Saturday, February 13, 2010

Learning Leadership from "The Office" -- Part I

I'm going to admit it. I'm an addict. I am totally hooked on "The Office." Now that it is in syndication, I can find it on multiple channels every night of the week and, of course, on NBC on Thursday nights. If you don't watch the show, you may not appreciate the notes below. But even just from the 30 second clip above, you know this is not your average show. And Michael Scott is not your average boss. He may be, all at the same time, the World's Best -- and Worst -- Boss.

It's like a train wreck. I can't look away. I know Michael Scott's management style is all wrong...and yet I find myself learning leadership from him. Something about his management of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin makes me think I'm not alone, and maybe I'm not doing too badly in my own position. Something in his quirky performance tells me, and likely many others, that leadership is difficult, that the alignment of people, personalities, and individual goals and objectives within a company focused on the bottom line is a heavy responsibility. But if he can do can I!

Truthfully, there is much more negative than positive to learn from Michael Scott and the daily life in "The Office." There is way too much drama and, with all the meetings, pranks, and time wasting, productivity cannot be good. But in this two-part series on lessons from the show, I choose to start with the positive. Most of what Michael does is a mess. But some of what he does is truly worthy of emulation.

-- Michael Scott has created a culture within the branch where people can be themselves, where it is okay to have fun at work, and where each member of the relatively small team adds value -- to each other and to the company. He has created a sense of family among the diversity of the Dunder Mifflin branch. Attrition is low. Despite the give and take, people genuinely care about one another. They celebrate successes. They hang out together after work. People trust each other (well...mostly).

-- No one communicates like Michael Scott. Regular meetings, office huddles, and proactive sharing of information keep all informed. No one can say they don't hear or see enough of the boss or know exactly where they stand with him. Michael is an in-your-face, on the shop floor leader. He tells people what is happening at corporate, participates in all training sessions, and makes it a point to engage with every member of the team on a regular basis. While most of us complain about a lack of communication from our leaders, this is clearly not the case in this little paper company.

-- Michael works hard to develop subordinates. He made Dwight co-manager while also giving Jim responsibilities during his absences. He sent Jim on a developmental assignment at another branch and helped one of his teammates (Ryan) gain a leadership position at corporate headquarters. He has taken various members of the team out on sales calls and recruiting trips. He encouraged Pam to pursue her goals in design and gave her leave to go to school. He accepted the "co-manager" title along with Jim and, for a very brief period of time, demoted himself and made Dwight office manager. Michael is a caring boss who wants his team to succeed.

-- Michael is real. He has no pretenses about who he is. The pride that is evident in so many in leadership positions is virtually absent with him. He doesn't pretend to be Superman. He knows his weaknesses and is not afraid to ask for help. isn't pretty. But what office is not without its dysfunction? Even the creepy Michael Scott has a good side. He cares deeply. He is passionate. He wears his emotions on his sleeves. He loves his job and his teammates. And, in their odd sort of way, they love him back.

The result? Dunder Mifflin seems to be weathering this difficult economic climate. Michael is consistently recognized for the performance of his branch. People stay. By any common measurement of leadership success, Michael is pretty effective.

I hope you watch the show and look for these positive leadership elements. Maybe you have some regarding positive lessons from the show that you can share. Perhaps together our growth will be stimulated from the lessons of the Scranton Branch. And maybe, like me, you can laugh at yourself and your own leadership shortcomings while peering into the life of the Dunder Mifflin team. I hope some of these things are worth incorporating into your own leadership journey. A little Michael Scott might brighten a day, make a difference, or change a life in your office. That's Leader Business.

Read Part Two on "The Office" here.

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