3 Management Lessons From Pop Culture’s Most Iconic Bosses

Television and film’s bosses are often depicted as one of two things. They are either goofs who are unable to understand their workforce and employees, or they are monsters (sometimes slackers) who mistreat and micromanage. But despite their shortcomings, the way they choose to run their office is what makes them iconic and are the reasons why we love them — and hate them.

While we may not always agree with their management and leadership skills, these famous bosses still have a few lessons they can teach us about our own. 

Follow along for some real-life management lessons you can take away from bosses on the big and little screens.

Michael Scott From ‘The Office’

Lesson: Treat your workforce how you want to be treated

While he’s known for his employee appreciation tactics that include team building activities and special incentives (think movie days, beach days, and elaborate birthday parties for each of his employees), Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin Scranton is not the most favored boss. And that’s because he confuses friendship as a form of leadership. 

While building interpersonal relationships with your employees and colleagues can be beneficial, encouraging too much fun at work can send the wrong message about how serious you take your role. Without setting boundaries, this can lead your employees to undermine your position and slack off at their jobs.

Luckily, we can take a valued lesson from this TV boss trope: treat employees with respect first, and offer a good balance of friendship and guidance that reflects the tone of your leadership in the workforce. In other words, work comes first; the fun comes second.

Miranda Priestly From ‘The Devil Wears Prada’

Lesson: Promote a healthy work-life balance for yourself and employees 

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Miranda Priestly. In ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, Priestly works as editor-in-chief of Runway Magazine and is depicted as the quintessential monster boss who instills her colleagues and staff with fear. She is very forward with her demands and expectations; however, she provides little to no guidance on delivery — this, of course, leaves her team on their toes and worrying about job performance 24/7. 

While there’s no doubt that her ways of running a tight ship have resulted in her professional success, it’s undeniable she is deemed demanding and unyielding because of her lack of work-life balance throughout the film.

Without a healthy balance of personal life and work, it can heavily impact your mental health and mood and can even result in the same effects for your employees. In the film, Priestley’s newest assistant, Andy, catches herself torn to choose between her personal life and work life, ultimately resulting in her leaving the job. According to a study conducted by Mercer, a third of all employees plan on quitting their job in 12 months. Emotional factors often influence other reasons before that. 

Priestly teaches us that work-life balance is crucial and should be a top priority for all managers to support to maintain a happy workforce. The goal is to make sure everyone on your team is feeling supported and encouraged. Have regular check-ins with your staff to determine where they stand and how they feel job-wise. 

Mr. Burns From ‘The Simpsons’

Lesson: Give your employees the recognition they deserve

As the money hungry Nuclear Plant owner and richest person in Springfield, Mr. Burns plays the Scrooge-like character in the animated sitcom, ‘The Simpsons’. Unlike Priestly, who was very sneaky with her insults and comments, Mr. Burns is characterized as an up-right rude person who has very little respect for everyone, especially his employees. So much so that he has no qualms about putting his staff in extremely dangerous situations to cut costs and expand his financial empire. 

While the main goal of most businesses has to be to turn a profit, your entire business plan can crumble when other business goals like employee appreciation are ignored. 

Take the time to get to know your employees so that you can determine their goals and better understand where to deliver recognition. You don’t always have to be involved with every project, but understand where key staff are putting in their efforts. Provide feedback and have regular meetings with each team and or individual to show that you care. 
If finances become an issue, come up with the right business plan to narrow down cuts and the right investments. For instance, consider revamping your hiring processes and desired outcomes. Rather than opting for an employee that can get the job but at a lower salary (e.g. Homer Simpson), consider hiring an employee who can be a proven entity on achieving your business goals. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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