Michael Scott on Leadership

Here is a post I wrote in 2017, as I was struggling as a manager at a fortune 500 company. The truth is they could have been a great company to work for, but they lost track of the people and made it all about the output. The sad reality is that if a company would learn the lesson – if you take care of the people, the output will follow. It is never the other way around.

2017

Known for his “hilarious hijinks” and poor leadership, Michael Scott is the fictional boss in the popular sitcom “The Office.” No longer on television, I was digging though old episodes on Netflix, when I ran across an episode, I have seen numerous times, entitled: “Business School.”

 In this episode, Ryan, also known as “the temp,” has invited Michael to speak to his business school class. Reluctantly, Ryan has done so, because it will earn him extra credit – even though Ryan is certain Michael will embarrass him.

Michael’s speech quickly erodes, as the students question his outdated and nonsensical business practices. As the students put the heat on Michael (with their technical questions from the latest business textbooks), none of it really bothers Michael until a student mentions that Ryan projects the company will go out of business.

This hurts Michael deeply because he considers himself Ryan’s mentor and thought Ryan understood him. Upset by this revelation, he tells the class that Ryan has never made a sale and that Ryan doesn’t know the first things about business. He then tells them that none of them know anything about business, as he storms out of the room. On the car ride back to the office, he tells Ryan to “pack your things.”

Here is where I believe there are a few moments of great Leadership from Michael Scott that Ryan, and the class, could not see. When they return to the office Ryan asks if he is going to be fired. Michael lets him know that instead of firing him he is sending him to the annex, where he will have to sit next to an annoying character named Kelly, as his punishment. He then says to Ryan: “A good manager does not fire people; a good manager hires people, and inspires people. People, Ryan. And people will never go out of business.”

There is a great deal to ponder in this statement and I think he has it right on. Inspiring people is what makes a great leader, with an emphasis on the people. As great as this moment is, there is an even better example of great leadership that follows.

A secondary part of the episode involves the secretary, Pam, who invited all of her co-workers to her art show that evening. Only one co-worker had the decency to show up and she overheard the co-worker, and his significant other, dismiss her art as “motel art.”

As the art showcase is winding down, a dejected Pam is starting to take her art down when in comes Michael Scott. He apologized for being late, as he had to come from across town. He then goes on to tell her how amazing her art is and how proud of her she is. An emotional Pam gives Michael a hug, as appreciation for coming to her show.

In my view, this brilliantly shows a great example of being a good leader. A good leader cares about employees and what is important to them. Not only did he tell Ryan what makes a good leader, but he showed it, by supporting something that was important to one of his employees.

Applying this to my own reality, last year I had an agent come to my team who has been with the company for years. In fact, she is nearing retirement. She had only been on my team for two weeks when I received call that she was in a terrible accident and was in the intensive care unit of the hospital. Her leg ended up needing surgery and this was going to be a long recovery.

Remembering this lesson, and with the permission of her family, I took that time to see her at the hospital, bringing a card with well wishes from her teammates. I then kept in touch with her throughout the process of recovery.

After nine months of physical therapy, she returned to the office. Because of the length of time out of the office, we had her sit in with a training class to get used to the work again. Before I had a chance to see her, I had a few of my agents come to my desk smiling. When I asked them what was going on, one of them said: “we just found out you are a good guy.” When I asked them what they meant, she mentioned that they had just found out from my agent that I had visited her in the hospital.

Later, when I saw my agent for the first time, she greeted me with a huge hug and a thank you. She was so overwhelmed by me caring enough to go to the hospital that she could not hold her enthusiasm and was a great boost to morale. This was not something I intended, and in fact, I had not even mentioned it to any agents, but it shows the power of caring for your people. “People, Ryan. And people will never go out of business.”

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