The Don Draper Leadership Academy

While the world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is certainly far removed from today’s business and social realities, each of Mad Men’s characters carry within them certain principles and ideas innate to their identities, especially Donald Draper. On a closer look these can give us important lessons about the challenges that we might face on a regular basis, from dealing with change to handling unruly subordinates.

While Don Draper isn’t exactly the ideal role model, anybody would find it hard to deny the potency of his charisma and his capacity to motivate and inspire his team and colleagues through sheer talent and determination. It is important for an effective business leader to understand the broad operations and processes that drive commerce and create growth. However, being a successful leader, in the HR function or otherwise, requires not only a critical understanding of the basic principles of business best practices, but also a proactive and strategic development of influence over your organisation. So, what can Mr. Draper teach us?

Don Draper drops by to provide a masterclass in Leadership for Qurate readers!
Great Leaders in the 60s did many things to inspire greatness in the people around them. Copious amounts of smoking was, apparently, one of them.
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Be connected to the outside world.

Strong leaders in the field of human resources can understand who the external customer is and how their organization makes money. They try to understand the needs and concerns of the organization’s customer. Donald Draper’s ability to understand the end consumer, their needs and fears, the ‘happiness’ that they seek, all proved to be pivotal to the success of his agency.

Develop a Strategic Perspective

HR is often criticised for being focused on day-to-day operations instead of having a long-term strategic vision. Great HR leaders understand their organisation’s strategy and vision. As a result, they align their projects and initiatives with the needs of the organisation. Strong leaders can communicate how their programs can strengthen the organisation and also play a role in moving the various employees to adapt and upskill. When SCDP’s leaders decided to take the plunge and create their own agency, they took prompt action and designed a strategy to minimise the potential risk that their actions could end up generating.

Managing Change

Let’s also say that change is neither good nor bad. It simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy — a tantrum that says, ‘I want it the way it was,’ or a dance that says ‘Look, something new.’

Mr. Draper is implying here that we should accept change, while at the same time admitting that one way to demonstrate agility and adapt better to change is to understand that, well, it simply is. In today’s business world, change is the only constant. Great HR leaders are continuously learning. They network to gain new ideas and enhance their leadership skills. Excellent leaders also stay aware of the hiring needs of the organisation and pay careful attention to the challenges inherent in the management of a multigenerational workforce. They continuously look for ways to transform their organisation, in step with any changes affecting the relevant industry.

Forward Focused

“I have a life, and it only goes in one direction: forward.”

Don was talking about his personal life when he said this to his brother, but the sentiment rings true when discussing careers, too. Don’s past was bleak at best, but he moved on, took on a new identity, and worked his way up in life and in business. It can be easy to stay stuck in the past, especially if you’ve made a mistake, but to achieve success, you need to keep looking ahead and moving forward. A good leader knows this, and will push others to think about what’s next, instead of dwelling over spilled milk. One of the many ways to put this into effect is to create and sustain an environment that supports and rewards innovative thinking within the framework of the company’s core values.

Seriously. The smoking was out of control back then.

Leadership conferences, mentor groups, networking events — they’re all great sources of inspiration for businesses. But sometimes, the best advice comes from the most unexpected sources, like your favourite TV shows.

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