‘Office’ Life: Situational Leadership® Lessons From Michael Scott

Perhaps because I am now hurtling towards middle age (thinning hair, baby, recently moved to the suburbs) and have had many jobs in which professional development ranged from minimally prioritized to “don’t make us laugh,” I am more than happy to dive into the waters of leadership training any time it is offered (nerd alert!). One of the reasons I love working at Castle is the company’s focus on professional development and harnessing people’s skillsets to make them effective leaders.

So when Castle partnered with strategic planning and leadership consultant Ed Doherty to implement a multifaceted professional development program (time management, strategic planning, etc.) I didn’t need to be convinced of its benefits.

Situational Leadership® Training at Castle

Part of this program includes Situational Leadership® training. The concepts of Situational Leadership (a program devised by The Center For Leadership Studies, of which Ed is a certified teacher) have been used the world over to help enhance collaboration, communication and effectiveness for employees at all levels of their careers.

To give a very general and non-expert overview, the Situational Leadership® model evaluates employees’ Performance Readiness® level to complete a certain task. A person diagnosed as Readiness level 1 (R1) for a task is unable and unwilling or insecure to perform that task. Being Readiness level 2 (R2) for a task is unable to execute, but willing. If Readiness level 3 (R3) for a task, you are able to perform, but unwilling or insecure. Assessed as level 4 (R4) for the task, is being able and willing.

The idea is to pair your leadership style with the followers’ diagnosed Performance Readiness® level, to assure leader effectiveness and follower success. Someone who is unable and insecure will likely need very detailed instructions to perform a task (ie: “Let me walk you through this project step by step.”) Someone able and willing will need much less specific direction and more supportive leadership (ie: “You know what you’re doing, I’m here if you need help but you can take it from here, I have full confidence in you.”)

Office Scenarios through the lens of Situational Leadership®

I promise I paid attention throughout, though I found my mind continually wandering to The Office. Every few minutes, Ed would describe a workplace scenario that took me directly to a specific scene. An employee seems able but unwilling to complete a given task? That’s like when Jim is given an official warning by Ryan and vows to try at work for the very first time. A boss providing way too many details on a project for an employee that can take on the whole task on his own? That’s how Michael constantly treats employees with enterprising ideas and a track record of productivity, like Darryl. On and on it went. I finally asked Ed if he watched the show. Much to my chagrin, he said he had never seen it.

Ed is a great guy. In addition to being a master of workplace efficiency (he knows more Outlook tricks than any human on the planet), he runs marathons, he goes to country music shows, he takes his wife on dinner dates twice a week. A completely well-rounded human being. Except for this one glaring omission: never seen The Office.

But I quickly realized without any pre-existing thoughts about the show, Ed would be the perfect person to discuss Situational Leadership® and The Office. Below, I lay out a few scenarios from the show and Ed gamely walks me through the leadership styles that were (or weren’t) being effectively utilized. Ed’s comments [with my interjections in brackets] below:

Mug next to keyboard that says "world's best boss"
Photo by Pablo Varela via Unsplash

Scenario 1

A longtime employee [Creed Bratton] whose job description includes quality assurance forgets to conduct a spot check at a paper mill, resulting in an inappropriate flyer going out to clients. After the fact, his manager berates him for screwing up and putting the entire company in jeopardy. See the scene here.


His supervisor [Michael] is treating him as if he is an R4 [willing and able to accomplish the given task with a clear understanding of what is being asked of him]. Even someone very talented [probably not Creed] needs to be monitored and course corrected from time to time. He is currently performing at level R1 [unable, unwilling] but supervised as an R4. This is typical of what happens when an abdication of leadership responsibility takes place. If Creed is a sincere person who is interested, confident, committed and motivated [anyone who watches the show would agree Creed is likely none of these], he would be very resentful at Michael’s lack of direction. Michael clearly didn’t ask any follow-up questions to confirm Creed understood the task and because of that, his performance isn’t happening.

Scenario 2

“I’m about to do something in this job I’ve never done before: try.” – Jim Halpert

An employee [Jim] has been spending a majority of his time goofing off with coworkers and flirting with a coworker [Pam]. He is often unmotivated. His manager [Ryan] calls him into his office and gives him an official warning. The employee decides to start trying, closes a difficult deal with a client, and begins working harder than he ever has. See the scene here.


This is actually an example of good employee development. Jim was not performing, not committed, and not willing to perform the tasks assigned to him. His performance need was to have somebody give him specific direction. The core concept of Situational Leadership® is performance need and Jim’s performance need was to be kicked in the @#$.

Scenario 3

A warehouse supervisor [Darryl] devises a plain to improve the company’s shipping method to increase efficiency. This employee has had many good ideas before. He presents the idea to his direct boss [Michael] and the company CEO [Jo Bennett]. The CEO is interested but the direct manager looks at the blueprints and says condescendingly, “Look at that picture you drew! Nice job! We’re very proud of you. We’re gonna tape that up on the refrigerator in the kitchen!” The CEO overrules the manager and rewards the warehouse supervisor with an upstairs office, where she can hear his good ideas more frequently.


There’s all kinds of issues presenting themselves here. The warehouse supervisor going by his direct boss to the CEO is already indicating he’s not being supervised correctly. It seems like Darryl is being under led in that his supervisor seems to have no idea about his level of competence or ability. He is treating him like he is R1, for the task, while Darryl’s track record shows he should be treated like he is R4. Michael is supervising Darryl, but Jo is judging how he’s supervising. The reason to reach the right leadership style, in addition to influencing the behavior of the follower, is your supervisor will recognize what you’re doing, or in this case – not doing.

So there you have it. Close examination of The Office can give us some interesting case studies for leadership. Just as I suspected. And this project seems to have given Ed an idea for the next time he conducts a leadership training.

“It sounds to me like instead of a character-based show, this is a caricature-based show, in that the behavior that’s illustrated is always extreme,” he says. “I should talk to Situational Leadership® and get the rights to this thing.”

The Castle Group, Senior Account Director, Public Relations, David Tanklefsky
Written By: David Tanklefsky


Outdoors of the Castle Group office