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Management Lessons From Our Favorite TV Detectives

Olivia Benson From Murder, She Wrote to any number of Law & Order iterations, the supply of television detective shows is never in short order, though it’s not hard to see why: America loves its fictional detectives. Though these characters may be quirky in their own right, there is something undeniably relatable about them.

They even hold some surprising lessons for managers when it comes to leading a team of employees.

Detectives, after all, must be incredibly detail-oriented to carry out their jobs well, and often collaborate with their teams to accomplish their goals – not unlike managers. Of course, they’re not perfect, either. Check out the following do’s and don’ts list of management lessons from some of our favorite television detectives – past and present.

Detective Jake Peralta, Brooklyn 99

Peralta may be goofy, obnoxious and overconfident, but he’s undeniably good at his job. He manages his cases and has a high solve rate; however, he has difficulty working with others. Take the good and leave the bad when stealing a page from his notebook.

DO: Pay attention to details. Like any good detective, Peralta pores over minute details in order to find a perpetrator. Follow his lead and cover all your bases when managing a team. Set expectations from the start of a new project by creating a checklist of deliverables and due dates. Check in frequently with your team to discuss the status of projects, their workload and any challenges they might be having. Employees aren’t always up front about these issues, so be sure to ask questions to get them to open up and let them know they can be candid with you.  Keeping a pulse on your employees will save you from missing key details and enable you to ‘solve the case’ – or rather, finish the project on time.

DON’T: Be afraid to delegate. Peralta is confident in his own abilities, which is a plus. But his confidence can be detrimental when he refuses to acknowledge the opinions of others or let other detectives handle part of his case. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re overloaded, and don’t be afraid to delegate some of those responsibilities on your employees. After all, as a manager, you should be able to trust your team to do good work. Your team will appreciate the feeling of autonomy and it will teach them how to function independently when you’re out of the office.

Detective Olivia Benson, Law and Order: SVU

Benson is a seasoned detective, and she’s known for her skill at getting victims and perpetrators to open up. But she’s not perfect, despite her years of experience. Be like Benson, but not exactly.

DO: Be compassionate. Benson is known for her compassion and empathy, both to colleagues and victims. As a manager, you will be dealing with a variety of personality types, and you need to understand and be sensitive to differences in working and communication style. Working with your team to discover how they communicate will be invaluable when it comes to building loyalty and producing good work.

DON’T: Let your preconceived notions cloud your judgment. Sometimes Benson gets caught unaware by wily perpetrators or victims who are not quite what they seem. There are many factors that could influence your own judgment when it comes to managing your team. For example, you may connect with some team members on a personal level, leading you to have more confidence in their workplace skills – which could cause you to overlook others who are just as capable. Any good detective knows better than to get in their own way with personal biases. Take this same approach to managing your team. Consider each member’s skill set, and recognize each employee for the unique contribution he or she makes to the team. This way, you can delegate work in a way that leverages everyone’s strengths.

Jessica Fletcher, Murder, She Wrote

Perhaps the most classic non-detective detective, Jessica is someone whose curious nature never failed her. Try as she might, she never could resist a good mystery. But sometimes, her nosy nature led to trouble. Follow her, but only to a point.

DO: Be involved with what your team is doing. Ask questions about their progress on projects and find out who they’re working with to complete their tasks. Don’t nag or micromanage, but simply invite them to share more about their work. Your curiosity will pay off, as you get a feel for the types of assignments and projects they enjoy doing so you can continue to give them work that engages them. Remember, Jessica’s curiosity helped her learn more about the goings on in Cabot Cove, and it helped her solve some of major cases.

DON’T: Ignore warning signs. With reports that only 29 percent of employees are fully engaged in their work, keeping tabs on your employees’ level of engagement and satisfaction is crucial to maintaining productivity, reducing burnout and preventing turnover. Be aware of the signs or workplace disengagement among your employees, such as missed deadlines, increased use of sick days or tardiness, or a lack of enthusiasm in general. Let your employees know they can come to you with any problems they might be having, and work together to come up with a solution. Use your regular check-in’s (as mentioned above) to ask questions and gauge their happiness level. Don’t, however, be invasive. There were times when Jessica’s nosiness got her into some precarious and even life-threatening situations. When in doubt, ask your human resources team for advice.

Tell us: What are your tips for cracking difficult management cases?


Kristin Clifford

About Kristin Clifford

Kristin Clifford is a marketing professional and pop culture enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter at @kristincliff.


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