Lessons in Leadership: Narcos Mexico

I recently binge-watched Narcos Mexico. I had heard it was good, but I chose to watch it for a trip down memory lane.

Guadalajara Mexico

Weird, right? You see, I lived in Mexico, in the Guadalajara area for a couple years and I wanted to see the area from a different perspective, and of course there was the curiosity of how “adjacent” I was to this activity.

Alas, the first two seasons cover a time before I was there, but it was well worth the commitment of watching, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

Still, there were a lot of thoughts, emotions that I had to process, and the time to absorb it all will be ongoing.

One thing that struck me is of course the obvious, the power of business leadership.

One young, relatively inexperienced guy, Gallardo, changed the world.

Felix Miguel Angel Gallardo - Narcos Mexico

It started with a better product. His partner created it. Gallardo had the vision and the guts to make it work. He went to existing businesses, competitors, and changed how they operated, took chances on his own, and made an empire that benefitted all who joined him, in a way no one ever thought to or could have envisioned.

That kinda makes him the Bill Gates of marijuana.

Narcos Mexico

But the flaw was always there. And that flaw took over. And this series brought that to the forefront. It was the source of his success, his genius, and his failure, all in one.

And it wasn’t the product.

The different “departments” in the Federation he created had different “personalities”. He didn’t recognize them, choosing instead to work around them and get them into alignment. He presented the Federation as a coalition, but he acted alone. His goals and vision continued, and the main incident, the kidnapping of the DEA agent, highlighted that flaw.

(I mention it as the kidnapping and not the torture and killing because those last two were inevitable after the first.)

His instinct in the moment were right, to not touch him, but he didn’t have the control or buy-in from others, because of unrest really created by his own management style. And he was left with the fatal blow that he minimized the significance of until it was too late.

He was driven by growth for growths sake, excusing divisive decisions as opportunity, demanding his coalition blindly trust, without being heard or respected.

Greed. Power greed.

His vision was enormous, and his insights and strategy insanely impressive. And it worked for a while and changed the world. He even saw the future of what would, and in fact did, happen without him.

But he never saw the fatal flaw. He was blinded by his confidence, success, and the validity of his vision. He was right.

He was a boss, an entrepreneur, not a leader. He dismissed those he relied in, seeing them as relying on him, and never considering their needs interests, perspectives.

It’s crazy, too, because these “department heads”, “vendors”, internally and across all industries were not, in fact, replaceable.

He knew this to some extent, but never really truly incorporated that into the equation, always finding workarounds and still being successful.

His downfall was swift, but predictable. And wholly unrelated to the business growth. In fact, his proposal would likely have been as successful as he predicted and probably safer for the world.

His downfall wasn’t due to the product or the opportunity. It wasn’t due to the changing landscape, culture, or economy.

His downfall was the effect of his ego, his management style. The very nature of what made him successful.

At a simple level, he answered for the world the question business leaders are asking now and still don’t hear the answer to: is it money or opportunity that drives people?

Acknowledgement, validation, appreciation…we all need to be seen.

[Side note: Does anyone believe that an entrepreneur with those mad skills has been just doing nothing in jail for the last 30 years? Have you ever MET an entrepreneur who’s tasted success? Something to think about as he’s being considered for release under house arrest.]