The Wisdom of Biker Gangs


Business Lessons Learned from the Sons of Anarchy

When you only do it because you need the money, mistakes are made, and people get hurt.

Jackson Teller – Sons of Anarchy

I recently started watching Sons of Anarchy on Netflix.  I realize I’m a little late to the party, the show went off the air in 2014, but I like to put TV on in the background while I do housework and I usually get into stuff that is a little edgy.  This fit the bill, even if I am over 10 years late.

I have never been in a gang, much less a biker gang.  But I have spent most of my career working in small teams that depend heavily on everyone doing their part to survive.  When you strip away the Harley’s and leather jackets, and substitute the gun running, illegal narcotics and sex trade, for something a little less “outlaw-ee”, what is a biker gang, if not a business?

I am not saying that Sons of Anarchy is an accurate portrayal of life in an outlaw biker gang.  How would I know?  But it does portray some important business lessons in a unique way.  Here are 3 things I have learned about business from the outlaw bikers of Charming California.

Make Strategic Alliances

It is a bit of a cliché, but a dirty cop is an outlaw’s best friend.  In the show the local police chief is in The Sons pocket and continually looks the other way while they ply their illicit trade.  But the alliance only goes so far.  For their part, the gang never leaves a mess for the police chief to clean up.  The Sons of Anarchy live in Charming, but they do their business elsewhere. 

The alliance works because if either party were to break it everyone knows that all hell would break loose.  While they might not be as dramatic, strategic alliances in business all tend to work the same way, each party gets what they want while holding the other accountable through an unspoken promise of mutually assured destruction. 

Steven Covey called it a Win-Win Solution.  It is the only way strategic alliances work in the long term.  Everyone needs to win, or the losers will eventually decide they can get a better result through rebellion.  Rebellions are bloody and usually attract unwanted attention, like the FBI, and nobody wants that. 

Trust and Loyalty are Everything

The good of the team is of utmost importance.  You trust the guy riding next to you, or somebody gets hurt.  Not only that he has got your back but that he is capable of his job.  If you are constantly worried that someone else is not doing their part, your part will suffer. 

I remember a job interview years ago in which I told the interviewer that I could not handle worrying that someone else was going to drop the ball and make us all look bad.  I doubt it was that comment that sealed the deal, but I eventually got the job and spent 12 years working with the most coherent and loyal team I have ever seen.  I trusted my team and I never once worried that someone was not going to do what they were supposed to.  As a result, each team member was able to focus on their own job and achieve our collective goals.

It Cannot Just Be About the Money

As Jax said in the first season; when you do something only for the money, mistakes are made, and people get hurt.  It does not matter who, sometimes it is the customer, or the company or even you.    When money becomes the primary motivator in any deal everything else takes a back seat, alliances are strained, trust and loyalty are tested.  Everyone needs money, but when it becomes a means of keeping score and defining winners and losers it kills everything. 

Money is a means to living a comfortable life, but you cannot achieve that at the expense of other people.  Greed destroys relationships.  Zig Ziglar said that the key to customer service is to help as many people as possible get what they want and you will eventually get what you want, including money.  Just be sure to keep the money in its proper place, second to relationships.

So, there you have it, 3 business lessons from a story about a biker gang.  What do you think, should I buy a Harley and cruise the open road?

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