5 Ways You Shouldn’t Manage Like Don Draper

Alexander Huls

Don Draper is many things – talented, well-dressed, and yes, good looking. There’s one thing he’s not though: a good manager. Let’s face it, he’d be a nightmare to work for.

He’s temperamental, often vicious in his criticism, and kind of not at work 50% of the time. Don’s poor managerial skills, however, do have one benefit: they provide a pretty handy list of Don’ts for all you small business owners out there with employees. Here are five of the most valuable lessons on what not to do that you can learn from Don Draper.

1. Don’t Throw Money In Your Employees’ Faces

There’s a scene in Mad Men when Peggy Olsen points out that Don never says, “Thank you” to her for her work. Don snaps back: “That’s what the money is for.” There’s a lot of reasons that’s a bad thing for a manager to be saying, but here’s a big one: don’t ever figuratively (literally is a bad idea too) throw the money you pay your employees in their face. That’s true for many contexts, but especially if someone is looking for your approval. An employee’s salary is not an implied “Thank you.”

Surveys find again and again that money doesn’t rank as high as you’d think when it comes to career satisfaction, so thinking that’s all your employees care about is a bad mistake. Money is not the reward your workers are looking for. The satisfaction of knowing they’re doing good work for you is.

2. Don’t Reject (Or Steal) an Employee’s Idea Because You Need an Ego Boost

There’s a point in Mad Men when Don goes through a creative slump. He pulls himself out of in the worst way possible. In one case, he steals an idea from Ginsberg, his copywriter, and sells it to a client. In another case, he goes into a client meeting with two ideas – one his, one Ginsberg’s – and only pitches his own so he gets the satisfaction of success. All because of his ego. Something that has no place in managing. It is poisonous to your work environment and employees’ morale. Especially if your ego sees you sabotage employees’ work so that you can enjoy all the glory.

3. Don’t Let Emotions Influence Your Managing

There’s a lot of turbulence in Don Draper’s personal life –drinking, parenting, secret identities, rocky marriages (and divorces). That’s a lot of emotions at any given time. Emotions he – unfortunately for his employees – never keeps contained. Over Mad Men’s seven seasons, Don has again and again let what’s affecting him out of the office bleed into his managing – usually in the form of lashing out at his employees. Yes, we’re all human and emotions can be hard to bury. But a good manager does their best to ensure their personal life doesn’t find its way into their work life and how they treat their employees. You should do likewise.

4. Don’t Create a Culture of Fear

Every time one of Don’s employees goes into his office to have work approved, I tense up. Why? Because Don so often manages with his temper and a lack of delicacy, that I’m afraid of him. And I’m not even in the show. Don’s curt, dismissive, impatient, and sometimes cruel treatment of his employees results in the worst thing a manager can do: create a culture of fear and rejection. Your employees should never be afraid of you. If they are – for whatever reason – that will detrimentally affect your bottom-line. You’ll see higher rates of turnover (see: Peggy quitting in Season 5) because no one will want to work in the environment you’ve created. You’ll see lower quality work because a culture of fear demoralizes and sabotages. Thankfully there’s a pretty easy way to avoid Don Draper’s Culture of Fear. A way he himself, yet again, provides a lesson for…

5. Don’t Forget to Praise

Good managers need to do something that Don rarely does: encourage their employees. If a manager never praises, employees won’t just feel unappreciated, they’ll doubt their work and their abilities. That will impact what they do and can easily result in employees just plain giving up – either out of resentment or defeat. After all, why bother working hard if you’re never getting positive assurance that your work is good? So, praise your employees. Don’t create an echo chamber of constant doubt and negativity. Inspire your workers by letting them know they’re inspiring.

Next Steps:  Are you looking to manage your employees more effectively but don’t have time to keep up with the latest research and trends in talent management? We’ve got you covered with the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter. Sign up today and start receiving the weekly newsletter chock full of the latest tools and resources to help you run a successful business.

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