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Leadership in “The Office”

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The hit NBC comedy he Office features a neurotic, naive and often unruly character in Michael Scott. The show is famous for uncomfortable workplace moments and many of the scenes feel as if they are based in reality. Yet behind the entertainment, the premise begs the question: How do leaders emerge and how could incompetent fools become the boss?


© Flickr user TheMuuj

In one Office debacle, Michael Scott comes up with a new way to enhance business revenue. As shown in the clip below, this supposedly “innovative” idea is embarrassingly unconventional:

Though ingenious in Michael’s eyes, his idea turns sour when Dunder Mifflin’s largest and most lucrative client receives all five of the golden tickets—rewarding them with a fifty percent discount on an order. Faced with potential of being fired, Michael attempts to abandon his leadership responsibility by coercing his most loyal employee to take the fall.

The character of Michael Scott, although an overwrought stereotype, is a great example of the destructive power of bad management. As we covered in our post on leadership competence one theory states that leaders are selected for their vocal skills more so than actual ability. Judging by Dunder Mifflin’s standards, Michael Scott’s position as branch manager did not stem from any actual management skills. Fortunately, this choice is a comical twist of fiction for the benefit of entertainment rather than office productivity. Tragically, the joke hits home because many viewer offices are eerily similar to The Office.

While you may not have a manager prancing around the office like Willy Wonka, there still may be some ideas that aren’t quite fully fleshed out. Before putting an idea into practice, it’s important to look at every possible outcome. Yes, they should’ve ensured that only one golden ticket was going out in each shipment, but if Michael had thought to add a disclaimer saying that offers could not be combined, the hit the company had to take wouldn’t have been quite as big. Regardless, the promotion wasn’t really doing much for the company, as someone who was already their biggest client didn’t likely need a promotion like that to continue with their orders. It’s more prudent for them to focus on solid customer service and competitive pricing.

In terms of Michael passing the buck onto one of his employees, that’s something that may come off as pure parody, but isn’t as uncommon as you might hope. Look around your organization and see how many people are unwilling to take the blame when they’ve done something wrong. Saying “I was wrong” is a simple thing, but it can go a long way toward earning trust and loyalty from those around you. There’s no shame in admitting a mistake. There is shame in not learning from your mistakes so they don’t happen again.

You may think these things don’t apply to your business, but it’s important to remember that Michael Scott likely thinks the same thing. He always thinks he’s doing something for the betterment of the company and his employees. It’s his blissful unawareness that leads to the majority of the problems he creates. Recognizing the situation is an important first step toward finding a way to fix the problems that may be plaguing your organization.

If you are concerned your company is becoming the Dunder Mifflin of real-life business, consider contacting the business consultants at AccelaWork. We help organizations focus on the actual process of work instead of the eccentricities of personality. Painful office interactions might be great television, but companies and individuals would prefer for the workplace to primarily be a realm where work gets done.

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