You’ve undoubtedly heard of her, even if you’ve never met her. Her reputation precedes her, so much so that people can actually feel her icy presence before she’s entered the room. Miranda Priestly is the ultimate lady boss and you can bet she’s definitely wearing Prada; it’s the “devil” part we’re not so sure about.
The movie may only be loosely based on fact, but its central theme of women in power is a very real one in our contemporary workplace. Female bosses, in particular, are considered to be less likeable on many accounts, and not just by the males. According to a recent November 2013 Gallup poll, 35 percent of Americans prefer a male manager, as compared to 23 percent who prefer a female. Why is there a significant difference in gender preference?
Women in the office get a tough rep, especially those in managerial positions. If we’re too ambitious or goal-oriented, we’re perceived as demanding or aggressive. But if we sit back and let someone else take the lead, we’re not “leaning in” sufficiently.
In “The Devil Wears Prada,” Miranda Priestly is portrayed as cruel, cutthroat and mercurial, but despite those negative attributes, she also happens to be a great employer. Priestly successfully spearheads the premier women’s magazine portrayed in the film, manages an entire staff and is completely dedicated to her job. Though her methods may be unconventional and, yes, at times brusque, you cannot argue that Priestly consistently delivers as an invaluable Editor-in-Chief.
It’s worth noting that there are few female mentors for women in high-power positions. For this reason, there is a small pool of qualified role models for the influx of women executives in the workplace. For lady bosses, it’s lonely at the top.
Due to the lack of females in upper-level roles, it’s also easier for us to make casual assertions about their managerial styles. We say things like, “She seems like such a bitch to work for,” despite never meeting this woman; whereas, someone like Ari Gold from “Entourage” is revered and hallowed for holding his employees to impossible standards. There are simply more men in his identical position behaving the same way, which builds Ari Gold’s credibility.
We can’t help but wonder, if Miranda Priestly were a dude, would she get as much backlash for being so assertive? With the appropriate soundtrack and character foils, yes, she does come across as menacing and even evil at times; however, if we strip away all those (heaven forbid!) poly-blend layers, upon further inspection, it appears that Ms. Priestly is actually the perfect boss, even when gender isn’t a factor.
She might be tough, but when you’re the face of almost a billion-dollar company, you can’t be soft. We can all learn something about leadership from a woman who was so powerful that she transcended fiction.
Here’s why Miranda Priestly is a lady boss and not a lady bitch.
1. She holds high standards and pushes her employees to meet them
Miranda is only as strong as her supporting team is, which is why she expects so much from her employees. Someone in that high of a position needs a staff that can handle important requests and is prepared to work to their full potential. Miranda herself is not a slacker and only demands from her employees what she expects from herself.
Requiring her employees to dress well, for example, is a fitting policy for a high-fashion company that has to uphold a certain image. When she asks why no one is ready before a fitting, like any respective boss, Miranda expects everyone to be prepared for work. You can’t half-ass an important presentation, and Priestly wouldn’t dream of showing up unprepared.
Conversely, when her staff comes up with compelling ideas, she does give them praise. After Nigel says, “Zac Posen's doing some very sculptural suits. So I suggested that Testino shoot them at the Noguchi Garden,” Miranda rewards him with a rare compliment: “Perfect. Thank God somebody came to work today.”
2. She’s direct about what she needs done
Andy Sachs may not always be able to interpret what her boss wants (like those 10 or 15 skirts from Calvin Klein: "Please bore someone else with your questions."), but at least Miranda is straightforward in her requests. She doesn’t waste time ("By all means, move at a glacial pace, you know how this thrills me!") and especially in the fashion industry, where everything needs to be completed immediately, she instills the appropriate sense of urgency.
More importantly though, Miranda Priestly never hides the fact that she’s a tough boss. She is always upfront to the applicants about her expectations and what the job entails. Andy might not have been ready for the assistant position, but she was certainly warned about what to expect.
Perhaps Priestly’s authoritative style was better suited for someone with greater discipline and ambition, like Emily.
3. She’s earned her respect and reputation
Miranda can get away with being a strict boss because she’s earned her title. She understands that success in the fashion industry relies heavily on her shoulders and she takes that responsibility seriously.
The scope of her power is best captured in her exact words: “However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”
Miranda Priestly dictates what clothes people are wearing every day, which bestows her with immense influence. She’s entitled to school Andy on hierarchy when her assistant steps out of line, just as the infamous Jordan Belfort does to his subordinates in “Wolf of Wall Street.”
Priestly clearly knows what is best for the fashion world. Since her opinion is “the only one that matters,” if she turns up her nose at a designer's fashion collection (a la James Hoult), it behooves the designer to change his or her collection. This doesn’t make Miranda a condescending grouse; it makes her a discerning leader, who is doing her job and maintaining quality standards. Really, the designers should thank Miranda for saving them from bad press.
4. Miranda acts as a mentor
Although Andy doesn’t see it at first, Miranda is invested in her assistant’s growth at Runway magazine. Because she sees a lot of herself in Andy, Miranda is attune to her growth and wants her to work to her fullest potential. This might mean she’s tough on Andy, but Miranda is only trying to groom her for a higher position with greater responsibility. Even after Andy proves to be her mentor’s “biggest disappointment,” Priestly still personally recommends her for a new job.
5. She separates her personal and work life
Despite being in the public eye, Miranda does a solid job of keeping her personal life and work life separate. She doesn’t allow her divorce to shake up her routine or ruin her trip to Paris. Instead, she remains focused on the task-at-hand and effectively delegates dealings with the press to her public relations team.
In the same way, Miranda makes her work a priority when she flies down to Florida; although she has to miss her twins’ recital, she did try her best to make it there! Priestly understands that to be successful, you have to be driven and remain loyal to your job.
Photo credit: The Devil Wears Prada