In the hit television series, “The Office,” Michael Scott manages Dunder Mifflin, a struggling paper company in Scranton Pennsylvania. Michael’s poor judgment and lack of basic leadership skills cause countless mishaps and widespread employee discontent throughout the office. Those in real life leadership positions can learn from this fictional character’s shenanigans — mostly what not to do. Leaders from a variety of fields may learn from this show by adhering to the following leadership missteps that are frequently demonstrated by this humorous, yet disastrous fictional boss.
Don’t: Devalue Education
When Michael discovers that the office temp is going to business school, he becomes insecure about the fact that he does not have a college degree. Instead of using this as an opportunity to better himself as a manager by taking college classes as well, he decides to prove to the temp that he already knows everything about business. Those who obtain college degrees in leadership and other related fields gain valuable managerial expertise, including analytical, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Michael would have been much more effective as a leader if he would have encouraged his employee to pursue his educational goals and considered taking leadership courses to improve his own capabilities as a manager.
Don’t: Discourage Teamwork
Michael very much enjoys his title as the boss of the office, often at the expense of his employees. He is so pleased with his position that he purchases himself a coffee mug that reads “World’s Greatest Boss.” Unfortunately, his obsession with his own rank prevents him from working as a team player, and most of the talent in the office goes unnoticed. A leader who values teamwork creates space for open communication, cooperation and new ideas. Working with your employees and encouraging participation makes room for the kind of creativity and positivity an office needs to succeed.
Don’t: Fail to Recognize Achievements
Michael sometimes recognizes his employees and their achievements; however, much of this recognition is either highly inappropriate or based solely on favoritism. For example, each year Michael hosts the Dundie Awards where he recognizes the employees of Dunder Mifflin Scranton. These awards are not based on actual work performance; rather, they focus on specific personality traits that Michael does or does not like. According to Forbes, when done correctly, employee recognition can be very beneficial. It is important, however, that this recognition is genuine and relevant to excellent work performance. When employees know that their work is valued, they are much more likely to be productive and stay on task.
Don’t: Ignore Employee’s Concerns
Failing to pick up on or acknowledge the concerns of others is one of the most detrimental things a leader can do. Being a successful leader means having emotional intelligence, and it is crucial that managers do not discount concerns such as workplace safety and unethical behavior. When the human resources manager of Dunder Mifflin gives a presentation on safety, Michael thinks it’s too boring, so he chooses to make jokes and side comments throughout the training. In the real world, managers must take safety concerns seriously, as proper training and prevention can save lives. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports a 65 percent decrease in workplace fatalities since 1970 as a result of improved safety training and laws. Michael’s focus on his own concerns over those of his employees prevented the office from receiving valuable and life-saving information.
Don’t: Deflect Blame
In an effort to bring some fun to the office, Michael decides to place “golden tickets,” or coupons in random boxes of paper, giving select customers a 10 percent discount on certain orders. When the plan backfires and one company ends up with all of the coupons, Michael panics and tells the CEO that it was another coworker’s idea. Being a leader is difficult, and perhaps one of the greatest challenges is staying accountable. A great leader is one who will not take all of the credit when their organization succeeds but is willing to take responsibility when their actions lead to unintended consequences.
Don’t: Try to Be a Friend Instead of a Boss
Stanley is a salesman at the office who is generally grouchy and apathetic and is usually found working on crossword puzzles instead of making sales calls. When Michael tries to call him out on not listening during a presentation, Stanley snaps and becomes very disrespectful. Michael is so invested in having everyone like him that he prefers to pretend Stanley was simply joking, rather than confronting the situation. It is crucial for leaders to put boundaries in place to prevent the lines between friend and boss from becoming blurred. This is beneficial for both the leader and the employee, as there will be no confusion regarding each person’s role.
While it may be easy for leaders to find themselves slipping into the don’ts on this list, through watching the antics of Michael Scott, they can avoid many of the mishaps that occur on “The Office.”
Image by Michael Hasseth from Flickr Creative Commons
About the Author: Sara Bryant is a contributing writer and organizational consultant for a marketing firm.