As the hit TV show Mad Men comes to an end, here is a look back at some of the more memorable and inspirational quotes that come from the show’s main character Don Draper. Sure, Don has issues with adultery, alcohol, and his own identity. So, yeah, on a personal level, he’s basically morally corrupt. But as a business leader, he’s actually quite successful. Just look at the team he has developed over the years—particularly up-and-coming star writer Peggy Olson. As displayed in her character’s growth throughout the show, one of Don’s skills is to see talent and help it develop to its potential. Plus he can also incite (in a good way) and inspire his team.
Just take a look at a few of his more memorable quotes:
“If you do not like what’s being said, then change the conversation.” (Season 3, episode 2) This is a recurring message throughout the show, and Don uses the line often. The best part is that, as a metaphor, it works on a number of levels. It says that, as leaders of business or leaders of people, managers should continually assess the buzz about their brand, their company, or their people. And they should be savvy enough to know when something needs to be changed and how to change it, whether it’s reputation or direction.
“Let’s also say that change is neither good nor bad. It simply is.” (Season 3, episode 2) In business, change is, as they say, the only constant. Some people—and some companies—are better at handling it than others; no matter what, though, everyone would do well to figure out how to roll with it. And one way to be more flexible and to adapt better to change is to admit that, well, it simply is.
“You’re happy because you’re successful—for now. But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” (Season 5, episode 12) A good leader knows that, to be truly successful, individuals and companies can’t just rest on their laurels. To do that is to be complacent, and to be complacent is to lose ground. Good leaders prompt their teams to believe that, from one goal springs another, and one success demands the next.
“I have a life, and it goes in only one direction: forward.” (Season 1, episode 5) Don uses this line to describe his personal life, but it actually works for the business world as well. When things fail, when people make mistakes, when something goes against the plan, or when something is lost, it would be easy for a company or a team or an individual to focus on the negative. But by constantly trying to move forward, constantly learning from the mistake or the failure, people and companies can actually thrive and move to where they want and need to be in terms of their own success.
Though an unlikely hero on the surface, the personally flawed Don Draper turns out to be a visionary when it comes to leadership. And through that dichotomy, companies and managers can learn some great business lessons.