I recently finished watching the TV show Mad Men on Netflix. It’s a popular TV series that seemingly everyone had seen except me. Throughout the seven seasons of the show I had plenty of opportunities to analyze the leaders of the different advertising companies I, the viewer, came to see. There were a multitude of personalities and leadership styles and oftentimes they didn’t work very well together. The show is set in the 1960s and 1970s. What I found really interesting is that despite the fact that times have changed (we no longer drink whiskey throughout the work day while smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes), leaders’ personality traits and leadership styles haven’t changed much. For example, one of the characters is Pete Campbell who starts out as a copywriter and is eventually made a partner. Throughout the series, Campbell’s poor attitude cost him many opportunities and eventually his marriage. In this course we learned that there are six dark personality traits; Campbell consistently exhibited five of them. He was argumentative, highly sensitive to criticism, extremely narcissistic and thought he deserved clients and promotions ahead of others, he was impulsive and made terrible, rash decisions all the time, and he was very inflexible. He was one of the characters that I disliked from the beginning until the very end of the show because he was unable to adapt to the changing situations. He always looked for ways to help himself with no regard for others. He was hurtful towards his loved ones and colleagues and retaliated when he felt that he had been wronged.
On the other hand, my favorite character and leader was Roger Sterling. Though flawed in his personal life choices, he cared for the people who worked for him. Anyone could walk into his office and tell him what was going on and he would offer them a drink, advice, and oftentimes the cold, hard truth. In Lesson 5, we learned about Style and Situational Approaches. Sterling’s style was task-oriented when necessary but mostly relationship-oriented. He was well-liked because of his personality and supportive behaviors but also respected for his work (directive behaviors). Of course, as always, there were a few people who were not his biggest fans but that is to be expected considering he inherited his partnership in the company from his father. Many of his subordinates were at developmental levels D3 and D4. Throughout the show, people changed positions due to promotions, mergers, expansions, etc. but each time something changed, Sterling was available and ready to support his team. His ability to handle change was a great example of the Situational Approach. I chose to write about Sterling because one of the biggest strengths of this approach is the leader’s ability to be flexible and that is exactly what I saw as a viewer. Additionally, this approach allows for subordinates to be treated differently based on the task at hand. Sterling was great at leveling with each of his partners and employees in a way that was meaningful to the recipient.
Overall, the show was tough to watch at first because women and people of color were not appreciated, rewarded, nor encouraged to succeed in the workplace. Some of the lifestyle choices that the characters made were also hard to stomach but I attributed that to the era. However, I must say that I was happy to see the progress that the characters made. One of the female leads, Joan Harris, started off as a secretary and at the end of the show, she had left her job and partnership in a huge advertising firm to pursue a self-started career as a producer. She had exceptional organizational skills and displayed a multitude of positive leadership traits, including developing other employees, having integrity, and having an achievement-oriented leadership style that was highly favorable among others.
If I could choose someone to work with and work for, I would choose Roger Sterling every time. I can appreciate someone who knows they have flaws but will do whatever it takes to help you achieve your personal and professional goals.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2020). PSYCH 485 Lesson 2: Trait Approach. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2040131/modules/items/28001669
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2020). PSYCH 485 Lesson 5: Style and Situational Approaches. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2040131/modules/items/28001726