In this month’s Being Remarkable, Connecting Plots’ Group Managing Director, Tom Phillips takes a closer look at the infamous Pablo Escobar and why, despite his questionable career choice, he was a truly remarkable leader…

So I may have been a little late to the party but I recently finished watching Narcos. And it got me thinking about how a leader becomes a remarkable leader.

First things first, what do we know about Pablo Escobar?

He was a famous Colombian drug lord, whose cartel almost monopolised the supply of cocaine to the US – making him easily the wealthiest rags-to-super-billionaire criminal in history.

So, while Escobar was obviously a bad guy, and we don’t condone what he got up to, there is something that can’t be ignored. And that’s his success.

Undoubtedly a remarkable leader, he even crossed into the world of politics in the ’80s and was highly popular with the people of his home town Medellin until police shot him the day after he turned 44.

Perhaps the biggest lesson we can take from one of crime’s biggest ‘success’ stories – like him or loathe him – is the profile of a great leader.

So here’s are nine things I learnt about remarkable leadership from Narcos:

1. Think Big

In episode 1, when someone asks for help in selling cocaine at $10, Escobar replies: “You don’t have a vision, my friend.” Imagining what people would pay for coke in Miami, Escobar thought outside the box.

2. Lead by Example

Great leaders aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and take risks. When police had checkpoints on every street, Escobar was still meeting with business partners and checking on operations from the back of a taxi.

3. Be Determined

Great leaders like Escobar don’t give up. His vision was to rule cocaine, amid strong competition, intense opposition from authorities, and even scepticism from within his inner circle.

4. Build A Network

Hardly any success story is the result of having ‘gone it alone’, and Escobar knew this well. Indeed, he fostered an intense sense of loyalty among his clan, which extended beyond the criminal world to government officials, police, politicians, journalists, and even his fiercest rivals.

5. Work Isn’t Everything

Great leaders don’t burn out because they get their work-life balance just right, and Escobar truly valued his family and friends. Amid the turmoil and danger of his daily life, he always sat at the family dinner table and spent time with his kids.

6. Have Passion

Success – whether it’s running a great business or a system-beating cocaine empire – is the result of an incredible amount of hard work and hours, and it’s just not possible or sustainable without passion.

7. Be Confident

All around him, people were either questioning Escobar or actively seeking to bring him down, but true confidence is the resolve to keep your eye on the prize without succumbing to the pressure to change that vision or avoid taking risks.

8. Trust Your Instincts

Great leaders are meticulous planners and savvy business people, but they’re also the captain of a ship who has a sense of what the next change of course should be.

9. Take Responsibility

Narcos depicted Escobar with those smart and shrewd qualities, but he was also someone prepared to use often a small amount of information, make a decision and stand by the consequences – good or bad.