Lessons for Bosses from The Devil Wears Prada

by Debbie Gilster

in People Management

Lessons for Bosses

Watch the movie or read the book The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger and you’ll get a good laugh. At first, the hard driving boss, Miranda Priestly, seems like a joke. How could anyone be so mean to their staff? (She’s even worse in the book!) Then you will inevitably begin to muse if your management style resembles Miranda’s. (I know I did.)

There’s got to be a little part in all of us that would love to bark out orders without having to think about our tone or proper word choice so as not to offend or to effectively motivate our staff. I know I would! It is especially prevalent in a small business where the owner/manager hasn’t had a lot of training in staff development or who may have relatives as staff. In addition, we always seem to be juggling a million balls and the effort to communicate starts feeling like a “game”. Why can’t our people just do what we say with a smile on their face and do it right the first time? Why can’t our assistant think ahead and take care of routine things without us having to remind her?

Well – even though Miranda’s ways may make you laugh, here are some lessons I think we can all take away.

Some of the techniques that didn’t work:

  • Face it – she was down right abusive to her staff. No one should be this bad.
  • She wasted staff time by not being clear and providing as many details as she could. Emily, Miranda’s assistant, was always off on goose chases trying to fill in the missing information. Wasted time equals wasted money, so the business could have been more profitable.
  • Fear only works for a short time in most people. Eventually your smart staff will decide to move onto another job because it isn’t worth working for you.

Some of the techniques that did work (you don’t have to like them, but things got done):

  • Miranda had consistent habits and ways of wanting things done. She didn’t waver much from these. Since assistants never lasted very long, it was relatively easy to train the new person to meet her needs (at least the habitual ones).
  • Use of a daily shared file between all her assistants that they called The Bulletin was an excellent tool. This file was used to log all Miranda’s messages and requests. You only had to go to one place to look for the information, plus a nice history was saved.
  • When Miranda traveled, a detailed itinerary was created. Everyone knew, including Miranda, what was going on. All the necessary phone numbers and such were noted in one place.
  • The staff used tools to get their jobs done, especially new computers and phones with up-to-date address books.
  • Miranda did not try to do it all herself, she delegated to her staff. She made many of the final decisions, but they did much of the initial analysis and production work. Heck, she even had someone take in her dry cleaning while she focused on larger picture tasks. (I see nothing wrong with that!)
  • Employees had to dress in high fashion. This policy upheld the image of the firm.
    She was honest and upfront to applicants about what the job entailed. They may not have known everything, but they were warned about what to expect.
  • Working for a prestigious company with a perceived opportunity for growth, is enough to keep some employees. Even though staff complained, they stayed on.

You may not like, or even agree with Miranda’s style. But, things did get done. Yes, some of her approaches (ok – lots) were clearly unproductive and no one really wants to be thought of as an ogre. Yet…there is some satisfaction in things “just getting done”.

(This was orginally posted in 2006.)

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: THOR
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