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Are you a Michael Scott leader?

A friend of mine was binge-watching old episodes of The Office recently and commented on Michael Scott’s leadership style. Okay, there was no friend. It was me. Anyway, I noticed that one of Michael Scott’s biggest weaknesses is his overwhelming motivation to be liked. He wants to be popular. And that is a great character trait for a boss, if you want to create disastrous situations for your TV sitcom. But in real life, a leader must forgo the pleasure of always being the one everybody likes.

For a long time, I wasn’t that different from Michael. I found out early that I wasn’t one of the popular kids in school. I wasn’t even within shouting distance. To be popular, you had to have money or connections or good looks, and I had none of those things. I was zero for three. My mom shopped for my clothes at Kmart, my parents weren’t exactly well connected, and my looks, well, let’s just say the girls weren’t exactly throwing themselves at me, and for good reason.

Are you a Michael Scott leader? Article by keynote speaker Charles Marshall

“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” – Michael Scott

Back in those days, it was common for your mom to cut your hair, and I was no exception. Recently, I looked at my hair in some of my old school pictures, and for the first time in my life, I thought, Wow, maybe Mom didn’t know what the heck she was doing.

And when I say I wore Kmart clothes, I don’t mean top-of-the-line, first-rate Kmart clothes. (Yes, there’s a difference between the two types, and you wouldn’t even ask if you ever had to wear them.) What I mean is, blue-light special, nobody-else-would-buy-them-so-we’re-practically-giving-them-away Kmart clothes. So I wasn’t ever voted Best-Dressed Kid or Most Likely to Become a Runway Model. Big surprise, huh?

The one thing I did have going for me was my burgeoning comedic talent. Slowly, I began to learn how to use my humor in social situations. When some kid took a shot at me on the playground, I found out a good one-liner could make him back off. Or even better, it could make him a friend. I learned that I had a bit of wit, and the other kids seemed to like it when I tossed out a joke in class. And I liked it because it got me the attention I craved.

Can I let you in on a little secret? All comedians begin telling jokes, wise-cracking, and being funny so that they will be liked. All of them. Without exception. Hopefully a comedian will eventually gain some security and be able to use his comedic ability without needing to be validated all the time, but that’s where it starts—with the desire to be liked.

But I found that I would have to say good-bye to that desire if I was going to be a good good leader, because leading isn’t about being popular. It’s about making hard decisions and being tough enough to take the heat from an unpopular call.

You have to be able to make decisions for the betterment of your team and organization and not worry about how well those decisions will go over with the masses. Think of being a leader as the polar opposite of being Michael Scott.

If your principle motivation is to be liked, to be the popular boss, to make everyone around you happy, then you’re in for a tough time, and your team members are going to be the ones who suffer for it. Sure, everyone will be happy at first, but that won’t last long for three simple reasons.

  1. If you don’t place your organization’s welfare first, then your objectives are far less likely to be met because the organizational vision won’t be supported.
  2. Unreasonable demands will multiply and won’t stop. When everyone around you senses that you’re an easy mark, they’ll just keep on coming.
  3. Every action produces a consequence. Team members who don’t learn to respect boundaries become people who are out of control and a menace to themselves and everyone around them

So, instead of taking your leadership cues from Michael Scott, why not make a study of true leadership as if your organization, not to mention career, depended on it?

Adaptation from The Good Dad Guide by Charles Marshall © 2016. Charles Marshall is a nationally known humorous motivational speaker and author. Visit his Web site  or contact him via e-mail at

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