In the crime genre, a hero (protagonist) needs to encounter a worthy bad arse (antagonist) for the story to be a page turner. Whether this person’s identity is known (thriller) or unknown (mystery) or the story is a combination of both, the good guy and the bad guy have goals in opposition to each other. But for an antagonist to be effective, to have a reasonable chance of winning, they need the skill set of a high performing Chief Executive. Let’s see how – using Daniel Goleman’s framework for emotional intelligence. Goleman has written extensively on this subject including ways to discern the most effective executives from the rest in the world of work.
Self-awareness: The most calculating antagonist needs to know their own feelings and how these influence their own behaviour. They also need to know their strengths and weaknesses, know if and when to recruit assistance to help them be at the top of their game – to defeat the hero. Every win the hero has is a set back to the antagonist. An effective bad guy needs the capability to reflect and learn from their experience. Without self-awareness, the antagonist can’t manage themselves, much less their desires.
Self-management: The antagonist musters the control to prevent their immediate emotional response from hijacking their longer term goal. They will be self-defeating if they emotionally explode when the hero gains ground. A good antagonist will remain calm in the most trying of moments and any display of emotion will be part of their calculated plan, at least throughout the plot, until the finale. An effective self managing bad arse will plan the details necessary for them to prevail. They’ll take tough, principled stands just as any CEO would when faced with adversity. To an antagonist, their rationale for action is just as strong as the hero’s. To be calculating, they’ll be organised and careful in their work and be able to adapt to change forced on them, especially from the mid stages of the novel when the protagonist becomes more proactive. To adapt, you could expect an antagonist to find ways to do better, to try new things to improve their chances of defeating the hero.
Social awareness: This is where an antagonist comes into their own with their skills of manipulation. We often see this in psychological thrillers. They will be attentive to others’ emotions and needs, and will frequently offer help to project they are a Good Samaritan. If they are genuine sociopaths, incapable of empathy, they will have the intelligence to know its importance and learn empathic statements or lines (dialogue) for situations they’ll be in. A savvy bad arse will be effective at reading and understanding power relationships in situations that they cannot control themselves and use what they learn to their own advantage.
Relationship management: Expect the antagonist to be skilled at seeking relationships beneficial to them but persuading others that they will be the primary beneficiary of their causes or contributors to a cause bigger than all of them. They win people over where they cannot manage every strategy on their own, even if it’s as simple as arranging an alibi, or the more difficult task of disposing of a body. Bad arses are often very effective communicators manipulating others to win support for their cause, e.g. Jax Teller, (Sons of Anarchy) or Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), both projected as loving fathers, protective of their families but devious, dangerous and murderous.
In business, many organisations have their share of the Dark Triad: the narcissist, the Machiavellian and the psychopath. Sadly, because these folk are adept in their craft, they have the skills to rise to the top of their organisations. Heroes are often buried in teams well down the food chain. It’s probably why crime is such great escapism for people in the world of work – the good guys win more often than not!