9 Leadership Lessons From Don Draper To Be A Better Leader

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Don Draper’s entire character on Mad Men is one big exercise on how to become an inspiring leader. Here are some leadership lessons you can learn from him.

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In this article:

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  1. Be Authentic
  2. Stand Out
  3. Keep the Sense of Entitlement in Check
  4. Show that You Care
  5. Create Your Own Opportunities
  6. Stand Up for What You Believe In
  7. Keep it Simple, but Significant
  8. Embrace Change
  9. Share (and Believe In) Your Vision

Leadership Development | 9 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn from Don Draper

1. Be Authentic

One of the most important leadership skills you must remember is to always be authentic. Don Draper didn’t care what other people think of him, whether at work or outside of it, which gave him the license to be the most honest version of himself.

Ironically, if you’re trying to be authentic, you’re not being authentic at all. Just be yourself and keep the values you hold dearly very close.

Being respected for who you really are is so much better than being liked for someone you’re not, especially for those in leadership roles.

2. Stand Out

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Entrepreneurs like Sara Blakely or Jeff Bezos didn’t become successful business leaders by doing what everyone else did and simply copying other people’s leadership styles. They became this way because they’re not afraid to push the boundaries.

Go where not a lot of people will go. Don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer and create your own path.

Success comes from standing out — not fitting in. If there doesn’t seem an opportunity for you to succeed, just believe in your vision, then create your own path to success.

3. Keep the Sense of Entitlement in Check

You’re not owed anything. Not the corner office, nor the bigger paycheck, not even better clients.

Complaining about everything is the most draining of activities there is. You end up becoming bitter when other people get perks and privileges.

No leader succeeds by complaining all the time. It’s time to channel that energy to doing something about it.

Build your own leadership style and your own strategy. Use it and give yourself permission to speak about solutions.

4. Show that You Care

Whether you’re a leader of a small team or the CEO of an entire company, you must find ways to show your subordinates you care for them as individuals who have their own life to live before you care for them as employees. This is one of those leadership lessons people tend to learn the hard way.

The moment you stop caring, others stop caring about you, and they’ll look for a leader who will do just that. Create a culture of compassion in your workplace to avoid losing good talent.

Don’t even think about faking it. People can and will be able to see right through you and you then end up losing their trust.

5. Create Your Own Opportunities

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Did you know that 20% of the seeds you plant result in 80% of the flowers that bloom?

Nobody hands success to anyone on a silver platter. It’s your responsibility to go out and grab those opportunities.

Your mind’s excuses (“I don’t have time!”) and the naysayers (“That would never work”) will hover over you, but you find a way to shut them out. Try immediately, fail as early in the game as you can, and keep the momentum for the things that do work for you.

If the usual route isn’t possible, be creative. Do things yourself or enlist the help of people with the resources you need.

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6. Stand Up for What You Believe In

You’re a weak leader if you’re someone’s Yes-Man (or Yes-Woman) even when you know deep down that something’s not right. You’re a good leader if to stand up for yourself and what you believe in.

Finally, you’re a great leader if you have the ability to motivate and inspire your teammates to also become leaders in their own right.

Set values and beliefs that’ll allow you to make sound decisions and to say no when things aren’t right. Otherwise, you become easily swayed with public opinion and lose everyone’s respect in the process.

7. Keep it Simple, but Significant

One important lesson in leadership is, when talking about anything, keep it simple and straight to the point. This goes double for any hard conversations you need to start (like if you have to let someone go).

Just think about the concept behind the “elevator pitch.” It’s named as such because, if you’re an entrepreneur, you need to explain your business for just as long as an elevator ride takes.

8. Embrace Change

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People are afraid of change and fight with all their energy to avoid it. Fighting things you can’t control saps you dry.

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You have four aspects of yourself that require constant care and nourishment: the physical, emotional, creative, and spiritual. Take care of all that and go where change takes you.

9. Share (and Believe In) Your Vision

Great leaders are successful not because they’re the best in their field, but because they believe so strongly in their vision that their passion catches on to others.

That’s exactly what Don Draper did. He sold a vision of his ideal world and people ate it up.

If you don’t believe in your own leadership style, others won’t believe you either and they’ll walk away in droves. At the end of the day, the hardest of lessons that you need to learn is that you must live with the reality that you don’t always know what to expect.

Have you had an experience where you worked with an inspiring leader? What lessons in leadership did you learn? Let us know in the comments below.

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