At the helm of Dunder Mifflin Scranton is the often-bumbling Regional Manager Michael Scott—who once bought himself a ‘World’s Best Boss’ mug. As a manager, Michael has been guilty of everything from minor missteps to downright fireable offenses, and colleagues (and viewers) often find themselves sighing “Oh, Michael” in varying degrees of exasperation.
On the whole, Michael Scott’s management style is not something to aspire to, with only a few very rare exceptions. As Michael himself once said: “I knew exactly what to do but, in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.”
Here are some of the things Michael Scott gets wrong and the few he gets right.
Wrong: We’re a family here at Dunder Mifflin.
“We’re like a family here” is the classic motto of a toxic workplace. Organizations that preach a family-like closeness often expect an unrealistic level of devotion and dedication from their employees. As Forbes recommends, organizations should transition away from family-like culture and think of their employees more as a sports team with clear goals, roles, and expectations.
In Michael Scott’s world, he’s often crossing boundaries that hopefully no manager in the real world would. From showing up uninvited to a coworker’s barbeque in Season 2 after seeing the invites to the rest of the office through email surveillance to dating another coworker’s mom in Season 6, Michael Scott’s management style knows no bounds.
Of course, because this is a sitcom we’re talking about, all employees in The Office are equally guilty of being overly involved in each other’s lives. From numerous romantic entanglements to plenty of happy hours and drunken office parties, the entire team at Dunder Mifflin Scranton is an example of a toxic interdependency that’s great for laughs, but not so great for business.
Wrong: “Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it's not like this compulsive need to be liked, like my need to be praised.”
One of Michael’s biggest flaws—aside from being generally not very good at his job and overall offensive—is his obsession with being friends with everyone. That’s not to say that a good manager can’t be friendly with direct reports, but it shouldn’t be a manager’s main objective. Michael’s obsessive need to be liked means that he struggles with making decisions or properly managing his team, afraid of being seen as the bad guy.
"Would I rather be feared or loved? Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."- Michael Scott
Michael consistently puts his friendships with his employees above his responsibilities as a manager—often to his own detriment. As viewers, we often see the employees of Dunder Mifflin not taking Michael seriously, as well as going over his head to corporate when they actually need help with an issue.
Both good and bad: He’s a bit—or a lot—of a goofball.
We learn quite quickly in The Office that Dunder Mifflin’s paper supply industry is in a steady decline. While Michael’s faith in his branch and organization as a whole often borders on delusional, his optimism is also important to keeping morale high.
He rarely, if ever, takes things too seriously. He’s a master of distraction, which is both a good and bad thing.
Right: The Scranton branch has a high retention rate.
For a small/mid-level paper supply company, Dunder Mifflin Scranton has a low turnover rate, with the majority of employees having worked there for years, if not decades. Although we see nearly all the Stamford branch employees leave shortly after being absorbed by Scranton—except Andy Bernard who goes on to be branch manager in later seasons after Michael Scott’s own departure—the original employees of the office all have decades-long tenures.
An article by The Medium breaks down why Michael Scott’s management style works, finding that his retention rates were well above the industry average, which “is likely a major part of why the Scranton branch is so successful”.
Right: He surrounds himself with employees who often compensate for his own weaknesses.
A terrible manager likes to pretend that they have no faults, but a good manager acknowledges their own blindspots and ensures that they have a strong team that can fill in any knowledge or experience gaps.
As The Medium points out, Michael is often seen as “more or less financially illiterate”, which is compensated by accountant Oscar’s own strength. The Dunder Mifflin sales team is also extremely talented and effective, which continually contributes to the branch’s overall success.
Right: He knows and deeply cares about his people.
No one can accuse Michael of not caring about his employees—or his company. While Michael Scott’s management style often means he’s overly involved in his employees’ lives, he’s also always willing to go to bat for his team and defend his branch. He supports his employees as people and individuals.
While The Office may be “just” a sitcom, the character archetypes are accurate (if exaggerated) versions of real-life people we might find within our own organizations. When you find yourself laughing at Michael’s antics, don’t forget to also evaluate how you’d do things differently (and better).