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Leadership Styles in ‘The Office’


The purpose of this paper is to deliberate and examine the effective versus ineffective leadership style in America’s most famous television series “The Office”. The paper will revolve around the series main character Michal Gary Scott serving as a Regional Manager for a paper distribution company name Dunder Mifflin, a fictional character in the show. The attribute of three successful leadership methods will be examined and measured compared to the lead character. Few scenarios will be evaluated from the episodes to deliberate variations and recommending changes in similar circumstances. The paper will highlight how Michael managed himself and his team during highly stressful situations. Addressing failed leadership even after executing successful textbook techniques. Finally, this paper will assess personal experiences and desirable leadership characteristic in relation to this Sitcom and its characters.

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This paper supports the importance of good leadership that can reflect upon employee’s morale and productivity. The success and failure of an organization largely depend upon its leadership. Poor leadership not only affects the employee turnover rate but also Impacts the Company’s performance, employee’s confidence and work efficiency. ‘The Office’ presents flawed dynamics of an organization in a comical way that can be really offensive and insensitive in real life scenarios but can be improved for the betterment of the organization.

Leadership Styles in ‘The Office’

The successful American situation comedy show ‘The Office’ presents an irrational, gullible and frequently rowdy character name Michael Gary Scott. The show is notoriously renowned for agonizing workplace situations portrayed in a very realistic format. Yet behind the amusement of the show, the idea brings the question: How do executives become executives and how can a blundering fool become a supervisor? The character of Michael, although a self-obsessed cliché, is a meaningful example of powerful adversaries of poor supervision. Based on Dunder Mifflin’s standards, Michael’s position as branch manager did not originate from any actual managerial or supervisory expertise. Luckily, this selection of leadership is a comical spin of a humorous television series to entertain the public, not for office efficiency. On a sad note, the witticism hits home because many viewers can relate their office experiences similar to the show.

One can have the best strategies in the world but without effective governance and leadership methods, successful execution is impossible. Positive influence, support, and inspiration comes naturally from successful leaders. The real job of a manager is not to use his title to force expectations on his team out of fear but to personally influence others to pursue prominence. It’s a skill to encourage the member of your staff to server bigger and greater good. The successful leader carries strong traits such as passion, honesty, clear communications, trustworthiness, decisiveness, leadership aptitude, enablement, and personality. Each one of these abilities is an integral part of great leadership. Leaders cannot live up to their full potential without these key essential characteristics and it does reflect poorly upon their employee’s work, behavior as well as team efficiencies. Organizations must continue to improvise by identifying the best ways to develop, bringing necessary change and required qualities needed in existing as well as emerging leaders.

Effective Communication Results in Effective Leadership

Clear communication can play a critical role in steering the workplace successfully in the right direction. The Office presents us with many such situations where ineffective methods were utilized to communicate. Having a clear expectation in mind before scheduling team meetings results in saving time and effort. The one thing Michael loves the most in the whole series is holding meetings. Unfortunately holding meetings with no clear agenda always results in waste of time for the whole team at Dunder Mifflin.

Internal communication between the team members is equally important than management and employees. Having an open chain of communication with your supervisor is critical for team’s success but as a team player, perceiving information to be shared with one another accurately and timely can help colleagues to achieve their goals. Season 5, episode 14 ‘Stress Relief’ is a great example of poor communication when Dwight intentionally sets off the fire alarm to demonstrate the ill-preparedness of the team during an emergency situation. Even though throughout the episode you can see Dwight providing clear instructions, guidance, and safety measures to evacuate the building, the team continues to use selective hearing (Liberstein & Blitz, 2009). The unpreparedness resulted in absolute panic and confusion. On top of that, Michael screaming, “We’re trapped! Everyone for themselves” (Liberstein & Blitz, 2009). Only caused mass hysteria with employees running everywhere even though Dwight is clearly directing them to safely leave the building. This is a great example of poor communication where Michael’s poor choice of words results in poor performance, distrust, limited employee engagement and uncertainty during a crucial time.

