Lessons in leadership – 5 things we can learn from The Wolf of Wall Street

Lessons in leadership – 5 things we can learn from The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf of Wall Street bod
There’s no doubt Jordan Belfort – The Wolf of Wall Street - was a morally dubious and incredibly greedy man. There’s also no doubt that he was a very charismatic leader.

If you haven't seen the film yet, it's definitely worth a watch. And it got me thinking. Despite it being very clear from the start that most of the characters are shallow, utterly hedonistic and that bad things were going to happen because of their actions, there are clearly lessons to be learned from a man who started with nothing and became a multi-millionaire by the age of twenty-six.
Despite his many faults, he obviously had drive and charisma. He could spot potential in others and utilise it to achieve business goals. He could also inspire motivation and energy in his workforce through strong leadership.

So putting aside the excessive drug abuse, alcoholism, sexism, illegal practices, immoral behaviour and midget throwing (that’s quite a list!) here are five things to learn from The Wolf of Wall Street about leadership.

1. Assessment and development of talent.

Jordan Belfort actively looks for candidates with the traits he wants to cultivate in his company. He does not simply rely on CV’s - he looks for ambition, tenacity and the ability to learn quickly. Although the main trait he seems to be looking for is blind greed (not advisable!), the lesson to take from his success is that sometimes you need to look further than a CV. Think about your company culture, and about the ways in which you want to grow. Pick people who fit that culture and consider the skills they can learn and hone in order to develop within your company. Pick the right people, and then give them room to grow.

“If you give people a good enough ‘why’, they will always figure out the ‘how’.” Jordan Belfort

2. Inspire your employees

There is no way Jordan Belfort could have built his career without his ability to inspire others. As well as skilfully selling his unfortunate clients worthless stocks and shares, he sold his staff a dream of wealth, success and happiness. It was due to that skill that he was able to get them to perform in the way he wanted. I am not encouraging you to inspire your staff to behave illegally of course, but good leaders speak to employees, encourage and connect with them, and inspire them to work as hard as they can every day. Lead by example and make sure everyone feels like part of the team.

“When you do something, you might fail. But that’s not because you’re a failure. It’s because you have not learnt enough. Do it differently each time. One day, you will do it right. Failure is your friend.” Jordan Belfort

3. Reward and give recognition for a job well done

Yes, the rewards at Stratton Oakmont included strippers, drugs and disgusting sums of money (not recommended!) but recognising and rewarding your staff for a job well done is something all good leaders do. Ensure that employees understand what they are working towards and how they fit into the company. Good leaders also let employees know that what they do really makes a difference to overall success. That doesn’t have to mean money. Sometimes it can simply be letting the rest of the company know an employee has done well, or telling that person in private.

4. Build a strong team

A good leader knows that staff who get on well work better together. Of course a little healthy competition is good, but a workforce that gets along means more collaboration and creativity. The insane partying that results in the destruction of entire hotel floors as seen in Wolf of Wall Street is clearly going way too far, but doing something fun outside the office together can really help staff work better. Great leaders encourage staff to communicate with each other, and to spend a little time together –and not just at Christmas.

5. Leading by example

A great leader embodies the life he wants his employees to aspire to. Jordan Belfort flaunted his money, women and gave motivational speeches that rallied his team – working on the floor with them, involving himself (far too much) in partying with them. Whatever you think about the way Belfort behaved, he sold his own values to his employees and encouraged them to work harder and to make money, just like he did. He embodied the values he wanted his company to exude.

“Successful people are 100% convinced that they are masters of their own destiny, they’re not creatures of circumstance. They create circumstance. If the circumstances around them suck they change them.” Jordan Belfort

So there you are. A HR nightmare he may have been, and many, many of the things he did were pretty abhorrent, but his goal was for Stratton Oakmont to be the best. And for a while, it was. He achieved that success in large part by showing some very strong leadership traits.

Take note of those, and simply pick a better motivator than greed, and a more stable goal than simply money!


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