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A reader sent a thoughtful note in response to my question,“What’s your favorite movie about work?”   She mentioned The Devil Wears Prada, and asked, “Is Miranda really a bad manager?”

Miranda is the legendary editor-in-chief of a top fashion magazine.   Fresh from Northwestern, Andy Sachs interviews to be her assistant.  Andy knows nothing about the magazine, or fashion, and tells Miranda, “It’s either this or Auto Universe.”

It’s a movie:  Andy gets the job.   After a bumpy start, she seeks out a mentor who coaches her to fit into the culture.

Miranda runs a successful enterprise via a team of high-performers who execute.   “A million girls would kill for” Andy’s job:  it’s known that Miranda supports her assistants to attain bigger and better publishing jobs.

The corporate culture has clear rules:  attend to details; execute; work comes first; and look good.  Don’t like it?   Work elsewhere.   Make the effort and you’ll gain recognition and a network.

Miranda is not a bad manager.

She’s not nice.   She leads in a multi-billion dollar industry; it’s political, competitive.   If you want her support, serve her vision.

In the penultimate plot point, Andy faces the personal chaos her career choices have created:  at the peak of the year’s most important project, she walks away from Miranda.   Yet Miranda’s recommendation helps Andy to secure her next job.  (Pro-tip:  quitting without notice is unlikely to work out like this in real life.)

Miranda:

  • communicates a unique vision;
  • runs a tight ship that consistently serves her vision, and executes;
  • recognizes and rewards talent.

Miranda’s tactics?   Let’s discuss.   How do we train our entry level people to care about details, to ask the right questions of the right people, to execute?   Is fear ever useful in the workplace?

(Best practice alert:  Miranda’s meeting with Andy about her disappointing performance included the comment, “I thought…hire the smart, fat girl.”  I know you won’t go there.)

My best boss was a former Marine who often said that we weren’t getting any milk and cookies.   In substance, he and Miranda weren’t far apart.   He ran a great team.  We worked hard and excelled, consistently.

In style, Charlie was Miranda’s polar opposite:  the “milk and cookies” speech came with a smile, and he’d say that we spent more time at work than we did with our families, so we should have fun.

Who would you rather work for?   Who’s a better role model?

As I was writing, Monica McGrath told me that she had written about Miranda, too.   Monica’s an expert in women’s leadership who teaches at Wharton and consults.  Here’s Monica’s take.

What do you think?

(And thanks to the anonymous reader for some great suggestions.   Katherine Parker, Sigourney Weaver’s character in Working Girl?   Worst practices all around.  But that’s another story.)