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George Reed

George Reed

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, George Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership Studies within the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego.

Is Don Draper a leader? Maybe. A good leader? No.

Q: In the hit TV show "Mad Men," which ended its season Sunday, Don Draper becomes the de facto leader of the fictional ad agency, despite his cool detachment, his brusque manner and his brutal honesty. He follows the old adage that it is better to be feared and respected than liked, but he's also fiercely loyal to people who do good work. Does Don Draper pass the leadership test?

Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is a wonderfully complex character, as are many in the popular series Mad Men. There is just enough caricature for the viewers to think they know the characters at first glance, but there is usually much more beneath the surface. Such rich character development is one of the reasons for the show's continued success. Draper has some traits that are a definite advantage in authoritative roles. He is intelligent, composed, tall, handsome and well spoken. Men want to be him and women want to be with him. He fits some preconceived notions about what a leader looks and acts like. However, not all people who have such traits are successful in leading others, and we can think of many successful leaders who lack such helpful characteristics. This suggests that we must move beyond traits and characteristics as predictors of effective leadership.

Draper seems to have a way with people. He has a deep insight into the motivations of others that makes him an effective advertising executive and leader of a creative team. Perhaps most importantly, he consistently achieves results. His track record of success in bringing business to the company and prosperity to his team has established a reservoir of good will. This reservoir keeps him in good graces despite some notable flaws. If we define leadership merely as the ability to influence others, then Don Draper is surely a leader. Shouldn't we also ask whether Draper is a good leader? To what end is Draper using his influence?

Draper seems to have an astounding ability to ignore the consequences of his behavior. A lack of moral imagination and stunted sense of right and wrong seems to insulate him from the implications of his actions. He knowingly advertises for harmful products, lives a life built upon a foundation of deceit, and is both sexually indulgent and emotionally distant. He has a short-term perspective that seems to work in some ways, yet it is hardly admirable. Draper gets the job done, but that just isn't enough for good leadership. It is also important to assess whether the job itself is morally justifiable and secondly whether the job is being accomplished in an ethical manner. I'm fond of saying that the best leaders "do the right things for the right reasons." Don Draper fails on both counts.

By George Reed

 |  October 18, 2010; 9:39 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities , Leadership weaknesses , Pop culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Short-term vs long-term success | Next: Draper's search for identity

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