Never Let Them See You Sweat

May 13, 2013
Don Draper of Mad Men

Last night’s Mad Men episode, aptly titled Man with a Plan was all about control. Don Draper added a new layer to his enigmatic character showing a penchant for sexual dominance with his mistress Sylvia. He also puzzled and out-maneuvered Ted by drinking him under the table in front of their direct reports, the creative team, presumably in an effort to undermine and erode his likable peer’s credibility. It would seem though that the man with the plan in this episode is Ted, who has been instructed by his cancer stricken friend and mentor to “give Don the early rounds.” He takes control back at the end of the episode by flying a plane with Don to upstate New York during a rain storm that clearly rattles Don’s cage and helps Ted reassert himself as a viable, cagey foe to Draper. Dominance is largely about perception. Confidence is the nucleus to establishing control and it will be interesting to see who blinks first. This week’s business lesson from Mad Men is never let them see you sweat.

A Confidence Game

The Harvard Business Review (http://blogs.hbr.org/) has a great piece on this very topic in their April 2011 issue. Tony Swartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project says that “confidence equals security equals positive emotion equals better performance.” In his book Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live, Swartz says that insecurity is still a fundamental characteristic of everyone he’s met. The blog goes on to discuss the importance of having confidence, showing it and overcoming self-doubt. Clearly the characters in Mad Men responsible for winning and executing good ad campaigns bring specific insights and expertise that, if they collaborate, would be a killer combination. However, the egos and politics of SCDP, not unlike many companies in the real world, require first that you sell your ability before you can apply it.

Overplaying Your Hand

Big Omaha wrapped up this week (http://www.bigomaha.com/) and we’ll have more on that soon. One of the pitfalls that many of the speakers, most of whom were accomplished business owners and financiers said that put business in danger was hubris. It is a distraction. Last night Don overplayed his domineering hand with Sylvia. He also provoked Ted into taking recourse and possibly a competition that could hurt him and the business. Confidence should be followed by action and demonstrated in your work. Few people have broad ability scopes but most people are very good at one or two things. Confidence is a function of knowing your skills and leveraging them. Your peers and clients will provide you the support, direction and autonomy if they feel that you have a positive outlook on outcomes and are not easily rattled. As Hunter Thompson said, “…move confidently into their midst.”