If you were a kid in the 80s, you undoubtedly watched The Facts of Life, which starred Charlotte Rae as the housemother, Mrs. Edna Garrett. Rae died yesterday at the age of 92 and the world is a little bit worse off now.
While I don't know a great deal about her personal life, her character was someone worth knowing. Rae was the creative force (along with Normal Lear) for The Facts of Life, so we can imagine that Mrs. Garrett shared some of Rae's own personality traits--or at least her ideals. And if we could have managers like Mrs. Garrett, we'd all be better off. Here's why.
Mrs. Garrett didn't tolerate bad behavior
Being a house mother in a ritzy boarding school sounds like a nightmare job to me. But, she handled it perfectly. When the girls did bad things there were consequences. While helicopter parenting wasn't really a thing in 1979, if they were, they would have complained about their daughters being forced to work in the kitchen to pay a bill for their own stupid actions. Mrs. Garrett would have said no way, no how. You made this mess and you'll pay it off.
She didn't ignore bad behavior or coddle people just because they were rising stars. She handed out consequences that were fair and tough. Just like a great manager would.
Mrs. Garrett stood up to authority when necessary
Mrs. Garrett was no pushover for her employees, but when they needed help from above, or the school administration was being ridiculous, she stood up to them. Managers sometimes need to push back against their bosses, not only to do what's best for the school--errr, company--but to do what's best for the employees.
Mrs. Garrett managed a very diverse staff
I know what you're thinking: Tootie (played by Kim Fields) was the only Black main character. Everyone else was very white. But diversity isn't just about skin color--it's about different backgrounds and different ideas. Jo (Nancy McKeon) was a scholarship student from the Bronx while Blair was a rich girl who later used her trust fund to buy the school.
It all could have been a disaster and there were many confrontations, but Mrs. Garrett knew how to handle things, get people to see eye to eye, and most of all, get the work done. That's great leadership.
Mrs. Garrett didn't hide from challenges
The Facts of Life dealt with issues such as divorce, drugs, alcohol, and teen sex in a time when that wasn't commonplace on television. Mrs. Garrett didn't hide from these issues. She addressed them, helped people through their struggles and went on with life. A problem wasn't the end of the world.
While your business shouldn't be addressing anything about your employees' sex lives, you will have things that come at you that are complicated and unpleasant and may cause disruption. Good managers are like Mrs. Garrett--they tackle problems head-on and don't wait for someone else to solve them.
Mrs. Garrett cared about her girls
The four girls worked for Mrs. Garrett because they had stolen and crashed the school's van (and later, because they damaged a floor), which could have set the relationship up as adversarial. But, she genuinely cared about these people.
Good managers care--they don't invade personal lives like a housemother would, but they care. That means they understand when you're going through something difficult and give you space. They help develop you so you can move on to the next thing. They expect you to learn and grow and help you to do so.
Charlotte Rae was nominated for an Emmy in her role as Mrs. Garrett, and for two Tonys for Broadway roles. She was a hardworking actress, but she also created a character who was an excellent model not only for teenage girls but for managers as well. We'd all be a little bit better off with a Mrs. Garrett in our lives.