing with colleagues and friends the importance of leadership and leadership styles; and while there is potentially every possible style currently displayed on the world's stage, Poirot too (it occurred to me) shows us some characteristics that are perhaps more important today than they have ever been.
Poirot prioritised relationships and deep listening. He embodied the saying 'To see clearly, listen more' and so, in many of his cases, it is simple words, an off-hand remark, or a turn of phrase that actually leads him to answers. It is his understanding of human nature, tones and gestures, expressions and body language that helps him connect with people.
Poirot, as I recently observed, was also a spiritual man. In The Triangle at Rhodes, it was his observance of spiritual practices and deep-seated notions of right and wrong that led him to find and prosecute the murderer. As long as the guilty person was not identified and punished, he believed a shadow would hang over the lives of everyone else. Poirot believed closure was vital and that murder was never justified.
In Lord Edgeware Dies, Poirot read upside down during the case to understand the killer's mindset and, through the series, comes across as someone who constantly upscales his skills. Here was a man who knew himself well and understood that expertise was not optional. Studies suggest that the best leaders know their domains well and while Poirot was by no means perfect, he was humble enough to learn and practise what he did not know.
As we all come to terms with current events, it is perhaps an opportune time to look inward at our own leadership characteristics. It is also the perfect time to reflect on who we choose to lead us. True leaders put people first, prioritise relationships and have the ability to inspire, to take others along on their journey, and be credible. They are able to make people sit up and listen, then follow - not by shouting the odds, but through the power of logical persuasion and a clear sense of purpose.
How wonderful it is that, in fiction, we are able to find a poignant and timely message for the real world. The climate of our times demands leaders who are not just intelligent, but wise; leaders who formulate strategies that target the greater good; leaders who are fair. Poirot, without trying to, can remind us that the more we choose such leaders, the better off we will be.
Atkins is an educator and blogger