Those of us that have seen NBC’s hit show The Office have likely cringed at each painstakingly awkward joke or statement that came out of Dunder-Mifflin’s well-intended Regional Manager, Michael Scott. While the show is fiction (thankfully) it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t toe the line on realistic office scenarios. It’s also not that hard to believe that Michael Scott leads one of the greatest turnaround efforts in fictional business history.
During the show’s pilot episode, the Scranton, Pennsylvania office was on the chopping block, on the verge of being a victim to corporate downsizing. By the time Michael left Dunder-Mifflin to start a new life in Colorado, he was running the most profitable branch in the company.
How did he do it? On the surface, he was a bumbling idiot, getting in his own way and creating chaos for his employees. But if we dug deeper, I think we’d find the ultimate business leader. We have a lot to learn from Michael Scott. I’ve completed the nearly impossible task of identifying 3 reasons he was so great, and I’ve taken it a step further by tying those reasons to key takeaways that we can all apply in our own careers today.
Michael Scott Treats His Employees Like Family
A common theme throughout his tenure as Regional Manager is Michael’s yearning for a family and to have lots of friends. Unfortunately, he lacks in both areas. He does everything he can to fill these voids in his life by treating the people in his office as his family members and best friends. It’s this mindset that leads him to truly love and respect his employees as people first. He understands their weaknesses and he deals with them as they arise. But more importantly, he understands their strengths, and he finds ways to position them to succeed because the last thing he wants to see is to see them fail.
Just as any family though, there’s dysfunction, but he never lets it get too far before making things right. For example, during another mundane meeting, Stanley Hudson gets called out by Michael for not paying attention, something he’s known to do. Stanley crosses the line when he rudely and condescendingly yells at Michael “Did I Stutter?” This quickly creates tension in the office. Unfortunately, initially Michael does what many of us would do — ignore it and hope it goes away. He even conducts a “fake firing” in hopes of scaring Stanley into apologizing. That of course only makes it worse.
Michael eventually steps up, levels with Stanley, has a respectful conversation, and rights all wrongs. He had an open, transparent conversation with Stanley and that proved to go a long way toward salvaging their relationship. Michael eventually confronted the problem. If Michael didn’t already have a love and respect for Stanley, would he have gone out of his way to make things better? Probably not. He likely would have taken the easy way and fired him.
Real-life takeaway: Give your employees the love and admiration you give your friends and family. Think about how you treat your employees. Are they just employees, or are they like family? Do you love them and respect them or are they expendable to you? When you love and respect your employees, something magical happens. They love and respect you back. They’re motivated to work hard, perform at a high level, and take ownership of their job.
Michael Scott Works Hard and Plays Hard
For all intents and purposes, Michael would rather be playing than working. No one will ever argue that. There’s an obvious reason why he’d rather be playing: they sell paper. Paper. In an increasingly digital world! There are few products more boring to sell than paper. So Michael understands how important the work environment is to his office’s success. He knows he could choose one of two paths: 1) let the office become a dull, boring, prison-like atmosphere or 2) make it as fun a place to work as possible. He chose option 2.
So take a look at what he does to make things fun. He created a Party Planning Committee (PPC) to plan and conduct birthday parties for every employee and celebrate major holidays. With regards to the birthday parties, he knows their importance in making each employee feel special about themselves and how they can make each employee feel loved by their peers. In celebrating major holidays, he not only celebrates all the usual major ones, but he tries to make all his employees of all cultures feel special yet again (see the episode where he celebrates Diwali).
When it came to celebrating major accomplishments, he was one of the best. Remember when he thought he single-handedly saved the office from downsizing? He and Dwight celebrated that victory. When someone got married, he would shut down the office to celebrate them. I could go on and on.
Real-life takeaway: So why did Michael do all this? To distract his employees from the mundane task of selling paper, keep them motivated, keep them fresh, and make them feel appreciated. Brilliant. Are you making it a point to make work fun? Do you celebrate your people, milestones, or accomplishments? You may not be selling paper, but if you’re not having fun doing your job, you’re missing out on a wonderful opportunity to easily and quickly make an impact to your bottom line. When people have fun at their jobs, they also stay longer bringing down attrition rates.
Michael Scott Is Human
Many of us believe that being a leader means you must always achieve perfection. Many of us think it means being the smartest person in the room, always showing strength, never showing emotion, and always having all the answers. Well, as we all know, Michael is far from perfect. In fact, he’s rarely any of those things I just listed above. He makes mistakes. He shows vulnerabilities and emotions. He’s nowhere near the smartest person in the room. And yet, he’s able to successfully lead his people to success. How? He’s human, and his people love that about him.
He opens up to people when he needs help (see the episode when he has money problems). He admits when he’s made a mistake (see the episode where he begs Dwight to come back to Dunder-Mifflin and leave Staples). He shows pride when others do something amazing (see the episode when he buys Pam’s art at her art show). He puts other people’s needs before his own (see the episode when he negotiated the sale of the Michael Scott Paper Company by ensuring Ryan and Pam both had jobs). He sheds tears in front of his employees (see the episode when Jim and Pam get married).
By showing he’s human, his people are able to rally around him and trust him to lead them to success. They know their best interests are always his best interests. They have an additional reason to perform and it’s because they deep down love their boss — not just because he’s a great boss, but because he’s an even better human.
Real-life takeaway: Try connecting with your colleagues on a more personal level. Get to know them, what motivates them, what keeps them up at night. Show them you care about them. Be there for them. Then, show them that you’re not just their boss, but you’re also a person with needs, weaknesses, uncertainties. Don’t be afraid to show them who you really are. If that’s a lot for you, take them to lunch and leave work at the office. People perform better for people they relate to and want to work for.
So is Michael Scott the World’s Best Boss? I’d say so, even though he’s a fictional character derived from the minds of creative writers and brought to life by Steve Carrell. There’s still a lot that we can learn from him. Go to work tomorrow and pretend to be Michael Scott for the day. I’d love to hear how it goes.