Michael Scott (played by Steve Carrell in hit television series The Office was an interesting leader, to put it lightly. Despite his not-suitable-for-work behavior and complete hindrance to productivity throughout the show, Scott possessed many admirable qualities, from compassion to loyalty.
Scott once said, “Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.” These quotes from the self-appointed World’s Best Boss might make you laugh out loud, but they can also teach you a thing or two about business.
The lesson: Regardless of their job title, Michael doesn’t view any worker as better than another. He treats each of his employees (except Toby) with care and appreciation. Leaders should never favor one person or believe that someone is more valuable just because of the nature of their work. Instead, they should seek to build a holistic team, in which each member has an important role to play. Then, together, that team can succeed as a well-oiled machine.
The lesson: Michael may have butchered the old adage, but this quote offers wisdom all the same. As a manager, you have to strike a balance between being understanding and firm. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you, but avoid throwing the hammer down on an employee who made a mistake. Instead, learn the differences between honest mistakes and deliberate negligence. For the former, coaching and encouragement may be enough to bring an employee to the next level and boost their productivity while building trust at the same time. When it comes to the latter, warn them once but don’t be afraid to start documenting repeat incidents after that.
The lesson: So, maybe Michael didn’t coin this well-known adage, but the message still rings true. If you want to achieve anything, especially in business, you first must try. Don’t let the possibility of failure hold you back. Entrepreneurs know this well, but the real trick of being a good leader is to help your team members feel capable and motivated too. (Oh, and always cite your sources.)
The lesson: While good leaders are exceptional mentors who can help understand their employees’ goals and provide the skill development opportunities to get them there, there comes a time where letting loose and bonding is just as important. Find opportunities to connect with your team on a human level, whether that means shooting the breeze at a company get-together or using time in a group meeting to play a game. These small moments can end up fostering relationships that help your team work better together and feel happier in the workplace.
The lesson: Michael Scott overemphasizes making friends in the workplace, but the value of human connection is a real thing. Whether internally with your team or externally with prospects, taking the time to forge real connections instead of solely focusing on sales can pay big dividends. Take an interest in your team and your clients to better understand their lives, hopes and challenges. By doing so, you’ll be able to speak to their motivations and solve their problems more effectively, which is ultimately what business and leadership is all about.
The lesson: As a leader, you have to find the right balance between being liked and being respected. Being an intimidating boss isn’t the best route to take, but being a lovable boss with no backbone isn’t much better. To inspire respect, lead by example and don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves. But don’t forget that everyone is human and needs a break now and then; be prepared to check in with your team emotionally or add some periodic laid-back team-building to the schedule.
The lesson: Technology is an important part of the modern business environment, and workplace automation can save a lot of time and money. However, in the mad dash to adopt the latest technology, managers shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of human labor and connection. Leverage technology to free up your staff to complete higher-order tasks, but don’t expect automation to be the answer for everything. At the end of the day, a skilled, intelligent team of capable humans is a critical part of any business.
The lesson: Ridiculous though this quote may be, it’s a good reminder of the importance of compensating your team fairly by offering competitive wages and salaries and building a great employee benefits package. At the end of the day, people don’t work for fun or friendship, they work for compensation. And while you should consider the need for human connection and fulfillment at work in order to keep morale up and retention high, the best building block to do so is creating a compensation package that shows your employees you respect the work they do to make your business a success.
The lesson: Michael was a problematic manager in many ways, but he always valued his relationships with his employees above all else. Maybe your employees shouldn’t be your “very best friends,” and you might not always get along with your co-workers, but the truth is you’ll be spending much of your time around the people you work with. You should make it a point to at least establish an amicable relationship so that everyone enjoys coming to work every day.
The lesson: When another Dunder Mifflin branch tried to lure one of Michael’s employees away from Scranton, Michael refused to go down without a fight. Good bosses need to recognize their employees’ worth and show that they’re willing to stand up and advocate for them when necessary. Doing so can go a long way to building respect and trust among your team.
While many of the characters and situations in The Office are over the top, they are grounded in real experiences. Whether you have a Michael Scott-esque manager (we’re very sorry for you) or a supervisor who truly is the World’s Best Boss, the lessons above ring true for how to improve employee morale, keep a workplace running smoothly and, hopefully, have a little fun at the same time.
Brittney Morgan and Tejas Vemparala also contributed to this article.