When I was a kid, some evenings hot enough to cause heat strokes in the Delhi summer earned me the special privilege of spending my time (after homework) sipping lemonade and watching TV shows in the relatively cool indoors. No one can complain with an episode of Full House or Small Wonder a day.
Even as an adult, I’ve spent countless weekends binge watching some of my favourite TV shows, and somewhere along the line, I ended up deriving lessons for both work and life from the characters’ imaginary lives.
Take for instance, one of my all-time favourites, the US adaptation of British TV comedy series created by Ricky Gervais, The Office.
Set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, it featured the lives of employees at a paper company called Dunder-Mifflin – their relationships, politics and power, lasting all of nine reasonably-successful seasons.
If you have seen it, most likely you can relate to the everyday situations the characters find themselves in – the know-it-all high-performer Dwight Schrute, the sensitive and intelligent Jim Halpert, and the kind and compassionate Pam Beesly – led by the oblivious regional manager, Michael Scott.
Michael Scott has got to be one of the most memorable TV bosses. He’s a terrific salesperson, no doubt the skill that put him in-charge of the Scranton branch, but his people skills are definitely unconventional.
Instead of putting his head around the strategy to hit next quarter’s sales targets or analysing sales data, he spends most of his time on the office floor, talking to his people, giving them advice (at times, questionable), and generally leaving a trail of distractions and havoc.
Again, his methods were not always appropriate or sensitive, but the guy sure knew how to build company culture. In being forced to manage their boss, the team at Scranton really rallied together to function more as a family than as colleagues. In parallel, the Scranton branch was even cited as among the company’s most profitable.
Most importantly, Scott’s style of management by walking around ensured there was plenty of humour as well as heart at the workplace – reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously while at work.
Business goals might be the end result, but for me, and many other Lighthousers (as we call ourselves), goals don’t necessary need to be achieved with frowns on our faces.
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Another show that has captured entertainment mindspace for decades is The Simpsons, set in the town of Springfield, with the head of the family, Homer Simpson, working at a nuclear plant.
Kate Woodley, managing director of international assessment specialist cut-e in Singapore and Australia, calls out an episode where we see Homer and his colleagues at the nuclear power plant disengaged and unhappy under the leadership of Springfield’s resident mogul, Montgomery ‘Monty’ Burns.
She shares: “We see the impact of this poor leadership: reduced efficiency, absenteeism and dangerous decisions made by the front line, who care more about eating doughnuts and skiving off work than they do about their role at the power plant.”
To her, this teaches the importance of an engaged workforce at every level which should be supported by a people-focused leadership team.
With all this talk about TV shows, Human Resources’ senior journalist Akankasha Dewan (AK) got in on the fun, and told me about her current favourite, Suits.
“Always back your team – because that is one of the best ways to earn their trust and keep them engaged,” she tells me (perhaps hinting at what I should be learning from the show, eh AK?).
A clear example of such a philosophy is constantly reiterated in Suits that features a successful corporate lawyer named Harvey Specter and his degree-less associate Mike Ross. The entire concept of the show rests on the fact that Specter hired Ross despite knowing that while talented, Ross is not academically trained to be a lawyer.
But of course Ross makes mistakes, and often does not know details that a professionally trained lawyer should. In such situations, AK explains, Specter steps up to take responsibility for the actions of his subordinate and provides guidance – always taking full accountability.
“The fact that he does this for all of his subordinates, and not just for Ross proves the value he sees in building a mutual support system among his team and showing them he’s there for them when they need him,” she says. “It’s therefore little wonder that all junior lawyers in the firm constantly pine for, and work hard to get, Specter’s attention.”
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