Everybody knows her as the original boss from hell. She is cold, cruel, sarcastic, super demanding—and literally leaves her staff shaking with fear.

Yes, you guessed right. We’re talking about Miranda Priestly, the editor of a fictional fashion magazine in The Devil Wears Prada, whose name has almost become synonymous with horrible bosses. 

When Priestly enters the building, the entire Runway magazine office goes into panic mode: People scramble back to their desks, tidy up their work stations, arrange the magazines on her desk, change into their stilettos, and touch up their lipstick. Who can forget the famous scene where one of her senior staffers opens the door and announces Priestly’s arrival with the iconic line, “All right everyone, gird your loins!” 

Priestly’s character is said to be inspired by the real-life Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Whether that’s true or not, the fact is she is a brutally demanding boss. About everything. From fetching her coffee—“one no-foam skimmed latte with an extra shot and three drip coffees with room for milk”—to the office dress code. 

It’s quite easy to dismiss Priestly as a villain and a horrible boss. But is she really the devil she’s made out to be? Her staff may live in perpetual fear of her, but Priestly is a practitioner of excellence, an excellent editor who holds herself to the highest standards and expects the same from her staff. She is a dominant force in the world of fashion and constantly chasing excellence, a skill that is critical for success at work today.  

Practicing Excellence 

Practicing excellence is one of Harappa's key skills that you need in the workplace today. The world’s best organizations consist of individuals who value this quality which requires you to be the best version of yourself. It involves constant work, sticking to values, and working towards continual improvement. As Greek philosopher Aristotle said, excellence as “not an act but a habit".

And for Miranda Priestly, excellence was a habit.

During the film’s production, the director, David Frankel, told the producer Wendy Finerman he thought the story punished Miranda too much for her flaws as a boss. “My view was that we should be grateful for excellence. Why do the excellent people have to be nice?” he said. 

Good question. Why do they? What matters is that Priestly is simply excellent at what she does. Her pursuit of excellence in each issue of the magazine she edits is motivated by her love for fashion, her unparalleled knowledge of fashion history, and deep understanding of aesthetics. She knows that her job is not just to sell magazines; it is to also sell the clothes featured in the magazines and add value to the brands of the designers who make those clothes.

In a famous scene, her personal assistant, Andrea jokes about how she doesn’t understand “this stuff”, or the clothes that her coworkers obsess over in their pursuit of perfection. 

Miranda then delivers a memorable monologue about the history and use of the color cerulean blue in fashion. “That sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean,” she says, pointing at Andrea’s rumpled sweater. She succeeds in showing Andrea just how influential designers and tastemakers like her are because the choices they make affect everyone in the world, even people like Andrea who consider themselves distanced from high fashion. 

Priestly constantly pushes her employees to do better. While her methods may be questionable, her commitment to bringing out the very best in her juniors and colleagues is undeniable. 

Remember the famous scene in which she presided over a brainstorming session for a forthcoming April issue? She is unimpressed by the suggestions from her team. Someone then suggests a floral theme, and Priestly eviscerates them with that now-famous line, “Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking.”

Courtesy: Vanity Fair

That’s the level of excellence Priestly brings to the table. And that explains why “a million girls would die” for the chance to work with her, as many people tell the fresh-out-of-college Andrea when she lands a job as her assistant. 

Meryl Streep, who played Miranda Priestly, believes that we are all wrong to think of the fashion editor as a bad boss. “With certain professions, you put aside your feeling gene, your tendency to feel the other’s pain, in order to be efficient and get the day’s work done. A certain amount of work has to be achieved during the day, you want a direct order and follow through on that order. There’s that expectation that hurts women more in leadership than it does men,” Streep said in an interview to Vogue magazine.

I first read the book The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger when I was in high school, and watched the film shortly after. I was too young to understand the names of fashion designers and high-end brands, but I do remember understanding that the enormous power Miranda Priestly wielded was not because of her amazing fashion sense or famous friends, but because of her unwavering commitment to excellence at work.

Do you also want to be excellent at what you do? Harappa’s Practicing Excellence course helps you learn how one can actively pursue excellence at work. The difference between excellence and success is that one achieves success by meeting one’s own and others’ expectations, while excellence comes from surpassing expectations. In order to go beyond what is expected, one needs self-governance, self-responsibility, self-belief, and self-knowledge. 

Priestly displays each of these qualities time and again as editor of Runway magazine. And that’s why her magazine is the best selling magazine in its field, and why a million girls would die for a chance to work for her.

Tanvi Khemani is Specialist, Curriculum, at Harappa Education. She is a postgraduate in Media and Cultural Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and enjoys eating street-side chaat and writing fiction.

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