3 Workplace Lessons from the Servants at Downton Abbey

3 Workplace Lessons from the Servants at Downton Abbey

Last night, I attempted to turn off my working brain and just enjoy some television… I have heard so much about Downton Abbey, so I powered up Netflix and watched the first two episodes. The only problem is that somehow my brain started connecting dots between the situations in the show and workplace lessons… just like when I tried to relax on vacation and read Jay-Z’s Decoded and it turned into a blog post about Leadership.

So here are the three workplace lessons I took away from the 2nd episode of Downton Abbey.

Workplace Lesson 1. Every job has meaning, and it is important that Leaders recognize and appreciate this.

In episode two, Matthew Crawley, the new heir to the Grantham estate, is unaccustomed to having a butler catering to his needs, and says to Molesley, the butler assigned to him “‘it seems a very silly occupation for a grown man!” You can immediately see the sadness and dejection in Molesley’s face. For him, this is his life’s work, and he takes great pride in providing service. When Lord Grantham hears from Matthew that he doesn’t have need for a butler, he answers “We all have different parts to play Matthew and we must all be allowed to play them.”

Remembering this simple rule is important for all leaders, especially those who think of themselves as more important than others. There is a purpose for everyone’s job, and we need to be able to connect their role to meaning, and to recognize how important they are. Later in the episode, when Crawley, having learned his lesson, asks Molesley for help getting ready for an event, the pride in Molesley’s face is unmistakable.

Do your employees demonstrate genuine pride in their work? How can you add meaning and purpose for them so that they do?

Workplace Lesson 2. Your employees are your Brand.

At dinner one evening, Mr Carson, the butler at Downton, sees that one of the footmen has a rip in the seam of his jacket. When the servants congregate downstairs a few minutes later, he points it out, asking, “William, are you aware the seam at your shoulder is coming apart?” When William explains that he did know and that he would mend it after service, Carson is appalled. His response, “You must remember that a good servant at all times retains a sense of pride and dignity the reflects the pride and dignity of the family he serves”, resonates in today’s world as well.

Our employees reflect the values and culture of our organizations to the public, in their face to face dealings and on social media. As trust in senior leaders is plummeting, trust in “regular employees”, and people like ourselves is rising. It is more and more important to have an aligned culture, pride and passion for the organization, and employees who can be trusted to represent your company in a positive and genuine light.

How are your employees representing your organization to your customers?   

Workplace Lesson 3. Authenticity helps to build loyalty, even when it shows your imperfections.

Mr. Carson, Downton’s butler, appears to be the epitome of propriety and dignity. He goes to great lengths, stealing from his employer, to cover up part of his past that he feels is not befitting the reputation of a Downton butler. When his former colleague reveals that he was in the “Cheerful Charlies” dance troop, he feels disgraced and embarrassed. However, Bates, the Valet at the estate, says to Anna, the housemaid: “We know his story now”, and she responds “and admire him more for it”.

The reactions of Carson’s staff shows how, when we are at our most vulnerable and authentic, we can actually build loyalty and respect. This quote from Brene Brown, author of “The Gifts of Imperfection”, helps to sum this up:

Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.

What imperfections or authentic stories are you holding back? Explore the possibility that sharing them might actually add to your leadership credibility rather than hinder it.

I am looking forward to continuing to watch Downton Abbey.  Maybe for down time, something more fantastical like True Blood or Walking Dead is in store though… hmmm but Sheriffs Eric Northman and Rick Grimes might give me more leadership lessons to write about… any suggestions?

1 Comment

  1. July 1, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    […] hr. She’s written 25+ posts on Employee Engagement and you can find them all here. This post and this one are […]

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