It’s a good thing to have role models or mentors in our working lives, and indeed in our personal lives, but where do we find the decent ones? What if we pop our heads up like gophers in a cubicle prairie and find we are without the connections, relationships or basic confidence to ask someone to be our mentor? What if we are stuck for anyone to admire? I suggest that a useful pool of role models can come from a childhood spent in front of a TV.
For sheer self-control and grace under pressure it is hard to go past Maureen Robinson from Lost in Space. While her husband managed to get his family lost in far flung galaxies for some years, consider Maureen, who often made the crucial and humane decisions, with outstanding levels of assertiveness and professional autonomy. It was Maureen who genuinely supported health and safety when she frequently stepped in to stop Major West from strangling Dr Smith. Although Maureen did lose some marks with me as I got older for allowing her son to run off and play with a man who said ‘my dear, dear boy’ with a touch too much meaning.
In the tomes about innovation and creativity, there are references to ‘skunk works’ developing in unlikely places and under pressure, producing amazing results with limited resources. Need we look further than Hogan’s Heroes for innovative role models? The very same show taught us not to confuse a sharply cut suit and a large desk with intelligence and didn’t Sargent Schultz also teach many of us a mantra for survival in the worst kinds of workplaces? “I know nothing, nothing!”
Gilligan’s Island taught my generation that lifting group morale can be achieved with a coconut cream pie. But what the missing day-trippers failed to appreciate was the value of diversity, or harnessing all the attributes of the team. If only Ginger had given up her mirror occasionally, they might have signalled a passing ship and returned to civilization.
For sustained enthusiasm, loyalty and commitment we cannot go past Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie, but we should probably steer clear of wearing pink and red harem suits to work.
As for courage under pressure, no-one could be hung upside down so often and still think their way out of the box quite like Batman. Some may look to quotes from Churchill on courage but I ask the question; could the war time leader be stoic and do satin underpants with grey tights at the same time? I think not. And on the subject of courage, who could ever look past Doris Day as Calamity Jane? When she went off on her honeymoon singing ‘Whip Crack-away’ with a smile, she gave so many of us something of a mindset to start the working day.
Finally, I must mention Morticia from the Addams Family. Here is one role model who understood the single most important lesson for all bosses; recognize and reinforce a good effort. And just because the effort comes from a hand in a box, it doesn’t mean that an elegant ‘thank you, Thing’ isn’t greatly appreciated.