By AMANDA CHUA
“The Devil Wears Prada” – Many of your first impressions would be of a predictable chick flick about an “ugly duckling” stumbling through her job in a high fashion magazine.
What could we possibly learn from a chick flick? This may surprise some of you but there are some lessons in the movie we can draw from.
There is something for people who are just starting out in their career and bosses can learn a thing or two about developing people.
The plot surrounds the main character Andrea Sachs (a.k.a Andy Sachs starring Anne Hathaway), an aspiring journalist who out of desperation, settles as an intern at Runway Magazine.
The movie starts off with Sachs trying to navigate her way while still scoffing at the superficiality of the Runway culture.
What she discovers is that she is working for the notorious Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep), the Darth Vader of the fashion world.
Slowly she transforms into a polished professional as she starts making her way up the corporate ladder into her boss’ good books.
As expected, the final chapter of the movie has Sachs’ world imploding and she finally realises she has lost herself and decides to walk away from it all.
What impresses me is that throughout her journey, Sachs holds on to her core values, listens to her heart till the end and is able to survive the corporate culture.
Here are some lessons for freshies who have just entered the working world and are still getting themselves attuned to the intricacies of corporate culture:
1. Build rapport with supervisors
So you have a difficult boss and both of you are unable to see eye-to-eye. Are you willing to compromise to succeed?
Are you willing to change your looks, adjust your priorities, and sacrifice your private life? Are you willing to become another person in order to rise in the organisation?
My answer may come as a surprise, but sometimes, we do need to make certain adjustments to adapt to our work environment.
Having a good rapport with your boss is important, because this factor can greatly influence your level of motivation at work.
The boss-subordinate relationship is important, especially if you plan to be the part of the organisation for a decent length of time.
In the movie, despite the resistance at first, Sachs starts changing herself. The idea of “who you are” is a fluid concept.
In your 20s and early 30s, you probably have no firm idea of who you are and what you are capable of.
The fact is, we live, work and play in a world that we cannot control and is not always ideal for us. But we can learn to adapt to any environment in order to gain influence and make real change.
I am not suggesting that you compromise and change yourself to a point that you stab your friends in the back to get ahead.
But in order to find what you want in life, you have to understand what everyone else wants, and learning how to meet your boss’ high expectations early on in your career is a good start.
2. Show tenacity at work
Showing commitment to your organisation and your boss will help you get ahead in your career.
Sachs scored every woman’s dream job working for fabulous fashion magazine. That is until she meets her boss and discoveres that her colleagues suffer from low morale. The office culture is downright toxic.
Sach displays patience, commitment and tenacity in her work. Despite several failures, work pressure, the indifferent attitude of bosses and adversities thrown at her, she doesn’t give up.
Her remarkable drive to keep a few steps ahead and do more than what is expected of her wins her boss over.
Through her drive and tenacity, Sachs displays an outstanding level of commitment toward her job.
It is hard to be engaged and love your job when you perceive your boss to be an unreasonable person. Going through hardships will toughen you up as you grow and learn more about yourself as an individual.
3. Know where to draw the line
Therein lies the question, where do we draw the line? Should we become a “yes-man” and submit to our bosses all the time?
There’s nothing wrong with being committed to your job, but if your employer expects you to spend a lot of time at work, it shows that he or she is not interested in your life outside the office.
Research shows that to be productive, happy and engaged at work, people need to feel valued and appreciated as individuals. To keep healthy work-life balance is equally important.
4. Realise the importance of a good mentor
Having a mentor helps an employee to move up the ladder in an organisation. Nigel, the art director, has regular discussions with Sachs about Runway as an organisation.
His receptive nature and desire to develop other your recruits make him a popular choice for younger employees to spend time with. Try to find someone like this in your organisation.
5. Don’t step on others to get ahead
Be nice on the way up, because you never know who you’ll meet on the way back down. Think about the relationship between Andrea and her colleague Emily (played Emily Blunt).
No matter how many snide remarks or awful tasks were thrown Andrea’s way, she maintained grace, integrity and a positive attitude.
You will never know when you might need them and you definitely would not want your actions in the past to come back and haunt you.
6. Learn when to walk away
Be guided by your values. Don’t lose sight of who you are or why you’re there.
If the job is leading you to question your own values or requires you to compromise on them – as was the case when Andrea’s colleague was cheated out of a promotion, re-examine your role.
In the end, Andrea discovers that this wasn’t her “dream job”, and it wasn’t worth losing herself or what she stood for.
If the job or the workplace is causing you to second-guess your judgment, your values or the way you live your life, then it’s not the place for you.
For the manager
It’s okay to crack the whip
One of the biggest lessons I learned is that it’s not always good to be nice when you are a boss or manager. Letting people off the hook, making them feel comfortable, and creating a pleasant environment can be counter productive.
A majority of people will only improve when pushed (and sometimes threatened) by authority.
As the head of Runway, Priestly expects nothing less than the best from her employees. Surprisingly, she usually gets it.
If you commit yourself to impossible standards, you will always be surprised by what you can achieve. So if you are a boss, crack the whip. If you are an employee, be grateful for a boss that pushes you beyond your limits.
But avoid toxic leadership
Although I did say that we do not have to be a nice boss all the time, I am not suggesting that you become mean and condescending to your subordinates.
Priestly’s cold, harsh and at times, cruel treatment of Andrea has us cringing throughout “The Devil Wears Prada”, which has made her one of pop culture’s most hated bosses.
Leadership traits are portrayed quite negatively in the movie, as reflected by the entry of Miranda to the office. Constant team meetings, where everyone tries to portray himself or herself as best to please the boss is not a positive sign of teamwork.
Such an environment creates negativity and affects productivity. A good manager should be approachable, appreciative and newcomers should not feel rejected. Employers should be able to create rapport with all subordinates.
While it’s important to ensure that employees respect their bosses, respect based on fear is counter-productive and will lead to a stressful and unhealthy working environment.
Instead, work to earn respect by being a strong yet approachable mentor and leader. At the end of the day, kindness earns more respect than fear ever will. A tough manager who is able to empower his or her employees is a hallmark of a true leader.
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