Another great example of ineffective communication is not providing direct information to your employees. Michael has a tendency of avoiding bad news altogether, he goes out of his way on how to avoid telling any bad news to his team that causes a stressful environment. Being honest with your team is an essential part of leadership, even if that means delivering unpleasant news to your team members. In season 1, episode 3 ‘Health Care’, Michael directs Dwight to select the cheapest health insurance plan possible and then puts him in charge of informing the team about the decision (Liberstien & Whittingham, 2005). The sandwich method of constructive criticism where one starts off with good news, followed by bad news and then ending on a positive note is a commonly used the method of positive feedback to bring improvement to your team. In this episode, Michael does the complete opposite, he buys ice cream sandwiches for the team to help soften the impact of the unfavorable new health insurance policy (Liberstien & Whittingham, 2005). If I was in Michael’s position, I would have handled this situation completely different. Transparency is important to me; I cannot comprise the trust I have with my team during a difficult situation. I would have been direct and honest with my team members. I would have never assigned the task to another person just because it’s bad news. If it is something bad that affects my team members, it is my responsibility to break the news to them, hear their concerns and provide assurance. It is important for me to have clear communication and being direct in this situation to convey the news with complete sincerity. Michael fails in articulating clear communication with his team as a leader by not being transparent with them, unwilling to take responsibility during a tough situation, lack of preparedness during sensitive issues and not being present at the time of need.

An effective leader shows comfort and ease in communicating with his team seamlessly regardless of hierarchy, situation, and demographics. Effective leaders are prepared and mindful of critical situations, they take time to listen and embrace diverse thoughts and provide encouragement. Michael’s vulnerability during this stressful environment shows a lack of engagement with his team resulting in poor communication. His refusal to be involved in a critical decision making resulted in the poor decision made by Dwight, that ultimately affected his whole team. He then refused to address the situation and locked himself in his office for the remainder of the day to avoid interaction with his employees. He had the opportunity to reveal his vulnerability to his team and explain the situation but he made a decision to take less risk by assigning Dwight to make a critical decision which negatively impacted his team members and their trust within him as a leader.

Importance of Workplace Diversity and Inclusion

In season 1, episode 2 “Diversity Day” from ‘The Office’, diversity and racial demographics have been emphasized. A conscious leader would have a clear understanding of rich diverse workplace environment, different cultures, religions, and race to ensure all employees are treated with dignity, respect and with a sense of belonging. Michael has portrayed a great example of ineffective leadership in this episode as well. He comes across uninformed, oblivious and insensitive to his team members by completely disregarding the racial sensitivity. His team reports him to the corporate office due to continues inappropriate comments and gibs about race. Cooperate office decides to conduct diversity training for the whole team to address the issue. It reflects poorly on leadership to allow such behavior in an organization where a supervisor is impersonating a provocative comic routine, not at all suitable for the work environment.

Michael takes initiative on his own to address racial issues in his branch by conducting team activities but instead, he makes the whole situation worst by overblowing the racial stereotypes and use of blasphemy (Novak & Kwapis, 2005). The whole purpose of this particular episode was to put emphasis on race and diversity at work. Michael as a supervisor continuously shows unprofessionalism by constantly interrupting the diversity training conducted by the corporate office. He then decides to conduct his own session of “Diversity Day” training where he makes cards stating a specific race to be placed on each employee’s forehead (Novak & Kwapis, 2005). They must then guess each other’s race and treat them the way you would personally treat that specific race (Novak & Kwapis, 2005). This particular episode presents the failed efforts of combating racial bias and narrow-mindedness at a work setting. Leaders will face racism and discernment at work, or in personal life. Communicating around the discrimination and handling that situation in a sensitive but firm manner will define the ever-lasting impact of a leader.  The Office is a very advanced television comedy series that has effectively used humor to teach viewers about cultural diversity. On a serious note, in a real-life scenario, a supervisor should not make or encourage others in making any inappropriate jokes related to race, sexual preference, or gender at work. Effective leaders don’t use their positional power or title to impose a change. They utilize personal power to influence and persuade others to bring the best out of them. Michael can create a happier and improved work environment by adopting key effective leadership techniques, such as inspiring others, getting involved, being approachable, establishing standards and providing feedback.

The Influence of Optimistic Leadership  

Michael may have often exhibited narcissist reasons and may have been more concerned with being a sympathetic and likable acquaintance than a strong leader. Nevertheless, he did possess several good leadership qualities that did him good in the show. These abilities allowed him to successfully manage one of the most fruitful offices within the organization while also maintaining close relationships with his team, sometimes to inappropriately close.

