Sometimes the best management lessons come from the seemingly worst bosses.
While Michael Scott – the branch manager and self-proclaimed World’s Best Boss from The Office – seemed to be the furthest thing from the best, more often than not, he did the right thing in the end.
Michael Scott’s approach to handling employees and an office ran the extremes – from tyrannical to compassionate, overbearing to disinterest, arrogant to humble. And it left many employees rolling their eyes.
But behind the shenanigans and dry humor are teaching moments that are still relevant today, 10 years after the iconic show ended. Perhaps they’re even more so now as a new generation in the workforce has fallen for the show in syndication.
Here are management lessons from The Office and its cast of characters.
No 1: Be a boss of the people
Why the moment matters: It’s important to recognize what keeps your employees engaged, motivated and cohesive. Even better, act on what you know about their engagement, motivation and team dynamics.
Significant line: “We’re here for the show, Michael.”
Office Tip: You don’t have to take a sucker punch for your team. But meet regularly one-on-one to find out what motivates, engages and concerns employees – and follow up with more of what they like.
No 2: Involve employees in change
Why the moment matters: New managers take heart: Even when change seems practical, it can interfere with culture and morale. If it matters to employees, rethink some changes.
Significant line: “He doesn’t care. The power went to his head.”
Office Tip: Try to involve employees in change management – from being involved in the decisions to change to implementing the changes deemed necessary.
No. 3: Show pride in the people, the work
Why the moment matters: As a leader – and especially front-liners – you get caught up in the minutiae of managing people, tasks, policies and procedures that it’s difficult to focus on the meaning behind it all.
Significant line: “And we sell paper.”
Be an Office leader: Take time – schedule it, if you must – to talk about what your organization does and why your employees are critical to it – and why they’re both important to you.
No 4: Be predictable
Why the moment matters: Employees feel stable when their boss doesn’t run the gamut on emotions and reactions. When they know what to expect – at least most of the time – they’ll be comfortable coming to you for advice and direction.
Significant line: “Michael’s birthday. It’s pretty fun to watch, actually. He gets very excited. He eats a lot of cake. Then he runs around the office. Then he gets a sugar crash in the afternoon. And then he falls asleep. And that’s when we get our work done.”
Office Tip: You might not want to be predictable in the Michael-Scott-birthday way. But make an effort to keep your tone, mood and approach to pressure predictable and assuring.
No 5: Evaluate your calendar
Why the moment matters: Leaders pick up duties they weren’t intending to – perhaps to fill a hole when an employee or colleague left or a new task came up to be tested. Problem is, they keep doing unnecessary things because they didn’t assess why it was being done.
Significant line: “Why have I been separating the trash into whites and colors?”
Office Tip: At least twice a year, assess how your time is spent. Eliminate duties that are redundant, outdated or can be covered by someone else.
No 6: Get a pulse check
Why the moment matters: Some managers think everything is OK because employees don’t outright complain. Or they might plan pizza parties and doughnut Mondays, thinking that will boost motivation. Meanwhile, their employees aren’t happy or motivated.
Significant line: “You guys got it soft and cushy. This place is freaking awesome. The people are awesome. Your boss is nice. Everybody seems to get along. People are tolerant.”
Office Tip: Take regular pulse checks to find out if employees A) are happy at work, B) get the most out of the employee experience, C) are challenged by their work, and D) get along with colleagues. You can use surveys or one-on-one conversations.
No 7: Manage conflict
Why the moment matters: Managers initiate, witness and are the target of conflict. You have to deal with it quite a bit. In this clip, Michael Scott does it all – initiates, witnesses, targets and eventually manages it.
Significant line: “You know what I want you to do? Shake hands. Get over it.”
Office Tip: Conflict will always bubble up in the workplace. There’s no cookie cutter way to handle it all, but here are some of our best tips to manage it well.
No 8: Never be the smartest person in the room
Why the moment matters: Managers can – and should – always learn. The more research, perspective and respected opinions you have, the more likely you’ll make good decisions.
Significant line: “He’s not smarter than me. He was just right about one thing.”
Office Tip: Michael Dell has been quoted saying, “Try to never be the smartest person in the room. And, if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people… or find a different room.” The point isn’t to actually find smarter people. The point is to ask for different perspectives when making decisions that affect others and operations.
No 9: Maintain bridges
Why the moment matters: Employees will come and go. You’ll leave teams and manage others. You and your employees’ careers will transition, but that doesn’t mean you need to sever ties.
Significant line: “I just really wish there was something I could do.”
Office Tip: Maintain the bridges you’ve built with employees, colleagues and organizations. Rebuilding a burned bridge will always be more difficult. You can use social media – especially LinkedIn – to stay in touch and abreast of happenings.
No 10: Admit mistakes
Why the moment matters: One of the worst mistakes a manager can make is not admitting to making mistakes. Employees need to see you’re human – and can learn from mistakes.
Significant line: “It takes a big man to admit his mistakes. And I am that big man.”
Office Tip: Beyond owning up to mistakes, ask employees what they think you can do to remedy the situation. Asking for suggestions – and using them – will futher prove you value their insight.
No 11: Leave a legacy
Why the moment matters: You won’t always say or do the right thing. You’ll actually say and do stupid things (isn’t that what Michael Scott is better known for?) But if your heart is in it, you’ll likely lead like a legend.
Significant line: “Oh my God, something’s happening.”
Office Tip: Focus less on failures and more on triumphs – even the small ones. When you, as a leader, keep that in perspective, employees will, too.