We've been watching DVDs of The West Wing, starting with the first season and rolling through.
I've been a huge fan for a couple of reasons:
1) It's just darn good TV - especially the first few seasons.
2) The story represents an ideal I know will never be reality, but one I nonetheless long for.
3) The show's liberal politics are right up my alley.
None of that has anything to do with something I learned during one of our recent weekend marathons.
The role of President Josh Bartlett is played by Martin Sheen, who does an excellent job adding dimension to the character. As you watch the interactivity of Bartlett with his staff you are struck by an odd mix of familiarity and formality.
The staff and the president talk personally and joke about many things, but no one EVER refers to the boss as anything other than Mr President. Not even his closest friends when they are in the President's private quarters.
At some point during the first season, the writers offer an explanation for this:
Sheen's character is met in the Oval Office by an old friend. It's obvious President Bartlett and this person go way back and that they're good friends.
During the conversation the friend turns to Bartlett and asks, "So, what do I call you here in this office?"
To which the president replies, "I prefer, Mr President. Not because I want the recognition but because I need the constant reminder that [all] this is not about me but about the office."
Question - Could we perhaps be too informal in our communication with colleagues and superiors in business?
Resting on one's title or position is a sure recipe for failure, but do we sometimes disrespect the office by being too informal? Hierarchy and org charts serve a purpose by letting people know where the buck stops and starts.
On The West Wing, having no doubt who's in charge gives everyone a sense of security and confidence they wouldn't have otherwise.