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Learning Leadership at The Office

Like The Office, NBC's hit faux-reality show? Here are three interesting takes on the sticom's star, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), the hilariously pathetic but well-meaning boss of a regional office, as a leader:

  1. USA Today reporter Del Jones tracked down some real CEOs to see what they think of Michael. Some leaders said they found the show strangely comforting. "It reassures me that I'm not the most dysfunctional employer on the planet," said the CEO of a New York ad agency. But the head of a luxury home development company in Florida said the show "just wasn't funny." This quote prompted readers to quote Steve Carell talking about his character: "If you don't know a Michael Scott, then you are Michael Scott."
  2. Kenton Arthur Lee, the blogger at Leadership in Progress writes in a series, "The Dichotomy of Michael Scott," that Michael's weaknesses -- and there are many -- are also his strengths as a leader. While Michael is certainly dumb, he is also genuine. In one episode, for example, Michael is the only person from the office to show up at secretary Pam Beesley's art exhibition, where he displays his dopey humor and lack of sophistication ("My God, these [drawings] could be tracings!") -- a show of support that is surprisingly meaningful for Pam. Writes Lee, "If you want to be a relevant leader, be genuine with your followers. Even if it makes you look dumb or whatever." Lee explores Michael's other two-sided management coins, including including adventure versus professional, annoying versus entertaining and clingy versus dependable.
  3. Leadership columnist and author John Baldoni, writing in Fast Company, boils down the take-away lessons of Michael Scott's clueless management mistakes: "Start with people; Challenge them; Debrief and Reflect."

So does Michael deserve the "World's Best Boss" coffee mug he has given himself? As many management experts point out, flawed bosses can actually make good teachers -- if you're willing to learn. If that's true, then Michael may be the country's most successful management guru.

By Andrea Useem  |  February 4, 2009; 2:38 PM ET  | Category:  Pop Culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The fictional Michael Scott also teaches us an uncomfortable lesson about business and leadership. In the show Scott's office of the company has the best sales of all. In my real life experience the most annoying people can be successful as measured by the bottom line. I wish business would reward goodness, but it does not always do so. Also, Scott teaches us that great salespeople like him do not automatically make great bosses of other salespeople.

Posted by: outragex | February 17, 2009 1:43 PM

That's what she said

Posted by: financepirate | February 9, 2009 9:15 AM

Michael Scott is one of the best TV characters in my opinion, but he is a complex patchwork of different leadership qualities, personal foibles and feigned charisma. He is like a sad clown, or a character in some greek comedy with a tragic flaw. I can see elements of Michael Scott in different bosses I have had over the years but I do not think any one person embodies all of his characteristics.

Posted by: ozpunk | February 7, 2009 2:48 PM

When I watch Michael Scott, I cringe because I have said and done things at least as stupid and cruel as he has. What's good about my painful memories is that I have them. I agree with Steve Carell; if you don't know any Michael Scotts, you are a Michael Scott.

Posted by: mcleangirl | February 6, 2009 3:36 PM

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