Most of the executives in NBC’s comedy, The Office, exemplify the kind of leadership you should absolutely avoid. This fictitious sales-centric company has more than its share of exaggerated dysfunction in any given episode; nevertheless, every once in a while, one of these over-the-top personalities does something to be funny that deserves serious analysis. The March 15 episode of The Office held a real jewel of a leadership lesson, in my opinion.

In this episode, on a day when the office’s manager was out of town, a woman known to most of the employees of the office turns up from corporate headquarters and proceeds to plant her behind in the manager’s chair. The woman, Nellie, is not liked by the employees at all, and is coming off a huge failure at the corporate headquarters – both of which are good reasons that two of the main characters, Dwight and Jim, encourage their co-workers to reject her usurped leadership.

During the course of the day, brazen Nellie calls a group meeting for the stated purpose of “getting to know” the other employees, calling herself their manager. Having failed to establish her stolen authority with the group, she begins a masterful “divide and conquer” strategy, which, by the end of the day, has nearly all of the employees clapping, smiling, and saying, “I believe!”

I’m not suggesting you follow her example and steal someone else’s job or conduct any kind of office coup, though; what struck me about Nellie’s leadership was the use of uber-positive, one on one encouragement, feedback, incentives and customized perks, and her ability to believe in herself, even when no one else would.

  • Nellie publicly praises Dwight (who has a history of having the most sales in the office), calling him “Atlas,” saying that she recognizes that he carries the weight of the office on his shoulders. She tells him he is worth something, and in the process, she defines his worth by the one area in which he most desires to excel.
  • Phyllis, she flatters with compliments and admiration.
  • To Pam, mother of two including one still breast-feeding baby, she offers up a midday nap.
  • By the end, when there is just one hold out left, she uses group peer pressure to try to get him on board.
  • And everyone is to receive a pay increase, presumably even Jim, though he never bought in to her power play at all.

You probably can’t afford to give everyone in your office a raise, but you can still learn from Nellie’s example. Here are no less than seven leadership lessons that I suggest as worthwhile Office takeaways: 1. Belief, confidence and passion are contagious. You can’t expect any of your staff to take risks in order to make your vision a reality unless you wholeheartedly believe in it yourself.

2. Expect opposition and don’t let it cause you to doubt yourself or the mission.

3. If your goal is important, don’t just have a plan, have a contingency plan, or plans.

4. You need employee buy in, especially to get employees to accept big changes. Seek out influencers and win them over privately in order to create thought leaders who can then encourage others to get on board.

5. Rethink the idea that everyone can be motivated by the same rewards. Personalized incentives that would make the professional or even the personal life of individual employees better could be more effective ways to create loyalty and employee buy in than one size fits all rewards.

6. Be generous with positive feedback and genuine compliments, including both personal and professional accolades, in private and in public. Acknowledge behavior that you want more of.

7. And finally, fake it ‘til you make it. If you are a new leader, you might not have a long track record of successful team leadership to inspire trust among your followers. In that case, the confidence you exude yourself will need to replace it!

More? Read Creating Sustained Performance Through Thriving Workplaces (

From the article: “…A very practical article in the January-February issue of Harvard Business Review, “Creating Sustainable Performance” surveyed 1,200 white and blue-collar employees in several studies over seven years across a swath of industries.They concluded that a better word to describe happy or satisfied employees was “thriving.” The article provides the leadership lessons and suggestions from the research for both personal thriving and leading others to thrive.

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