Mad Men’s recent business lesson in loyalty

If you’re a fan of the AMC hit series, seeing ‘Mad Men’ and ‘loyalty’ put together might seem
confusing. After all, protagonist Don Draper is about as un-loyal as one can get as a husband. But, lucky for Don, this isn’t a relationship blog as we’re purely focused on leadership and management, and despite his many flaws, there are lessons that can be learned from this fictional character.

Take for instance, Season 6, Episode 3: “The Collaborators.” In the episode, one of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s major clients, Heinz Beans, sets up a meeting between the agency and Heinz Ketchup. Heinz Beans is a pretty important client because the company decided to work with the agency when it was struggling.

This meeting with Heinz Ketchup fueled excitement as worker even called the company the “Coca-Cola of condiments.” After the meeting, Heinz Beans demanded that the agency stay away from the ketchup account due to insecurity and jealousy.
While others in the agency thought this was ridiculous and still wanted to pursue the account, Draper, fully aware of how Heinz Beans helped the business stay afloat, took a loyalty stand and said, “Sometimes you’ve got to dance with the one who brung ya.”

While it’s interesting that Don preaches loyalty in business, even though he doesn’t apply the same lesson in his personal life, the takeaway is that loyalty is an admirable trait. It can also be directly related to trustworthiness and integrity, which is one of the most important attributes of an effective leader.

Whether it’s dealing with clients or a group of direct reports, part of your success as a leader centers on whether people perceive you as a trustworthy person with high integrity.

When you gain the trust of others, people will expect that you will do what you say will do, make ethical decisions, and can be counted on to display integrity in all that you do. You might not always make decisions that people agree with, but when it comes down to it, people will respect you for being fair and objective and demonstrating a commitment to fairness.

Now if you are not perceived as trustworthy, that’s a crucial problem. For instance, even if at the time you thought it was just minor, small deviations from complete honesty and integrity are often magnified and remembered for a long time. You must make a concentrated effort to operate with acceptable ethics. After all, trust is hard to establish and easy to lose.

While at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce their solution to any issue is some sort of brown liquor, here’s some advice that doesn’t require liquid courage:

  • Do not promise or commit (including to deadlines) unless you will be able to honor the commitment. Consistently follow through on commitments.If you have lost trust and do not know what you did, ask.
  • Listen carefully to what is said, without arguing or trying to defend yourself. After you fully understand what you did that came across in a way you did not intend, you can begin to develop a strategy to make it right.
  • Don’t give tough messages or express negative emotions via e-mail or voice mail.
  • Make sure your message is consistent. Avoid saying different things to different audiences.
  • Don’t promise confidentiality if you aren’t certain you can or should keep the information private.

Since we don’t what the show writers have up their sleeves, time will tell whether Draper will remain loyal to Heinz Beans. But when it comes to operating your own business, make sure you demonstrate a commitment to fairness at all times.

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