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Peter Hart

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is chairman of Hart Research, a firm that does the public opinion polling for NBC/Wall Street Journal.

The 'Mad Women' are the show's exemplars

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 is a mess. His agency is a mess. His personal life and values are a mess, and his sense of leadership has all the sensitivity and steadiness of an active volcano. His special quality of creativity may be enough to land business and help sell products, but it is hardly the glue that makes this a strongly and well functioning agency.

Having started a polling firm almost forty years ago, I have seen many brilliant and charismatic leaders in politics and consulting rise like shooting stars and be hailed and publicized, but in the end flame out and disappear. You can dress him up as a father in one episode and have him get in touch with his new "inner self," but as a leader he fails. There is leadership to be found on Mad Men--it is Joan who runs the office with basic good values and a lot of moxie, using both terror and tenderness to keep the firm functioning. She is the glue for the show and the firm. On the home front, there is leadership--it is Carla, the housekeeper, who knows, cares and understands the kids and brings a wise perspective to life.

It is not Don Draper we should be casting as the leader, but it is the steady, wise women of the sixties who provided the basis for the civil rights and women's movements.

By Peter Hart

 |  October 18, 2010; 11:34 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: What Don Draper gets wrong | Next: In both drama and leadership, character is action


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Mad Men is one of the few shows that has enough meat for discussion. Draper is a man of his times, and so are the women. There is no real leadership as we think of it today. No discussions about values and vision or social responsibility. There may have been those who cared about a more just and fair society, however, work was a place to..well work!
The elephants that were in organizations were well concealed.Even today mostly people still respond with superficial conversations,and rarely ask deeper questions.Folks still go behind closed doors to say "Do you really believe THAT!" (like when Draper announced his engagement).
The hypothesis in "Don't Bring It to Work" is that when stress hits the hot button at work we all tend to revert to patterns we learned as children for protection and survival.It was in this original organization, the family, that we learned about favoritism, fairness, betrayal, respect, etc. This is what we bring into the workplace. Draper and the rest of the characters in this excellent drama are showing us our own vulnerabilities.
The women at work look somewhat different than today, yet the interplay of men and women still seems familiar. Also familiar is the look of those in charge, the scent of power seems to be the same over the decades.
I'd love to see a drama about the transforming workplace of this decade where issues about fairness, favoritism, betrayal, and respect are discussed in depth. Maybe Mad Men is getting us ready for that.
Sylvia Lafair

Posted by: sylvia8 | October 18, 2010 4:27 PM
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I think she spells her name wrong:

But that's my type'o typo...


Posted by: jgravelle | October 18, 2010 1:32 PM
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