7 career lessons from ‘Arrested Development’

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Career lessonsThe long-ago canceled TV series “Arrested Development” was never much of a ratings hit, and after three fantastic seasons it went away in 2006. For its small but passionate fan base, it was a quotable show that should’ve been a household name but instead became a cult classic due to its untimely demise. Fortunately for fans, after years of false hope and unfounded rumors, the show is coming back in 2013 for a fourth season. Ron Howard, the show’s producer, recently posted a picture from the set on Twitter, sending fans into an excited tizzy.

For the uninitiated, the show follows Michael Bluth as he attempts to keep his family’s construction business intact and his dysfunctional family from falling apart. Although it’s not a typical workplace show like “The Office,” there are plenty of examples of how not to have a successful career. Here are seven lessons that the Bluths taught us on “Arrested Development.”

Lesson No. 1: Admit to your mistakes

On the show: The Bluths made more than their share of missteps, and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Rarely an episode goes by without someone having an epiphany and proclaiming, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Of course, they usually fail to fully recover from said mistake, whether it’s putting the wrong person in charge of the company or deciding to work in the family business.

At work: Take a moment to stop and review what you’ve done recently. Which projects worked and which ones didn’t? Why? If you or your team made a mistake, don’t be afraid to admit it. Bosses know you’re not perfect, and they often appreciate honesty. The key is to not only say what you did wrong but to show how you will improve the next time and not repeat those mistakes.

Lesson No. 2: Earn your promotions, don’t expect them

On the show: Despite being the older brother, Gob Bluth is never put in charge of the family company or given any real responsibility. That honor usually goes to his younger brother, Michael, who is more responsible and overall smarter. Because he’s older, Gob thinks he should automatically be put in charge of the Bluth Company. When Gob does take control of the company for a single morning, he manages to install a massage table in the break room and perform an unsuccessful magic trick for the board of directors rather than get any real work accomplished.

At work: Most people want promotions — at least in theory. The fancy title, extra power and bigger paycheck all sound appealing. Bosses don’t care how long you’ve been at a company or how badly you want a promotion, at the end of the day they want to know you can handle the job. If you feel like you’re ready to move to the next level in your career, ask yourself if you’ve taken steps to move up and talk to your boss. Ask her what she needs to see in your performance to prove you are deserving and capable of a promotion. You might even find that you don’t really want to be the boss, and you’re perfectly happy staying in your current role. Or, like Gob, you’ll get promoted and waste $45,000 of the company’s money in three hours.

Lesson No. 3: Surround yourself with smart people

On the show: When George Bluth is taken to prison for unethical accounting practices, he leaves his wife, Lucille, in charge. When asked why, George responds that he didn’t leave any of his children in charge because his attorney told him a wife and husband cannot be arrested for the same crime. The attorney was wrong, of course. In fact, the Bluths’ attorneys are always terrible, and their employees aren’t much better.

At work: Unless you’re a manager, you probably don’t have the power to hire and fire people. You do, however, have the ability to choose the right mentors and colleagues to network with. At work and even in your personal life, find people who exhibit ambition and have achieved their goals, regardless of their seniority. Networking is one of the best ways to get a recommendation or get ahead in your career, and surrounding yourself with admirable people is a reliable way to stay motivated.

Lesson No. 4: Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone

On the show: Sixteen-year-old Maeby Fünke, Michael Bluth’s niece, accompanies her father, an actor, to a movie studio and places a phone call from a movie producer’s office. She’s then mistaken for actually being a studio executive and begins reviewing scripts and working on films. She’s eventually found out, but she’s successful for many months.

At work: In today’s economy, when many workers are doing the job of two or three people, you could be asked to take on extra responsibilities that you don’t have experience in or didn’t study in college. Trust your own judgment, and if you know you’re ready for the challenge, use the opportunity to stretch yourself, improve your career and add skills to your résumé. However, if you know the task is too much for you to handle (i.e., you’re a teenager asked to produce a Hollywood movie), be honest with your manager and find a solution that works for both of you.

Lesson No. 5: Don’t let competition be your sole motivator

On the show: Gob Bluth is competitive, and when someone dares him to do something, he feels compelled to do it. In one night he meets a woman and the two of them begin “a series of escalating dares” until they get married without even knowing each other’s name.

At work: For one, you probably shouldn’t impulsively marry anyone you work with, though that’s totally up to you. On a broader level, you shouldn’t let competition push you into unwise situations. At work you can easily get pulled into a game of one-upmanship when the worker in the next cubicle is selling more or seems to get more accolades. Healthy competition can be good for you, and in today’s recovering economy you don’t want to slack off if everyone else is surpassing you. Still, competition shouldn’t be your primary reason for doing anything, because you’ll eventually begin to disregard your own judgment and become focused on showing up another person rather than doing what’s right.

Lesson No. 6: Be careful whom you trust

On the show: Michael Bluth, the show’s protagonist and arguably the most ethical character, is betrayed by pretty much everyone he encounters. In the first episode of the show, he decides not to move away with his son and instead stays with the family in order to help run the Bluth Company. Over the course of the series, he is lied to and deceived (sometimes repeatedly) by both parents, all siblings, his own lawyers, at least one longtime employee and a slew of other people. His biggest fault is that he always gives everyone the benefit of the doubt even after they’ve proven themselves unworthy.

At work: Expecting the best of people is an admirable quality, but don’t let naiveté sabotage you. Hopefully you’re surrounded by trustworthy people, but remember that many workers are looking to get ahead, regardless of the cost. Don’t share private information, your new ideas or even gossip with just anyone. If you’re going to confide in a colleague, be sure they won’t turn around and use it against you. If you’re unsure, then keep it to yourself. Or you could end up like Michael Bluth and find out your mom got into a car accident trying to run over her own son and then pinned the whole thing on you.

Lesson No. 7: Leave on a good note

On the show: The show was canceled because it never gained enough viewers. Its premature ending left its fan base wanting more, and now that the show is coming back for a fourth season, people are excited to get any bit of information they can find. It’s more popular now than when it was on the air.

At work: The work equivalent of a show getting canceled is getting fired, so you don’t want that to happen. However, you do want to leave a job on positive terms. When you quit your job and move on to a new one, do everything possible to leave behind a good reputation. Give your boss plenty of notice, offer to help in any way you can, and don’t badmouth people on the way out. You want these people to be references for you in the future, and maybe one day you’ll even want to return to the company if a better opportunity arises. You want people to welcome you back with open arms, not slammed doors.


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