What Don Draper Can Teach President Obama

Don Draper is back (after a long hiatus), and he’s ready to teach lessons. For those of you who watch the AMC hit show Mad Men, you know Don Draper isn’t your average protagonist. He’s complex, dark and he blurs the lines of good and bad, right and wrong. At some points, he’s almost a villain, but to me, he’s a teacher.

Though the show takes place in the 1960s, Draper teaches lessons for today, and more importantly, he teaches lessons that our own President Obama can learn. First off, what do Draper and Obama have in common?

Both are unlikely success stories.

Both are unlikely leaders.

Both are not easily understood.

What I believe Draper can most teach Obama is how to stand his ground. Many voters elected Obama, as if he was Jesus Christ coming to save us all, but in reality, he’s a person. Yet a person can wield power and influence if asserted in the right way. After nearly four years in office, Obama has proven that even the president of the United States can be steamrolled by his own party.

Don Draper would never allow that.

His colleagues fear him a bit (sometimes a good thing), and they know who is boss. Draper tells them what to do and how to do it, especially since he’s the talent behind the company. Even when a very rich client demands that she is right in keeping the tainted name of her dog food brand, Draper tells her any ad agency who agrees to her bad decision is stealing her money. And she leaves.

Sometimes Obama needs to stand up to the rich client.

Draper is also innovative. He shows his innovation by going against the grain and refusing to write ads for the tobacco companies. In the 60s, it was all about smoking, so to not advertise for it, you’re a freak. But an innovative freak. And Draper’s bold moves pay off as season four closes with a client who wants an anti-smoking campaign. As Draper’s colleague Peggy says, “If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation.”

Can Obama change the conversation? If he’s elected for the next four years, will he become the unlikely leader, innovator and presidential success story many Americans have hoped for?

I’m not sure. But I am sure that Don Draper will continue to lead, surprise and succeed in this next season of Mad Men, and I’m curious to see what new lessons we can all learn from him.

~ Jennifer Ciotta, author of I, Putin


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