Lessons from the Devil, Part II: What Not to Do

Lessons from the Devil, Part 2I would like to continue with Part II of “Lessons from the Devil.” Miranda Priestly, so aptly played by Meryl Streep, is the epitome of what not to do as a leader. Runway’s success is built on fear tactics and power-hoarding. The writing is on the wall with companies like these. When the domineering leader leaves the company, it enters a sharp decline. An example of this is when Lee Iacocca left Ford. The company went from consistent growth to dismal performance. No one was prepared to fill his shoes.

Lead by gaining buy-in. Miranda Priestly leads through fear. The first scene at Runway shows Emily, Miranda’s assistant, receiving a call that Miranda is arriving at the office earlier than expected. Panic ensues and rightfully so. When Miranda interacts with her employees, it consists of berating them for their ineptitude, doling out orders, and bullying in general.

Give people the tools to do their jobs. We watch Andy struggle when she starts her job at Runway. She’s a smart person, but she wasn’t given any training. Her tasks were filled with ambiguity, and specific expectations weren’t given. Instead, she had to guess what was demanded of her and hope she did it the right way. It’s like being told to go on a scavenger hunt without the list, and the punishment for failing is public humiliation.

Promote healthy competition. At Runway you won’t find healthy competition; instead, you would find in-fighting. Pointing fingers, undermining and general betrayal can be found when a leader pits employees against each other. Healthy competition can help raise the bar and create an atmosphere of camaraderie.

Be approachable. Everyone is terrified of Miranda; therefore, no one is willing to challenge her, take risks, or ask for clarification. This leads most often to rework when errors are discovered. Worse: it can lead to companies going a direction that has a negative impact to its success. Oftentimes it could be avoided if an environment where employees can express concerns is fostered and rewarded.

Get to know your people. For the first few weeks of Andy’s tenure at Runway, Miranda calls her “Emily.” Getting to know your team’s name and something personal about them creates engagement. This is what allows a leader to call on their people to put in extra hours. If an employee feels their leader cares about them, they are more loyal and are willing to go the extra mile.

Foster an environment of creativity. At Runway, Miranda’s “opinion is the only opinion that matters.” When ideas rest on one person’s shoulders, it severely limits the possibilities. Additionally, the intense environment that Miranda has created instills panic in people. The fight-or-flight chemicals released when people are panicked literally stunt the finer thought processes.

For examples of what not to do, make sure and watch this movie.


Jana Axline is president and leadership coach at Axline Solutions and author of Becoming You. Through her leadership musings she inspires audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Axline Solutions.

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