Don Draper's guide to being a good boss

First things first, can we please reflect for a moment on how absolutely phenomenal Sunday's episode of "Mad Men" was? Yes, we all know that I'm obsessed with the show, but objectively speaking, this might have been the best episode of the series to date.

So, this is a little later than usual because of the holiday and a day off for me, but finally here it is. First things first, can we please reflect for a moment on how absolutely phenomenal Sunday's episode of Mad Men was? Yes, we all know that I'm obsessed with the show, but objectively speaking, this may have been the best episode of the series to date. There were so many brilliant moments (Roger Sterling had an affair with Bert Cooper's former, and Don's current, secretary Ida Blakenship! Bert was mistakenly castrated! ). Much of it was devoted to Don and Peggy's relationship and subsequently it had so much insight to offer about agency politics and the mentor/mentee relationship.

Peggy and Don's relationship has always been an interesting, and complicated, one, partly because she began her career as Don's secretary. Though Joan comes off as the modern one, it is Peggy who is the embodiment of the Betty Friedan-inspired woman of the 1960s, one who struggles with what she thinks she's supposed to be and what she wants to be. As she told Don, “I know what I'm supposed to want, but it never feels right—or as important as anything in that office.” It's an issue that many women, no matter what the work setting, struggle with: how to balance being a successful businesswoman while fulfilling the traditional roles of wife and mother. I had a conversation recently with a very senior female PR executive who said it was something she believed PRWeek needed to address. She pointed out that our monthly “Habits” section often features young men  whose morning routing involves waking up at 5am and running six miles, not having to get their children dressed, fed, and off to daycare or school before work.  (Certainly men have these duties too, but more often than not, this does fall to women. I'm happy to be proven wrong though—please comment.) So, this month, we featured Roxana Lissa, CEO and founder of RLPR, a working mother of two young children.

Back to Mad Men though. The episode was set against the backdrop of the famous boxing match between Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay (right when he was changing his name to Mohammed Ali) and the theme of heavyweights and indestructible carried throughout the episode, most blatantly in what the team was trying to convey in their pitch for the Samsonite client—and most important, Don. Unimpressed by their first attempt at a commercial concept, one that featured still-unknown New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, Don scoffed, “Endorsements are lazy” and sent them back to the drawing board. Indeed, Don Draper was ahead of his time, as I thought the use of celebrities in campaigns has only recently been questioned.

The real meat of the episode came during the scenes only between Don and Peggy, after she had basically chosen her career over her (seriously lame) boyfriend and birthday dinner. Finally, Peggy unleashed her anger at Don for “stealing” her idea for the Glo-Coat commercial that won him a Clio . As he told her though,“There is no idea. Everything that comes through here belongs to the agency.” And nothing could be more true. In any creative industry, your employer owns any work you produce. And bosses often bask in the glory of work that their employees carry out. It might be unfair, but it's just the way it is. 

Peggy's confrontation with Don over him taking her idea without giving her credit led to perhaps the best exchange of the episode:

“It's your job. I give you money, you give me ideas,” Don said.

“You never say thank you,” Peggy shot back.  

“That's what the money is for!” Don bellowed. “You're young; you will get your recognition. And honestly, it is absolutely ridiculous to be two years into your career and counting your ideas. 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.”

Wow. We know that Don is an egomaniac, but comparing himself to Jesus Christ? That takes it to a whole other level. What this brings up though is something I've spoken about with many agency CEOs and even Gen Xers like myself since the Millennials came into the workforce: why on earth do younger staffers act so damn entitled? Clearly Peggy is not a Millennial, but she certainly had the wrong expectations about what it meant to pay her dues. So, was Don right to give her the verbal smackdown? I would love to hear your thoughts. How do you mentor young talent? Until next week…

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