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Doug Guthrie
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Doug Guthrie

Doug Guthrie is an expert in the fields of management, economic reform in China, leadership and corporate governance, and dean of the School of Business at George Washington University.

What Don Draper gets wrong

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 has a few things right: it is actually a huge weakness when leaders focus, either consciously or unconsciously, on being liked. It is impossible to please everyone, and sometimes difficult decisions need to be made that will hurt individuals in service of the greater good and the overall organizational interests. Good leaders must always place the interests of the organization first, and too great a focus on being liked can get in the way of this necessity. And fierce loyalty and brutal honesty: these are good qualities that will help employees and a workplace thrive (the latter, which can be painful at times, is necessary for healthy, transparent feedback).

But the old adage that it is better to be feared and respected than liked is lazy. All of the above can be carried out with compassion, and too often leaders seem to fall into a sadistic pattern of enjoying the power that comes with being feared.

In recent years, I have had the privilege of getting to know a real-life Mad Man who rose to prominence during that era--Keith Reinhard, CEO emeritus of DDB Worldwide and one of the architects of Omnicom, the first of the publicly traded ad networks that now dominate the industry. Although Don Draper is based on Draper Daniels, the creative head of Leo Burnett (creator of such iconographic ads as the Marlboro Man), Reinhard had an equally storied career. But what is most remarkable about Reinhard's career is how he led with compassion and humility. He often talks about leading DDB with "Four Freedoms": "Freedom from Fear," "Freedom to Fail," "Freedom from Chaos," and "Freedom to Be." Everyone knew he was the greatest creative in the room, but as he rose to CEO and built DDB Worldwide and Omnicom Group, he led with humility and compassion rarely seen in C-Suite.

Don Draper might be right that it is better to be respected than liked, but for the best leaders, fear has no place in a healthy organization.

By Doug Guthrie

 |  October 18, 2010; 9:55 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: Draper's search for identity | Next: The 'Mad Women' are the show's exemplars

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Excellent post and so very true. No matter where I go in the world, whenever I mention Keith's name, people's faces light up. They admire and respect him of course, but they also so value how he values people. No matter who you are or what your title, Keith listens to you. There is no better Ambassador for the US or the Ad industry than Reinhard.

Keith Reinhard epitomizes what the ad industry used to be famous for: leadership, vision, creativity, passion, and purpose.

Here's hoping there's a new generation of Mad Men like Keith to come.

Posted by: CariGuittard | October 19, 2010 3:05 PM
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