leadership lessons from squid game

閱讀中文版本

This article is brought to you by SHL.

Squid Game has swept the digital world. Let's look at some management lessons organisational leaders can take from this nerve-wracking Netflix series.

Warning: Spoiler alert! If you have not watched Squid Game, you can watch it on Netflix.

Recently, Squid Game has taken the world by storm. For those who have not watched it (yet do not mind a spoiler), it is a dark dystopian Korean series that follows the story of Gi-Hun (player #456), a divorcee, compulsive gambler, and indebted chauffeur, who accepted the offer to participate in a tournament to settle his debt—and unbeknownst to him, a dangerous game where “game over” means death.

While it is a cautionary tale about how money can ruin lives, there are also some important management lessons that organisational leaders can learn. In the business world, organisational leaders are the players, and the market is the game master—it decides what challenges you are playing, and whoever is reactive enough and has the best strategy gets out as the champion.

In general, there are four key aspects of an organization: design, culture and employee experience, learning and growth mindset, and leadership. To stay ahead of the game in the constantly changing world, you need to build an internal ecosystem that can sustain changes not only in the present day, but also in the future.

In this blog, I will analyse Squid Game and make a side-by-side comparison with each organisational aspect and what you can do to future-proof your organisation. So, get ready and grab some popcorn!

1. Design

- Goals determine the outcomes
In the first challenge, Red Light, Green Light, Sang-Woo (player #218) figured out that the key to conquer is to move quickly while hiding behind the other players. In real life, we face various challenges with various levels of complexity. The minute you are hit by an issue, experiencing fear and confusion at first is normal.

To get through this initial shock, focus on your goals, and think of how you want to work on the challenges as well as what you need to do to achieve those goals.

- Agile structure results in efficiency
During the lights-out period when all the players annihilated each other as each player’s death meant more money added to the piggybank, Gi-Hun, Ali (player #276), Sae-Byeok (player #67), Il-Nam (player #1), and Sang-Woo formed an alliance and a night watch system, operating in pairs, instead to protect each other. Creating a network or team allows you to solve issues quickly and move on to tackle the next one, especially in times of crisis. Furthermore, you can also swiftly help each other in case one team member is overwhelmed.


2. Culture and experience

- Inclusivity will help you win
During the marble game, the players were asked to form a pair. However, one player, Han Min-Nyeo (player #212) was not chosen by anyone. To the surprise of the others, she automatically went through the next challenge. In the Korean culture, she is considered the kkakdugi, which is a term used in children’s game to describe the weakest link of the group that will gain a special skill, usually in the form of immunity. The concept is to teach children to be considerate and include everyone, no matter how weak or different someone seems to be, so that everyone can enjoy the game and benefit from it together. At the workplace, you need to build a culture where inclusivity is taken seriously.

What may be perceived as a weakness by society, may bring special skills that help everyone go further together. Eventually, you will enjoy the benefits of inclusivity.

- Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork!
Throughout the series, the theme of individualism was prominent. But what caught my attention is how teamwork was actually what helped many of them to survive. One memorable example is during the tug of war game where Gi-Hun’s team consisted of people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicity, and age. They were not the physically strongest team, but against all odds, they won because they listened to Il-Nam’s strategy. Moreover, the combination of Gi-Hun’s leadership and Sang-Woo’s last-minute tactic also helped seal the winning. The true key to success is overcoming differences, listening to each other, and digging deeper together.

- Purpose drives action
At a glance, it seems that the players were all money thirsty. But their motivation was beyond money. A higher purpose than mere money or profit is the one that will oil an organisation’s engine—its people. Therefore, it is important to know exactly what you want to achieve together as an organisation.

- Shared values vs skill alignment
Squid Game also taught us that success is not only about skill alignment, but also about shared principles and values. The friendships of the main characters helped all of them to go deeper in the game. Fostering a connection based on shared values can get you far and is much more sustainable than when it is based on mere skill alignment.


3. Learning and Growth

- Gambits can be game-changing
In the tug of war game, Sang-Woo’s tactic was to let go of the rope for a few seconds to make the other team lose their balance—a risky, but effective move. Being fearless, risk-taking, and willing to learn is necessary to move forward.

Especially when times are unsettled like now, making a daring but strategic move will open you up to opportunities.

- Learning from mistakes is crucial
One of the most gut-wrenching challenges, the glass bridge, demonstrated the importance of learning from mistakes. Sometimes, you only have one chance to do one thing right. You need to learn from past data and decide your next move based on both your experience and others’. Your chance of winning will gradually increase when you want to learn and actively listen to others.


4. Leadership

- Lead with wisdom
In the tug and war challenge, Il-Nam gave some life-saving tips based on his childhood experience and assigned each person a role in the match. Good leaders know how to put people in the right roles and build strategy based on experience and know-how.

- Creativity is key to success
During the honeycomb challenge, instead of treacherously trying to break the candy with the needle, like the others, Gi-Hun licked the area around the shape. Leaders need to be prepared to challenge the common norms and think outside of the box. Seeing things differently and being creative is crucial to help you deal with uncertainty.

- Compassion matters—a lot!
Gi-Hun, the winner, was one of the only players who actually cared about the value of friendship and human life. He may not be the strongest nor the smartest, but even the very last game—his bet with Il-Nam— proved that by believing in the good of people, you can win too. What can we learn from him?

You need to be kind and to believe in your people. Being a humane and empathetic leader is key in navigating the uncertain future.

Squid Game reminds us that strong players do not make great teams. What makes a team or organisation great is strategic, compassionate leaders who have clear vision and purpose, stimulate their people to learn, grow, and work in an agile manner, embed inclusivity within and outside of the organization, and who can foster genuine relationships among their people.

Ultimately, those are the qualities that can make an organisation resilient and ready for future challenges.

Download our latest whitepaper on how to build a future-proof organisation and contact us so we can help you build a sustainable and resilient team!


About the author: Sabrina Wijaya

As a Senior Digital Content Manager, Sabrina brings her expertise to develop SHL's global digital content strategy and manage the editorial calendar. She is enthusiastic about people, content creation, and organisational culture.

About SHL

SHL, the global leader in HR technology and psychometric science, transforms businesses by leveraging the power of people, science, and technology. Its unrivalled workforce data and highly validated talent solutions provide organisations with the workforce and scale to optimally leverage their people’s potential that maximise business outcomes.

It equips recruiters and leaders with people insights at an organisation, team, and individual level, accelerating growth, decision making, talent mobility, and inspiring an inclusive culture. With 45 years of talent expertise, SHL is the trusted technology partner to more than 10,000 companies worldwide, across more than 150 countries, including 50% of the Fortune Global 500 and 80% of the FTSE 100. For more information, visit shl.com.

Image / Provided by SHL

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!