What you can learn by watching TV

The Mentalist

COMMENTARY It cracks me up when people say, "I don't watch much TV." I guess they think it makes them sound more intellectual. Then, once their guard's down, they can't stop talking about American Idol and Real Housewives and can rattle off punch lines from The Big Bang Theory from memory.

For the record, I watch plenty of TV. I've got TVs in every room in the house, even the bathroom -- on a swivel mount so I can see it from anywhere, no less. And you know what? Just like in real life, you can learn a lot about people and life from books, movies and, yes, even TV.

I don't know about you, but besides the scripts and the drama, what draws me to specific shows are the qualities and chemistry of the characters. I laugh at some, hate others, and often find characteristics and behavior to aspire to, believe it or not.

You might say that's a bit childish, but everyone needs heroes and mentors, right? Well, there's no law that says they have to be real people. Besides, the qualities and behavior of made-up characters are usually composites of people real and imagined. And you know, I find TV characters to be far more realistic than most of the mind-numbingly trite platitudes and parables that pass for leadership advicethese days.

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Here are five fictional TV characters that up-and-comers can learn a lot from, including their attributes that I think are sorely needed in the corporate world. Some are leadership role models while others are great examples of effective teamwork, realistic work-life balance, and the kind of work ethic that's hard to find these days.

Grey's Anatomy's Richard Webber. When he was Chief Webber, he was about as close as you could get to the perfect balance of tough leader and supportive mentor. He's emotionally present and accessible to his people -- whom he genuinely seems to care for -- but that doesn't stop him from kicking them in the pants and making tough calls that need to be made. He's the boss we all wish we had.

The Mentalist's Patrick Jane. It's not necessarily obvious, but the reason Patrick Jane is so brilliant at solving crimes is because the guy really gets the value of taking time to think and getting others to relax so they'll reveal things they otherwise wouldn't. That's why he's always laying on couches and drinking tea pretty much everywhere he goes. Jane's a breath of fresh air in a society that's perpetually distracted by smartphones and social media and rarely present and living in the moment.

The Good Wife's Alicia Florrick. Demographics aside, Alicia Florrick's character reminds me the most of myself as a young up-and-comer. Amidst all the drama and egos, she doesn't whine or complain but takes on ridiculously tough jobs and executes flawlessly. She says yes to everything and gets the job done. Every employee should aspire to be like her. And sure, I like Will Gardner's quiet and unshakeable confidence, but nobody's that rock-solid in the real world.

The Closer's Brenda Leigh Johnson. The work life balance -- actually the lack of one -- between Chief Johnson and her FBI agent husband is fairly realistic for more and more working couples these days. There's a lot of give and take. Nobody gets what they want but they strive to give each other what they need. And the Priority Homicide division represents a realistic but effective team: they're a little dysfunctional, they don't always get along, but when it counts, they get the job done and have each other's backs.

The Fringe team. At least in our universe, the Fringe team is the most accurate embodiment I've ever seen of what Warren Bennis was trying to describe in his great book "Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration." The book chronicles several famous, real-world teams that accomplished amazing things and provides 15 common rules of great groups. Of course, having a cow in the workplace wasn't one of them, but if you want to inspire your team to do great things, read the book and watch the show.

I guess the bottom line here is that fictional characters are readily available and they can make great role models. So admit you watch TV and tell us who your favorite character is and why. Also, I know a couple of the shows are on CBS. That's not why I watch them or how they made the list. 

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