Five Leadership Lessons for Women (and Men) From Mad Men

Take away the booze, the smokes, the short skirts, the sexism and discrimination, and there are several leadership lessons women (and men) can learn from the popular TV series Mad Men. In case you are not familiar, Mad Men is about the comings and goings at a Madison Avenue advertising agency during the 1960s. Despite the 50-year time lapse between now and then, some things never change.

Here are five timeless lessons:

Remember to pay it forward, Peggy Olson. Peggy would probably still be answering phones and taking dictation if wasn’t for her mentor Don Draper pulling her out the secretarial pool. Yet, like many women in leadership positions today, Peggy doesn’t always pay it forward. According to recent articles, women in the workplace have been increasingly bullying other women in the workplace.

And, Peggy, don’t forget your mentor. Peggy is put in the uncomfortable position of having to manage her mentor, Don Draper. Instead of treating him with respect, she flexes her authoritative muscle and treats him like a junior staff member. With so many millennials taking the workplace by storm, I don’t think this is an unlikely scenario. In fact, I often tell the people I manage that I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I am working for them.

Be unflappable, like Joan Harris. When creative director Lou Avery wants his secretary replaced because she wasn’t at her desk when he needed her to be there (instead she was buying his wife a Valentine’s Day present) and senior partner Bert Cooper gets upset to find that secretary sitting at the reception desk for reasons I won’t get into here, personnel head and account manager Joan Harris doesn’t even break out into a sweat. Instead she makes lemonade out of lemons, and sees an opportunity to reward the secretary that Lou lashed out at. Joan asks the secretary to replace her as personnel head because she is moving upstairs to accounts. Not only is Joan unflappable but she also knows how to pay it forward.

Lead by inspiration, not fear. No one ever feared Don Draper when he was creative director. Instead they were inspired by his work and his ability to pitch even the toughest, most cynical client, and maybe they were a little resentful that he got away with so much – going to movies in the middle of the day, coming in late, leaving early. In contrast, Don’s replacement, Lou Avery, spends all his time reminding the creative team that he is in charge, that he makes the decisions, that he is what stands between them and the weekend. As a result, he doesn’t always get the best work from his creative team.

Be careful what you leave on the printer. As Lou learned the hard way, if you don’t want your coworkers to see it, don’t leave it on the printer. In today’s world, that extends to not tweeting about it or posting it on Facebook.

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