Often I ponder that there are few, if any, worthy models of bosses in popular media, especially in television. This realization struck me several years ago when a friend and I were working on a book on leadership (never published). Models of action are very powerful things. When people see other people doing things, people copy the behaviors, even unconsciously — ask any parent whose kid suddenly informed the in-laws or PTA of the parent’s ability to cuss in a fashion that would embarrass most sailors.
So, the models of what we see as bosses probably affect what we actually get in the workplace. This should trouble you: There are not a lot of good models of good bosses in any medium.
In the comic strips, for example, we have Dagwood Bumstead and his boss Mr. Dithers, who wars with his wife, who seems to be an authoritarian despot who physically abuses his workers. Or in more modern strips, we have Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss, who is an incompetent at all human functions, and most management functions as well. Don’t get me going on Beetle Bailey with incompetents all the way up the line from Sgt. Snorkle.
On television we’ve had incompetents and yellers for years. Phil Silvers played Sgt. Bilko. In every incarnation of Lucille Ball’s programs, a boob boss was required — from Ricky Ricardo’s Cuban temper flareups through Gale McGee’s bosses whose manifold, manifest foibles made them great comic foils. Homer Simpson’s ultimate boss, Mr. Burns, anyone?
Generally, even where someone plays a pretty good boss — Crockett’s and Tubbs’ boss on the old Miami Vice, or the lab heads in any of the current CSI series — there is another boss above them who has some massive failing, or a vendetta against the good team.
Exceptions are rare. Some of the Star Treks did better than others. Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: Next Generation, was ideal as boss in many ways. It was particularly interesting to watch him give his “No. 1,” Riker, first choice in missions on foreign planets. The character Picard had a particular way of showing confidence in subordinates, in subtly demanding the best from them. He’d ask for opinions or ideas on what to do next; when someone came up with a workable idea, or even only the best idea of an apparently unworkable lot, Picard would look them in the eye and delegate to the team the authority to make it happen: “Make it so,” he’d say.
If only we could make it so.
Then there was The West Wing. I think it premiered when I was teaching at night. For whatever reason, I didn’t see a single episode until reruns shortly before the second season. I caught new episodes almost never. Read the rest of this entry »