How to be a little less Trunchbull

Wednesday 26 May 2021
Here’s a little snapshot into Captain Holt and Miss Trunchbull’s management styles...
Stack of children's books next to speaker

Even when we switch off from a hard day’s work, there’s a manager out there waiting to hang out with us in the evening. Whether it’s Michael Scott from The US Office, Joe Exotic from Tiger King, or Superintendent Hastings from Line of Duty, we all have our favourite fictional bosses – and our least-liked ones.

And the ones you voted for? Captain Raymond Holt from US sitcom Brooklyn 99 and Miss Agatha Trunchbull from the beloved children’s book, Matilda.

So let’s take a look at why their management styles have earned them these accolades...


Captain Holt

On screen, Captain Holt is a no-nonsense, straight-talking leader who doesn’t mince his words or beat around the bush. He’s known for being very literal (sometimes with hilarious consequences) and for following logic over emotion. So what are the skills that make him such a good  boss?

He stands up for his employees

There are a handful of antagonists in Brooklyn 99: Madaline Wunch, Jimmy Figgis and Melanie Hawkins, to name a few. Whenever these characters try to sabotage his team or his precinct, Captain Holt rises to the challenge and does what it takes to protect his staff, and shows them time and again he has their back. Sometimes he’ll even take the brunt of the punishments to protect his team: just think of the time he accepted the demotion to the public relations bureau and using his extensive crime-fighting experience to… name the new pigeon mascot.

He mentors women through the professional pipeline

Having seen Amy Santiago’s leadership potential, Captain Holt decides to mentor her during their time together. While originally doing so in an unofficial capacity (teaching her lessons without a predefined mentor-mentee relationship), he reveals his large binder of Amy’s progress and mentoring plan in the episode The Last Ride. Teaching her a mixture of lessons from his own career and what’s important for her own professional development, he reveals his five-year mentoring plan. The best part is, we’re along for the ride and get to see Amy’s journey to become Sergeant at the 99th precinct.

Did you know CMI offers a mentoring programme? Find out more here.

He tailors his approach to each employee

Every leader has a management style, but being able to modify your approach to best suit the individuals on your team is a top-tier skill. On the show, Captain Holt evidences this approach by changing how he interacts with his staff in order to get their best performance. With Detective Jake Peralta he adopts a fatherly approach, with Detective Rosa Diaz he takes a hands-off approach, and with Sergeant Santiago he takes a coach-mentor approach.


Miss Trunchbull

Whether we first met her in Roald Dahl’s book, or in the 1996 movie directed by Danny Devito, Miss Trunchbull certainly leaves a long-lasting impression. That sums up one of her worst management practices:

She leads by fear

Not only does Miss Trunchbull instil fear in her colleagues, but she also uses the tactics with the students. Whether she’s throwing Amanda Thripp over a fence for having hair that doesn’t follow the dress code, throwing a boy from a window for eating sweets during class, or locking children in the chokey, Miss Trunchbull makes those around her more scared of the punishment than of committing the crime.

She doesn’t trust her colleagues

In a particularly memorable scene, Miss Trunchbull leads one of Miss Honey’s lessons. This is a classic case of micromanaging: not trusting Miss Honey to teach the class the same way that Miss Trunchbull would do it, she takes the reins from Miss Honey’s hands – and in doing so, shows that she has no faith in Miss Honey’s skills.

She perpetuates a toxic work culture

Not only does Miss Trunchbull use exaggerated punishments for her crimes, she also ropes in other staff members to help her and makes examples of those receiving a punishment. Remember when she made Bruce Bogtrotter eat an entire chocolate cake in front of the school? Here, she used her authoritative position to make the school cook to participate in the punishment by baking the cake, and then she made a public spectacle of the punishment to make the teachers and children afraid of this being their own fate.

Leading by fear is no way to lead: not only does this command-and-control style of leadership only have short-term effects, it means you’re quashing the potential for diverse thinking. You’re also not building a positive relationship with your colleagues; they’ll learn to be too afraid to come to you with problems, which will have dire effects in the long-run.

Find out more about different management styles here, and check out these management lessons from our favourite fictional characters!

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