Leadership Lessons from “Mad Men”

Even if you’re not a top-level executive who once stole a deceased man’s identity to build a new life for yourself, you can likely relate to at least one character in "Mad Men" or at least the hit show’s fictional advertising firm. As this season wrapped up, Fast Company gleaned some leadership lessons from the program’s key characters. Here’s an example:

Roger Sterling, Jr. – Sr. Partner, Head of Accounts

The best that can be said of Roger’s work this year is that he managed to avoid having a third heart attack. It wasn’t entirely his fault that the company lost Lucky Strike, which accounted for more than two-thirds of its billings. But Roger committed a grave leadership sin when he decided to keep the bad news to himself, let the other partners learn about it via the Mad Ave grapevine — then lied about flying down to Raleigh to patch things up.

Roger has been distracted and petulant, focused more on his memoirs and his disastrous affair with Joan than the account which was, so far as we can tell, his sole responsibility. Let’s not even mention the racist outburst that nearly scuppered the company’s chance at the Honda account. Had he not been so entitled, he might have seen that American Tobacco was bound to consolidate its accounts over at BBDO someday. The most damning judgment on Roger came from his old partner Bert: “You didn’t take yourself seriously, so neither did they.”

LESSON: No matter how bad the news is, share it with your fellow leaders. They can handle it better than you alone.

A Few of the ‘Cool’ Workplaces

Telling stories is simply cool. I’ve been doing it for more than 25 years (must have started when I was age 7, right?), first for newspapers and now in our BizVoice magazine, among other forums. Some of the leading stories each year emerge from our Best Places to Work in Indiana program.

I made three road trips this time around. Below is a quick takeaway from each visit and a link to the full stories, where you can find out more about a trio of the 70 companies recently honored for having workplaces that many of their employees think are also really cool.

  • Energy Systems Group in Newburgh: Company president Jim Adams didn’t even know his HR department had registered to participate in the program for the first time, a true sign that authority and decision-making are diversified and not driven from the top down. And you’ll want to learn how humor is incorporated into presentations at the annual company meeting.
  • Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company of Fort Wayne: This quote from chairman and president Mark Robison says it all. "If we’re just an insurance company insuring churches, what difference are we? We’re paid by the tithings of someone else — parishoners and church-goers. Their sacrificial gift allows me to have a job. We have to make sure we’re worthy of that sacrificial gift."
  • Draper Inc. in Spiceland (that’s just south of New Castle on State Road 3): No layoffs in more than 108 years for one of the few manufacturers on the list. Family and community are more than just words for this organization. A health care clinic and wellness park are among the benefits.