4 Lessons Leaders in Crisis Can Learn from Watching Avenue 5

The HBO original Avenue 5 revolves around spoiled rich tourists on a space cruise ship with a questionable crew backed by billionaire owner Herman Judd, it’s confused Cruise Captain Ryan Clark and Matt Spencer, Head of Passenger. The female crew and passengers are a force to reckon with from Billie McEvoy the engineer to a passenger aptly named Karen.

In many ways each character showcases leadership traits in a peculiar way. Loose lessons on leadership can be found throughout each episode if you know where to find them. Here are a few of my favorite leadership lessons from Avenue 5.

1. How You Communicate Matters

How you communicate news, good or bad, is key to acceptance most especially in the time of crisis such as the crew and passengers of Avenue 5 found when their 8 week space cruise suddenly becomes a potential eight year space adventure.

To deliver such bad news, you have to remain objective and share the facts to get buy-in, a task Captain Ryan failed at, but successfully delivered by Karen Kelly, one of the many affected passengers. Key in communicating bad news as a leader is to avoid embellishing the truth. Avoid the crude tactics of cruise ship owner Herman Judd to make this go away. 

Another important key is to listen. Don’t deliver the bad news and try to run away like Captain Ryan, but let the message sink in and allow the recipients to digest the news. There is bound to be emotional outbursts and as a leader this is the time to listen and not be a coward.

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” – Jim Rohn

2. Title Doesn’t Equate Leadership

Another lesson learned is that a leader needs to take responsibility and not play the blame game, something Herman Judd was good at. Being the billionaire business owner of this space cruise ship didn’t necessarily make him a good leader. 

An out of touch leader will have a hard time admitting fault, but would look for ways to pass the blame as we saw Herman attempt many times, when at this point he really needed to own the issue at hand and apologize. When a leader apologizes, it is not a sign of weakness, instead it is a sign of we messed up and we’re going to fix this.

A good leader takes responsibility and will earn respect from those they are leading as a sign of confidence in their leadership. Karen Kelly the passenger, shows more leadership than the entire crew put together and no wonder the passengers listen to and follow her lead. She’s able to get their vote of confidence despite the not so good news message she was delivering.

3. The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You

Selfishness does not pay. A selfish leader is rarely liked; instead they display their insecurities by their actions and Herman Judd proved to be no different when all he thinks is how he would appear to passengers in the midst of the crisis and an escape plan that did not include anyone but himself.

As a leader, when you begin to exhibit traits of “I like you because you make me look good” or you use people and after they’re no longer useful, you toss them aside, there’s a high probability that your leadership skills need a tune up. It’s easy to spot a selfish leader, they are typically surrounded by ‘yes men’ and can never seem to have ‘good people’ working for them because they are so absorbed in the universe of me, myself and I.

“Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” – Brian Tracy

4. Empower Your Inner Circle

Leaders in crisis don’t throw a fit like Herman Judd; instead a leader has a plan of action, but this starts with empowering the inner circle way before crisis strikes. A lot of time can be wasted when the inner circle (senior management) feel despondent. It’s a leader’s responsibility to ensure his team doesn’t fall apart and crumble under pressure, but we see scenes where Herman Judd can’t hold himself together much less the team and it takes Iris Kimura, his formidable right hand woman (personal assistant) to keep him in line. 

Having an empowered inner circle keeps a leader in line even when they veer off course. A motivated team will do what it takes for success and come up with a plan on how to turn negative situations around, which in turn naturally makes the leader look good.

Even when there is no current solution at hand like the crew and passengers of the space cruise ship were experiencing, it is still important for the leadership team to stay motivated enough to want to work together to come up with a solution that benefits all and that can only happen when this behavior is modeled from the top down.

After all, it is said that in the face of adversity character is built and truly this can be said of leaders as seen even in the quirkiest of characters on Avenue 5.


Lola Salvador Akinwunmi is a Launch Strategist and mother of two, helping women boldly step into their second act in life, so that they can lead authentically without the overwhelm. With over 20 years of corporate experience, Lola is the Founder of LolaSal Inc., an online hub that connects professional powerhouse women across North America to premium job opportunities. Some of her coaching clients have been featured in Medscape from WebMD, American Association for Physician Leadership, Implant Practice, Canadian Medical Association Journal, the Washington Post and featured on podcast shows. Lola has been featured in LinkedIn, Thrive Global, Brit +Co, Yahoo Lifestyle, Wealth Advisor, First for Women, UpJourney and on Podcast shows. Lola is available to talk about women in leadership, the challenges of being a working mom with a passion for more and the quest for integrating it all. Get more information on lolasal.com or follow her on Instagram

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4 Lessons Leaders in Crisis Can Learn from Watching Avenue 5

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