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Always bringing a voice of encouragement to your workforce is positive enforcement to make work a better place. Michael’s positive encouraging behavior towards his team members in all circumstances is commendable. In season 5, episode 28, ‘Company Picnic’ the company challenges the Scranton branch for a volleyball tournament. Michael ensures that after a long working week of sales employees are motivated and their morale is kept at a higher level so they can focus on practicing (Liberstien, Celotta, & Kwapis, 2009). Encouraging, guiding and mentoring your employee is a good leadership trait to establish relationship and trust.

Michael is a regional manager of paper distribution company but he considers himself as a friend to all of his employees. He puts a lot of effort into building a relationship and try to recognize everyone who works hard at his branch.  A good leader takes time and effort to make sure employees feel valued and appreciated. This is one of the leadership traits I can relate the most personally. Recognizing your staff members for good work, awarding them rewards or sometimes just simply thanking them goes a long way. I constantly remind people at work that they are doing a wonderful job every day, even though I’m not a supervisor sometimes I surprise them with breakfast in the morning. This is my way of thanking the team to be there every day and being supportive of one another to get the mission accomplished. Effective leadership is a good example of a work environment where people feel respected and cherished. Building a team’s morale is important to boost work productivity. This is the reason why in season 2, episode 1 “The Dundies”, Michael developed an annual award show The Dundies. The purpose was to rejoice the accomplishments of his team members throughout the year (Kaling & Daniels, 2005). Michael puts extensive effort to make sure that everyone gets an award even though everyone dismays going to the award show (Kaling & Daniels, 2005). Michael does a tremendous job in recognizing employee efforts which in return results in increasing employee engagement.

Another great example of motivation is Michael’s support for his team members. During Season 3, episode 17 “Business School”, Michael’s executive assistant Pam gets the opportunity to show her artwork at a local gallery. Pam gets no support from her office except her boyfriend Roy who is purely sarcastic towards her efforts (Forrester & Daniels, 2005). At the last minute, Michael shows up at the art show and provides positive and genuine feedback to Pam towards her attempt (Forrester & Daniels, 2005). He even offers her to buy the painting and hangs the same on the wall next to her desk until the last episode (Forrester & Daniels, 2005). Michael displays great heights of good leadership skill by making an effort to support his team members, his supportive attitude towards Pam brings confidence in her. A good leader believes the potential of their employees and guides them to do better. By providing support to your employees you give them self-confidence and assurance they need to grow.

Textbook Versus Real Life

Books are a valuable source of learning for centuries, they provide us a good foundation of knowledge that can be implemented in real life to some extent but books do not prepare us for unexpected real-life scenarios. The knowledge you gain from reading textbooks can be applied to real life situations but these textbook methods will not work for every circumstance. Once you have the foundation knowledge, you are learning and adding experience to that knowledge by taking actions and making decisions in real life. The same concept applies for leadership, we cannot just use one set method of leadership that we learned from the textbook. When we have people from different backgrounds, age, gender and culture we need to be open on approaching each one of them. You cannot approach an introvert employee the same way you would approach an extrovert employee, we gain this insight with experience. Leaders who are open to change and constantly adapt new principles become more successful. Making difficult and tough decisions is part of leadership duties. There are going to be times when you will not have all the guidance you need to make an informed decision; at that moment you must make the best possible decision with the most accurate information you have. For instance, in the absence of my supervisor, I have taken charge of a task that needed to be completed immediately, I have then briefed and lead my teammates to successfully complete and accomplish that very task. I have been in a situation where I was directed last minute to attend a brief with a Colonel on behalf of my supervisor and five minutes before the brief, I was told I was briefing a slide. I looked at the slide and absorb as much information possible in five minutes, briefed the slide and answered questions to best of my ability something that I had to adapt and learn on the spot.

