There are so many great TV shows and movies set in offices, but I personally think Mad Men is the best. Even though it takes place half a century ago, there are so many relevant lessons I’ve learned by watching this show.
I know it’s been months since the finale, but the show really resonated with me and I’ve still got so many of those scenes and plot points etched in my memory. So here’s an entertaining take on my favorite career lessons from the show. Enjoy!
1. Believe in your talents
Don Draper knew he was good. He also had presence. He just oozed confidence, competency, and self-assurance. That being said, even though he was a train wreck much of the time, he still delivered the goods when needed. He knew his worth and he never let anyone mess with that.
2. Ask for what you want
Peggy was an awesome character because she rose through the ranks by being persistent and damn good. That being said, she still often got the shaft, being a non-college educated, female ex-secretary in the 1960’s Ad World. However, to Peggy’s credit, she realized early on that nobody was going to give her what she deserved and that she had to ask for it. This clip is just one example of this.
BTW: notice how Roger calls her aggressive and her immediate reaction is to apologize? Why do we women do that, even still today! Ughhh…
3. Selling is all about story-telling and evoking emotions
Don Draper was the master pitcher. Though he was the Creative Director behind many of the companies best ideas (Coca-Cola anyone?), arguably more importantly he knew how to sell those ideas. At the end of the day, your business needs to sell something in order to survive and flourish. If you can make those sales, you will be all the more valued for it.
Check out my favorite scene below from Don’s Kodak pitch and you’ll see what I mean regarding the value of the story and the sale.
4. Mentors are SO important
As I look back at what a womanizer and relatively cold person Don Draper was, I think it’s so weird that he did decide to take Peggy under his wing. They had this unspoken bond and even though she was clearly great at her job, she would have NEVER gotten to where she was without Don. Although they probably weren’t talking about “Lean In” back in those days, you can tell that even back then, having a mentor is crucial to your success.
So do yourself a favor and network at your company or in your industry. Develop a relationship with someone successful that can turn into a mentorship. It’s so critical. Believe me.
5. Know when to shut up and be grateful
Asking for what you want is a necessity, but you have to know how to strike that balance with humbleness. Remember, at the end of the day everyone is replaceable. Even Don knew that. Yes, stand up for what you deserve when you do good work but don’t forget to show gratitude for what you have and know when to put the breaks on, shut your mouth and go heads down to get the job done.
From Don himself:
“Everything to you is an opportunity. And you should be thanking me every morning when you wake up along with Jesus for giving you another day”
6. A little rule-breaking never hurt anyone
Remember Don’s backstory? No College degree, raised by a prostitute, took a war buddy’s identity. But he wanted a better life and knew he couldn’t get there with the cards that were dealt him. So he changed his story.
Though we don’t have to go to quite such extremes today, the lesson is still there: Write your own story, don’t let your past or your present circumstances pre-determine your future accomplishments.
7. Women, minorities, gays (basically anyone that is underrepresented in the leadership ranks) need to help one another.
Being a female, I love the powerful scenes between Peggy and Joan. In the beginning, Joan gave Peggy a hard time. But as the years went on, there was this unspoken respect between the two of them. They had each other’s backs, and they helped one another play the “corporate game”. Now this scene probably isn’t the best to highlight that, but it shows the nuances of how to play the game well when the deck is stacked against you. Peggy messed up and Joan, who’s been at it much longer, taught her a lesson or two.
8. It’s okay to make a change and move on.
Sometimes another opportunity comes along and we are hesitant to make a change. Either because of loyalty or because of pure inertia- it’s so easy to stay in one spot and be comfortable. But always remember, we grow the most when we step outside our comfort zones. Change is inevitable, and change is okay. In the clip below, Peggy has the hard conversation with Don where she needs to cut the cord.
9. Don’t %&*! where you eat!
Don Draper and nearly every female that came through the office. Roger Sterling & Joan. Peggy & Pete. It’s always a bad idea. Well….except for the case of Peggy & Stan, so let’s close with a nice one 🙂