TV & Movie Bosses: Who to Emulate

Movies and TV shows set in the office give people the opportunity to relate to fictional characters about the challenges and benefits associated with the workplace. Movie bosses often feature exaggerated characteristics, some of which might be imagined while others are based on real workplace experiences. As a boss, you can learn from the dramatized behaviors of movie bosses to improve your leadership style and prevent common management pitfalls.

Learn what people like and dislike about famous movie bosses and reflect on whose management style matches yours to start building a better workplace environment.

Related: What is a Boss? Three Types of Bosses


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The good: Best movie and TV bosses

Here are some of the best, most effective fictional bosses that you can model your leadership style after:

Related: Five Types of Bosses, Which One Are You?


Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation

As the deputy director of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation department, character Leslie Knope is dedicated to serving her community and her team. Though overbearing at times, Leslie empowers her employees to focus on their strengths and work as a team to solve problems. She personally invests in her relationships with her coworkers by regularly praising their successes. Her positive attitude and dedication have helped her employees pursue their dreams, resolve conflicts and affect change in their community.

You can take inspiration from Leslie Knope in the workplace by thinking about your employees as individuals with their own special strengths. Think about how you can provide them with opportunities to be their best selves and encourage a healthy work-life balance when they exhibit signs of stress or burnout. You don’t have to go to the extremes Leslie does to congratulate your employees on their success, but giving them small tokens of appreciation and showing interest in their wellbeing can go a long way.


Captain Holt from Brooklyn 99

Stoic Captain Holt is the respected leader of the 99th precinct in the NYPD. His leadership style is firm and commanding while also supporting his team and considering their best interest at all times. His leadership creates a culture of accountability where people are responsible for their own success. He readily offers feedback and mentorship while providing stern guidance when his officers find themselves struggling.

Learn from Captain Holt’s example and uphold high standards for success on your team. Being serious about your own conduct in the workplace can encourage others to follow your example and strive to do exemplary work and follow strategic protocols. Let your team have fun and express themselves in the workplace so they can be fully focused and motivated when they need to achieve an objective.


Charlie from Charlie’s Angels 

The faceless Charlie from Charlie’s Angels is the perfect example of an effective hands-off boss who uses delegation to accomplish goals. Charlie trusts his team of spies to use their expertise to accomplish missions, focusing on providing them with the resources they need at the right time instead of telling them exactly how to do their job. Charlie handles the big-picture issues of his international organization while relying on top talent to take care of the day-to-day of pulling off heists and tracking their nemesis.

Implement Charlie’s hands-off leadership style by knowing when to delegate tasks to others on your team. Follow his example and avoid micromanaging and instead letting your team solve problems in a creative way that works for them. Coordinate resources for your employees, anticipate their needs and make yourself available when they need help or advice.

Related: Boss vs. Leader: Which One Are You?


The bad: Notorious bosses from movies and TV

Some bad movie bosses are meant to remind people of their own bosses and coworkers. These movie and TV bosses display terrible workplace behavior that represents some of the worst leadership styles people can use:


Don Draper from Mad Men

Advertising executive Don Draper was often a source of disruption and discord in his workplace. His troubled personal life often interfered with the workplace, with mistresses and enemies showing up regularly in his office. In addition to belittling and harassing his employees, Don Draper would disappear from the office for large blocks of time with no warning or explanation, causing problems for both his clients and the employees who relied on him for direction and support.

While you may not have the secret double life of Don Draper, personal problems can still impact anyone’s work. Don Draper is a reminder to take care of your emotional wellbeing and work-life balance so it doesn’t cause you to lash out at your team or neglect your responsibilities as a boss.

Related: Incivility in the Workplace: Best Practices for Managers


Michael Scott from The Office

Michael Scott’s attempts to be close to his coworkers at Dunder Mifflin results in extremely unprofessional behavior and occasional harassment. He clearly plays favorites and openly disrespects people that he doesn’t personally like in the workplace. Michael Scott attempts to force himself into his employees’ personal lives and prioritizes personal errands over being productive, making him one of the worst TV bosses.

Michael Scott’s behavior in The Office is a lesson in self-awareness and understanding situational appropriateness. You can learn from his behavior by recognizing the appropriate boundaries between a boss and their employees. Learn to balance being friendly with your team and understanding that you are responsible for their productivity and success.


Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada

Editor-in-chief of an iconic fashion magazine, Miranda Priestly holds impossibly high expectations for her employees, who she constantly berates and manipulates. The main character Andi has to endure being purposefully called the wrong name, having her physical appearance insulted and worrying about her job security when she can’t achieve a challenging task. She also pits her employees against one another, using her power to leverage employees into unhealthy competition.

Avoid becoming a scary, domineering boss by focusing on mutual respect between you and your employees. Miranda Priestly’s issues come from viewing herself as superior to her employees and believing that she can sacrifice everyone else’s career and personal wellbeing to get ahead. Remember that compromise is an important part of thriving and building lasting partnerships with your employees and industry contacts.

Related: 6 Traits of a Bad Boss & How to Improve Business Leadership


The ugly: Nightmare bosses in cinema and TV

These are the worst movie bosses, people who use their position at a company to harm others and serve their own interests:


Mr. Burns from The Simpsons

Mr. Burns from the Simpsons takes being a terrible boss to the extreme by putting his employees’ safety and health at risk. His unsafe workplace practices at the plant and sadistic desire to hurt his employees make his leadership style not only ineffective but dangerous. The way he hoards and flaunts his wealth in front of his employees while overworking and underpaying them is only the beginning of the subtle and overt way Mr. Burns terrorizes his employees.

If you pay attention to health and safety standards, you are already a much better boss than Mr. Burns. He is a reminder that people in a position of power need to respect their employees’ basic dignity. Instead of making your employees dread coming to work, try to provide them with amenable, safe conditions and fair compensation. 


Franklin Hart Jr. from 9 to 5

The evil boss from the 1980 movie 9 to 5 exemplifies all of the worst qualities of a leader in the workplace. He is both tyrannical and incompetent, blaming his mistakes on others while taking credit for their ideas. His sexual and verbal harassment, especially against women, are so extreme that the movie’s plot revolves around how three of the most abused employees kidnapped him and took over the office to make it a better place.

Learn from Franklin Hart Jr.’s poor behavior by committing to fair and equitable hiring practices. His extreme sexism influences his hiring processes in a way that is not only problematic, it is illegal. While some bad bosses simply make work unpleasant, this terrible move boss broke the law with discriminatory and abusive policies. Be proactive about establishing inclusive and equitable workplace practices and making it clear that discrimination and bullying is unwelcome.

Related: What Is the Definition of Hostile Work Environment?


Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street

In addition to illegally earning millions through insider trading, Jordan Belfort also manages one of the most reckless and criminal workspaces possible. He offers employees thousands of dollars to embarrass themselves publicly, encourages them to physically fight one another for work opportunities and makes drug use an essential part of company culture.

Consider the extreme behavior in Wolf of Wall Street as an example of how one person’s lack of self-control can destroy a business. Practice moderation in the workplace and set a professional example for behavior in the workplace so that employees treat one another with respect as well.

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