“And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.”
– Michael Scott, The Office
Wise words from a complicated man. The quote pretty much sums up Michael Scott’s tenure as the regional manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton, the fictional paper company in The Office.
Anyone who’s seen the NBC sitcom knows that Dunder Mifflin isn’t exactly the most inspiring place to work at. The salary is average at best. The product is boring — seriously, who wants to sell paper? And apart from Dwight Schrute, the employees are apathetic. But nothing made working in Dunder Mifflin worse than the management of Michael Scott, who, according to the mug he had made for himself, is the World’s Best Boss.
While Steve Carell definitely brought the character to life, it’s hard to imagine how a real office would function with a boss like Michael Scott. As a manager, his incessant need to be liked and major main character syndrome got in the way of the office’s productivity. He was offensive in every way without actually being a bigot. He lacked the self-awareness needed to effectively lead a team, and often lost the respect of his employees due to his crazy antics.
But in many ways, Michael Scott is one of the most sincere characters in The Office who genuinely meant others well. He cared for his employees and actually means it when he says the workplace is a family.
The complexity of the character of Michael Scott translated into his performance as a boss. Anyone would find it hard to believe that he was never fired from Dunder Mifflin. According to executive producer Ricky Gervais, who played the role in the original British version of The Office, this was a conscious choice.
On the surface, Michael Scott seemed like the most incompetent man for the job. But he showed flashes of brilliance that suggest he might actually be one of the best salespeople and one of the most effective managers in Dunder Mifflin. Even David Wallace, CFO, recognized his inexplicable sales and people skills that he came to Michael for advice when, in his words, it was Hail Mary time.
If you’re still not convinced that Michael Scott might actually be a good manager, here are five episodes to strengthen his case:
The Client (Season 2 Episode 7)
As the Vice President of Sales at the time, Jan Levinson (Melora Hardin) made the occasional trip from the New York corporate headquarters to Scranton. Those visits always felt like when a principal sat in a class to observe. Only, it was the teacher who had to try to behave. Whereas Michael Scott’s management approach was very casual and, let’s say, immature, Jan’s was straightforward and tough. She was the epitome of corporate management, something that intimidated Michael most of all.
Their dynamic was tested during a sales meeting with a big Scranton client. Jan’s one instruction to Michael was to let her run things — but Michael Scott is not a man comfortable with letting others take charge. He changed the venue from a classy hotel to Chili’s without Jan’s knowledge. And despite the VP’s attempts to stay on topic, Michael dominated the conversation with knock-knock jokes and food recommendations.
To Jan’s surprise though, Michael’s casual approach is what won the client over. They laughed at offensive jokes, harmonized over baby back ribs, and the client eventually agreed to give Dunder Mifflin their business. This was one of the first scenes that proved Michael Scott’s naysayers wrong, including Jan.
Michael’s distractions were actually successful attempts to make the client feel more comfortable before the actual pitch. The thing about him is that he’s a lot more perceptive than he seems. Understanding clients — what they want to hear and how they want to hear it — is what made him a good salesman.
The Convention (Season 3 Episode 2)
In The Convention, Jim Halpert (John Krasinski), one of Michael’s favorite salesmen, was working in the Stamford branch after suffering a rejection from Pam Beesley (Jenna Fischer). This left Michael to feel personally betrayed by Jim, who he considered to be one of his closest friends — a one-way relationship, but still.
Instead of focusing on the office supply convention they’re all attending, Michael spent most of his time planning a party. He also tried to sabotage Jim’s new boss and win Jim back. Jan eventually called him out for wasting time while everyone else is busy trying to bring in business. Michael revealed that he has already secured a deal with the biggest fish in town, proving once again that he was a better salesman than most people realize. That’s not exactly anyone’s fault when his childish behavior usually undercuts his professional achievements.
Business School (Season 3 Episode 17)
While securing deals is important in any business, you can’t forgo having people skills, especially when it concerns your employees. Admittedly, this is an aspect where Michael Scott was the worst at because he often put his selfish needs ahead of the office’s.
There were some moments where Michael showed he had the ability to connect with and inspire his employees. His talk at Ryan Howard’s (B.J. Novak) business school — where he meant to wow the students with his experience but was instead met with questions technical business questions he couldn’t answer — was not it.
His inspiring moment came later when he showed up to Pam’s art show. He was the only one from the office to do so, which provided Pam the support she needed. Michael may not be the most technically knowledgeable in business but his innate understanding of people — that even Ryan didn’t possess — occasionally inspired his employees.
Broke (Season 5 Episode 25)
When Michael Scott felt undervalued by Dunder Mifflin, he quit his job. And honestly, that’s behavior we should all get behind. Starting a rival company — the Michael Scott Paper Company — and stealing all of your former employer’s clients though is not such an admirable move.
It’s safe to say that the Michael Scott Paper Company wasn’t a very successful venture. No matter how they crunched the numbers, undercutting Dunder Mifflin’s prices didn’t make for a sustainable future and they knew it.
But David Wallace didn’t. He tried to buy out the Michael Scott Paper Company for more than it was worth and, to Michael’s credit, his exceptional negotiation skills got him more than they were being offered. He got David to reinstate him as the Scranton branch manager, hire Pam and Ryan as salespeople, and get rid of Charles Minor (Idris Elba), who created a wedge between him and corporate in the first place. Getting David to agree to his terms is one of the rare occasions you can describe Michael Scott as a badass because in that moment, he truly was.
Murder (Season 6 Episode 10)
There’s been a murder.
Thankfully, it’s just a mystery board game that Michael decided to play with his employees, and not another crime of the Scranton Strangler. For most of the day, the office role plays characters from Savannah — complete with various versions of a Southern accent — to try and solve a murder.
In the context of The Office, it seems like any other business day. But there’s a reasoning behind Michael Scott’s madness. News had just broken that Dunder Mifflin planned to declare bankruptcy, leaving their employees’ futures in jeopardy.
Michael may not have had a brilliant solution to save the company from financial failure, but he knew just how to distract the office from the anxiety of losing their jobs. “They need this game,” he shouted to his co-manager Jim, whose solution was to go back to selling paper. At that moment, Michael proved to be a more experienced manager than Jim. He understood what the office needed to stay calm. What’s losing one business day in the face of bankruptcy, anyway?
Michael Scott was far more skilled as a manager than most people gave him credit for. He was self-centered and extremely offensive, but he also had an innate ability to understand people on a personal level. This allowed him to connect with clients as well as his employees in ways that technically skilled leaders like Jan, Ryan, or Charles couldn’t understand.
He may not have lived up to his office mug’s claims, but he at least wasn’t the worst boss in Dunder Mifflin’s history. Not when you have Robert California on the record.