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4 Sneaky Great Leadership Lessons from Michael Scott

by Michael Rutkowski
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It’s no surprise that rumors of an Office reboot are swirling. The Office connected with people in a way that transcended most television shows thanks to the creative ways the show portrayed the humanity behind workplace stereotypes.

Chief among those stereotypes was the looming presence of the well-meaning but bumbling boss, masterfully played by Steve Carrell as Michael Scott. Despite Michael’s habit of making cringeworthy mistakes, The Office also shared the rare moments when Michael got things right. In honor of people trying to do their best, Pivot Point brings you 4 Sneaky Great Leadership Lessons from Michael Scott.

Lesson 1 – Start by assuming the best

In “Health Care” (Season 1, Episode 3), Michael is tasked to select a health care plan for the Scranton branch’s Dunder Mifflin employees. Naturally, Michael wants to give his employees the very best, and reports back to his boss Jan that he has chosen the top healthcare plan. Jan reminds Michael that he must select a low cost plan, and eventually Michael delegates the plan selection to Dwight Schrute, feeling unable to choose a lesser plan for his employees.

While pawning off responsibility conforms to the bad boss stereotype, there is a great lesson to learn from Michael’s actions: when it comes to how to treat your people, always start with the assumption that you will give them the best. Reality may dictate a compromise, but good leaders strive to provide their people with the best of everything they can.

Lesson 2 – Know your customer

In “The Client,” (Season 2, Episode 7), Michael and Jan are set to meet with Christian, a government employee representing the paper needs of their entire county. Rather than get right to business, Michael orchestrates a day of food and fun for Christian. After bonding over ribs, Michael makes the pitch that he’s a man that shares a hometown with Christian and that he represents a business that cares about doing right by their community. Christian confides that he’s under pressure to make cuts, and lets Michael and Jan know that he can give them the county’s business if they can meet him halfway on price. Jan agrees to Christian’s term.

Michael successfully demonstrates another powerful lesson for business leaders: good leaders take the time to understand the motivations and needs of the people their businesses serve, and respond appropriately.

Lesson 3 – Help employees focus on what they can control

In “Murder” (Season 6, Episode 10), the Scranton office learns that the Dunder Mifflin home office has encountered such financial difficulty that each of their jobs may be on the line. Michael begins a murder mystery game for the staff after an emergency meeting to improve morale proves ineffective. The office employees become engrossed in the game as they await news of their fate.

While the prospect of office-wide unemployment is a very extreme example of the difficulties a leader may encounter, Michael’s lesson can still be applied to lesser situations: a good leader encourages focus on what employees can control when they encounter interference that is outside of their hands.

Click here for more resources on helping employees to find focus.

Lesson 4 – Recognizing individuals is not inefficient

In “Survivor Man” (Season 4, Episode 11), Jim Halpert is frustrated by the amount of time lost in the office due to birthday celebrations. Jim attempts to consolidate the celebration of three birthdays into one event, and after observing the conflicts caused by his decision, realizes the error of his ways.

In a later conversation with Jim, Michael reveals that he also tried to combine birthdays in his early days as a manager. Commiserating with Jim, Michael confides that they both made a “rookie move” that Jim will grow out of. Michael doesn’t reveal what exactly made that decision a “rookie move,” but the lesson from Michael’s experience is this: a good leader understands that employees are individuals and can’t be forgotten in the name of efficiency.

We’ll all find ourselves in situations where we make mistakes as leaders. Like Michael Scott, we will find times that we do right by the people we work with when our hearts are in the right place.

What lessons have you learned from the leaders you’ve observed in your own life? Share your wisdom in the comments.

Category: Conversations Employee Engagement Coaching Focus Leadership Teams

Picture of Michael Rutkowski

Michael Rutkowski is all about growth. Over his career he intentionally joined companies that make a difference in helping people and organizations grow, and has been blessed to play a driving role in three different education and coaching companies as they scaled from being startups to global leaders in the power of learning. It is no coincidence that he now serves as InsideOut Development’s VP of Marketing. He lives in Lehi, Utah with his wife, 2 children, and 2 dogs. He believes in the healing power of cooking good food, and is a competitive axe thrower on the side.

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