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.