What I learned from Mrs. Padmore on Downton Abbey

Mrs. Padmore, the cook on Downton Abbey (the hit PBS upstairs downstairs soap opera par excellence, oh please, I know you know what it is) has got to be one of the worst bosses of all time.

Mrs. Padmore manages Daisy, the adorable/completely ridiculous scullery maid. Her management style can only be described as harsh. It’s a combination of yelling, blame, anger, and panic. It is my sincere hope that nobody has ever had a manager quite like Mrs. Padmore.

But what is interesting is not her management technique, nor her behavior towards Daisy. It’s the source of these behaviors that interests me. For we discover, midway through the first season of Downton Abbey that Mrs. Padmore is going blind from cataracts. Her obstinate refusal to create new dishes from receipts comes from the fact that she cannot read these notes. Mistakes that she blames on Daisy are usually the result of not being able to see which dish she is touching. She is managing the kitchen by touch alone, a dangerous situation to be sure.

Mrs. Padmore is operating out of fear.

Fear can be a powerful motivator–Daisy certainly works hard because she fears Mrs. Padmore’s wrath. But Mrs. Padmore’s concern that she will be fired, that she won’t be able to ear her living, that she will be turned out of the house due to her disability are palpable and powerful. Her fear is overwhelming, and prevents her from asking for help. (Let’s not even get into the discussion of health care and portrayals of disability on the show, fascinating!)

Obviously, this is a dramatization. But I have worked with and for people who operate out of fear, and it is not pleasant. It creates an environment of distrust and a culture of blame and anger that does not support the best possible work. When managers are concerned for their own job (and covering their own a**) it makes it impossible to think strategically and work towards goals, because the only goal is survival.

No, but seriously, let’s talk about Downton Abbey all the time.

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