More than a decade after going off the air, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series (and the Joss Whedon movie which inspired it) still has a huge fan base. If you missed the show when it first aired, you can binge watch it on Netflix or Hulu; and if you're lucky, you might catch one of the actors or writers in person at a nearby Comic Con.
In addition to being binge-watch-worthy entertainment, Buffy the Vampire Slayer offers a classic cast of character personalities often seen on project teams. Our protagonist, for example, did not volunteer to lead her team. Instead, she had to grow into her leadership role. Other characters illustrate how former demons can become valued contributors, and how mentoring improves team dynamics. I created a list of seven Buffy-based project personalities to get you started, but fans of the show shouldn't have a problem adding to it. (Spoilers abound, but it’s not like you haven’t re-watched the show a dozen times.)
Great leaders don't always start out so, well, great. Buffy, for example, was a mediocre high school student with a colorful transcript who did not become a leader on purpose. Despite her less-than-stellar academic performance, she is the “chosen one,” and over the course of seven seasons, viewers see her stumble and grow into her leadership role.
Starting in episode 1, on Buffy's first day at a new school, she observes other students and identifies skills they bring to a team. Buffy immediately notices an obvious influencer, Cordelia, a popular student who openly mocks the mousey and book-smart Willow. After Cordelia is gone, Buffy approaches Willow and says, “I heard a rumor that you were the person to talk to if I want to get caught up.” Already we're seeing great leadership potential from the chosen one!
Before becoming a team leader, Buffy becomes a cheerleader. But by the time she leads her team of vampire fighters, she's off the squad and in the trenches working with teammates to research, develop, document, and execute plans of attack. Occasionally she makes bad calls, the effort fails; sometimes Buffy even cries. But what project manager hasn't wanted to cry every now and then? (Or drive a stake through the heart of someone opposed to her plan?)
Then Buffy dusts herself off, gathers the team together (or adds different members to the team), and she works on developing a new (hopefully better) plan.
An experienced team member with a good handle on documentation and process is an asset to any team. He helps keep projects on track and running smoothly. Giles, the librarian, shows how an understanding of best practices (or processes) and access to good technical data streamlines projects and ultimately saves time and resources. By sharing his experience and helping teammates acquire skills and access resources, Giles mentors his teammates and improves the team dynamics.
On the other hand, Giles can be seen as “old school.” He is not an early adopter of new technologies. He's the team member who needs a little coaching before he changes his established workflow. Giles is more likely to be thumbing through a print tech magazine than reading his Facebook feed on a lunch break.
Mentoring and access to resources help new team members develop skills, gain confidence, and live up to their potential. Willow demonstrates how willing and reliable team members can become resourceful, dependable, and valuable team players – and possibly even star performers (or, in Willow's case, powerful witches). “Oh I could totally help you out!” Willow says when she first meets Buffy.
Through the seasons, viewers see Willow become less mousey and more confident, as she learns from various mentors and improves her skills. (But let's not watch a clip of what happens when she becomes overly confident and briefly goes rogue, okay?)
Angel, the handsome and powerful vampire, is the team member who is either a huge asset or a giant liability, depending on his unpredictable mood. The “rock star” team member tends to get a lot of attention and often appears to be a team leader, but in reality he isn't as productive, reliable, or valuable as his teammates. Ultimately Buffy learns that the team functions better without Angel in the picture. (Eventually she kills him, but our analogy ends before that story arc.)
Otherwise quiet and friendly team members can turn into monsters when they don't get time to log off and recharge. For the safety of Buffy's team, Oz needs a few days away during each full moon when he turns into a werewolf.
Perhaps you've walked into the office in a good mood on a Monday morning, only to open your email and find a snarky message from a colleague who worked through the weekend. Or maybe you made the mistake of verbally asking an IT staff member for help while he's in the middle of a stressful server upgrade, so he walks away after rolling his eyes and telling you to “file a ticket.” Even the best team member gets grumpy under stress, so you're more likely to avoid a werewolf's wrath if you know when to give him space and time off to recharge.
When properly handled, a disruptive team member with an “every person for herself” attitude can become a valued team player. Anya first appears in an episode of Buffy as a vengeance demon who travels alone. "I don't need anything else. Vengeance is what I am," she says.
With mentoring from her patient new teammates and their help at improving her communication skills, Anya's past experience and unique skill set become valued contributions to team projects. For example, she is motivated by money, which makes her a great choice for managing finances at the Magic Box retail store. Anya is the exceptionally quirky person on the team with a few odd phobias (such as a fear of bunnies). She's also incredibly independent and self-sufficient, which can make team dynamics challenging for her. However, she might not be the best team member to help recruit new hires at the conference expo.
Unlike his classmates, Xander doesn't go to college after high school graduation, nor does he excel at any one skill in particular. Instead of depth, he brings to the team a breadth of knowledge and an eagerness to learn. His positive attitude and great sense of humor makes him an asset because he's quick to volunteer, to pick up new skills, and to work with a range of personality types. Xander probably shouldn't lead a huge project, but he can be counted on to tackle specific tasks or project pieces. Often generalists are overlooked, and they fly below the radar.
In a talk with Dawn, Buffy's younger sister and a fellow generalist, Xander sympathetically explains, “They'll never know how tough it is, Dawny, to be the one who isn't chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because nobody's watching me.” He goes on to tell Dawn that she isn't special; rather, she's extraordinary. Actually, Xander the generalist is the team member you want helping out at the expo, networking at events, and moderating your forums. Don’t underestimate him!
Which Buffy characters are on your team? Do you have a Spike, a Cordelia, or a Faith?
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