Michael lacks these qualities as a leader. He follows ‘Laissez-faire’ leadership style where he doesn’t interfere and let things take its own course. “Laissez-faire leadership has

shown strong negative relationships with various leadership criteria, and the absence of leadership (laissez-faire leadership) may be just as important as is the presence of other types of leadership” (Hinkin, Schriesheim, & Zedeck, 2008). Throughout the season, Michael constantly passes on the decision-making responsibility to Dwight on multiple occasions and takes the minimum initiative to administer anything as a leader. Michael’s constant avoidance of tough decision making and circumventing difficult situations is an example of ineffective leadership. He is so consumed about ensuring to be admired by other co-workers that he constantly fails to make important decisions that directly affect his team. Under the principle of a successful supervisory technique that reflects poorly upon him. One can have the best training, education, resources, and books in the world, but if you’re not able to grasp the information and utilize it at the right moment and the right time to provide guidance and support to your team, then they don’t serve any good purpose.


In conclusion, Michael Scott has been characterized unsophisticated, extroverted, passionate, narcissist, impulsive, and dreadfully craving for approval from his teammates. Michael does exhibit a few personality traits of a strong leader such as neuroticism, extroversion, and being spontaneous (Frieder, Wang, Oh & Chen, 2018). Michael also displays cynicism and deliberate maltreatment of some of his colleagues that shows he lacks agreeableness, emotional stability, and conscientiousness (Frieder, Wang, Oh & Chen, 2018). He does show care for his employees, but at the same time, he crosses the line. Leaders understand that while there is room for a positive environment at work along with some fun, friendship is not a criterion for getting the job done. As mentioned earlier, recognizing staff and appreciating them is essential for me. I think it builds team morale, increase work productivity and most of all bring a smile on someone’s face who may be going through a tough time. Another important factor is clear and direct communication. One can avoid so many issues, agenda, rumors, and gossip in the office by being transparent with your team.

Michael is a likable member of Dunder-Mifflin but he definitely lacks their respect as a leader. Michael should adopt Transformational Leadership approach to become a more effective leader. This particular leadership style brings encouragement, inspiration, and motivation to employees which results in innovation and growth. “Transformational leadership involves establishing oneself as a role model by gaining the trust and confidence of followers” (Lopez-Zafra, Garcia-Retamero & Martos, 2012). “Specific components of emotional intelligence have been proven to be useful for professionals in several domains” (Lopez-Zafra, Garcia-Retamero & Martos, 2012).  He can improve his leadership style by adopting, learning and understanding his roles and responsibility as a Regional Manager. He can then become a better leader for his team which will improve the functionality of his team as a whole.


  • Liberstien, P. (Writer), & Blitz, J. (Director). (2009). Stress Relief [Season 5, episode 14]. The Office. Retrieved from http://www.netflix.com
  • Liberstien, P. (Writer), & Whittingham, K. (Director). (2005). Health Care [Season 1, episode 3]. The Office. Retrieved from http://www.netflix.com
  • Novak, B. J. (Writer), & Kwapis, K. (Director). (2005). Diversity Day [Season 1, episode 2]. The Office. Retrieved from http://www.netflix.com
  • Liberstien, P., Celotta, J., (Writer), & Kwapis, K. (Director). (2009). Company Picnic [Season 5, episode 28]. The Office. Retrieved from http://www.netflix.com
  • Kaling, M. (Writer), & Whedon, J. (Director). (2007). Business School [Season 3, episode 17]. The Office. Retrieved from http://www.netflix.com
  • Forrester, B. (Writer), & Daniels, G. (Director). (2005). The Dundies [Season 3, episode 17]. The Office. Retrieved from http://www.netflix.com
  • Hinkin, T., Schriesheim, C., & Zedeck, S. (2008). An Examination of “Nonleadership”: From Laissez-Faire Leadership to Leader Reward Omission and Punishment Omission. Journal of Applied Psychology. 93(6), 1234–1248. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0012875
  • Frieder, R., Wang, G., Oh, I., & Chen, G. (2018). Linking Job-Relevant Personality Traits, Transformational Leadership, and Job Performance via Perceived Meaningfulness at Work: A Moderated Mediation Model. Journal of Applied Psychology. 103(3), 324–333. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000274
  • Lopez-Zafra, E., Garcia-Retamero, R., & Martos, M. (2012). The Relationship Between Transformational Leadership and Emotional Intelligence from a Gendered Approach. The Psychological Record62(1). 97–114. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03395790

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