Monday, September 27, 2010

The Gleeful Workplace

Glee is a musical comedy about high school students, a clear departure from the shows about computer geniuses and spacetime anomolies I usually prefer. The kind of show where people burst out into song with syncronized choreography.

Which I don't mind per se but also don't find nearly as believable as saving the universe by travelling back in time or creating a clever computer virus.

Glee is about a team of talented individuals who want to achieve something and be recognized and appreciated for it. Like any of us, they are capable of jealously and taking action that hurts the team for personal gain. They are also capable of incredible teamwork and loyalty.

The Glee Club is managed by hunky Mr. Schuester, who wants everyone in his team to feel like a winner. He tries to let everyone shine while creating a safe, supportive team environment. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, there are only so many solos to go around and in order to win they need to go to the best singer.

Mr. Schuester experiments early on with spreading the solo opportunities and alienates Rachel, his star performer who has no intention of sharing the spotlight. She ends up (temporarily) leaving the club and taking with her their only chance of winning at nationals.

Selfish? You bet. But also correct when she observes that it's unfair for her to take a back seat to someone less talented and risk blowing her chances at a musical scholarship.

The Glee Club offers an amusing contrast to the Cheerios, the popular cheerleading squad that consistently wins competitions. The Cheerios are coached by Sue Sylvester, who is tough, unscrupulous and mean. She hurls abuse at the Cheerios and demands absolute perfection from each team member. The Cheerios win but at a high personal cost.

At one point two Glee Club members, Mercedes and Kurt, decide to join the Cheerios squad, which means they no longer have as much time and energy to devote to Glee. Mr. Schuester is put out by this but as Kurt puts it, "This is our chance at the spotlight."

In a recent episode, Rachel gives a new student with an amazing singing voice the wrong directions for Glee try outs because she fears the competition. Which sounds awful but people suppress knowledge in the workplace every day to stay ahead of the competition. Rachel doesn't have less integrity than everyone else, just less talent for subterfuge. (Although sending the poor girl to a crack house is probably further than most of us would go.)

There are some lessons here for leaders or would-be leaders:
  1. Sue's harsh style of leadership may work if the only goal is to win consistently. But Mr. Schuester's style is your best bet when you have to go up against a team that is coached by someone like Sue... and win. Sue achieves perfection, Mr. Schuester achieves miracles.
  2. You don't bring out the best in teams by penalizing your stars but you also can't afford to act like they're the only people in the universe or you'll lose your supporting cast.
  3. Everyone is capable of both petty selfishness and compassionate self-sacrifice. Great leaders help people to succeed by cooperating rather than acting like weasels.


  1. I <3 Glee. Ridiculous fun, I call it. :)

  2. Great analogy and lessons! I wish that I had come up with the idea first! I will have to settle for passing it along to others.

  3. Thanks Preludia. And thank you, Evil Skippy, for joining Twitter just to spread the word. :-)


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