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10 'Mad Men' Quotes To Live By at Work

Brittney Morgan
Brittney Morgan

Leadership conferences, mentor groups, networking events — they're all great sources of inspiration for businesses.

But sometimes, the best advice comes from the most unexpected sources, like your favorite TV shows.

For example, AMC's "Mad Men" — which profiles the employees of the fictional advertising agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and its creative director, Don Draper — is laced with career and leadership lessons. Of course, businesses today have come a long way since the 1960s, when the hit show takes place, but today's leaders can still learn a lot from it.

Here are 10 quotes from "Mad Men" that define what being a great leader really means.

"If you don't like what is being said, then change the conversation." – Don Draper (Season 3, Episode 2)

This was essentially Don Draper's motto throughout much of the show, and he impressed many clients with this line. The best part is, it can have many meanings and can apply to many different situations. Whether you're trying to improve your business's reputation or you're looking to go in a different direction, it's your job as a leader to recognize what you want to do and make that change.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box.” – Peggy Olson (Season 1, Episode 6)

Peggy Olson started as a secretary at Sterling Cooper, but she quickly worked her way up to be the firm's first female copywriter. This quote was one of the defining moments that led to Peggy's first account, lipstick company Belle Jolie. Not only was it a turning point for her career, but it's also a great way to look at your staff. All employees want to contribute and feel like they matter. Good managers will recognize the individual strengths and weaknesses of their employees, instead of just seeing them as a bunch of cogs in the machine. [What Kind of Leader Are You? 9 Leadership Types and Their Strengths ]

"You’re never gonna get that corner office until you start treating Don as an equal. And no one will tell you this, but you can’t be a man. Don’t even try. Be a woman. Powerful business when done correctly." – Bobbie Barrett (Season 2, Episode 5)

Peggy struggled to find her place as the firm's first and only female copywriter, trying to fit in as one of the boys and doing everything her boss, Don, told her to do without questioning it. Bobbie, the strong-willed manager and wife of comedian Jimmy Barrett (and one of Don's many love interests) gave her this important advice: Don't try to be someone you're not, thinking that's how you'll get ahead. Be yourself and be strong, and your success will mean that much more.

"Let’s also say that change is neither good or bad. It simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy — tantrum that says 'I want it the way it was,' or a dance that says 'Look, something new.'" – Don Draper (Season 3, Episode 2)

Whether you're running a business or moving along your chosen career path, there will always be a lot of changes to face. Don's advice here shows that how those changes affect you depends on your attitude. You can either look forward to the new experiences that come with change, or you can get upset and fight it. To be a great leader, you need to be prepared to face change and do it with the right attitude.

"Sometimes when people get what they want, they realize how limited their goals were." – Joan Holloway (Season 1, Episode 13)

It may have been a snide remark to Peggy after she became a copywriter, but with this quote, office manager Joan Holloway makes a good point. If you set goals for yourself and then give up as soon as you reach them, you won't truly find success, and you'll probably find there's still more left to achieve even after you've checked off everything on your list. Good leaders motivate people to keep moving forward, which means setting more goals and working hard to achieve them and help others do the same.

"You want some respect? Go out and get it for yourself." – Don Draper (Season 4, Episode 8)

In this scene, Peggy was complaining to Don that another employee was harassing Joan, expecting him to solve the problem. Rather than go out there and fire the problematic employee himself, Don pointed out that if Peggy felt the offending employee needed to be let go, she should be the one to do it — if Don did it, the rest of the staff would see her as a tattletale and would lose respect for her. You may not need to fire an employee to solve a problem, and sometimes it's good to ask for help, but to be a well-respected leader, you need to show that you're strong enough to handle the situations that come your way.

"Just tell the truth. Don’t worry about the outcome. People respect that." – Peggy Olson (Season 2, Episode 13)

Peggy's advice to Pete Campbell is advice that everyone should follow in business (and in life in general). Everyone makes mistakes, even managers and CEOs. What makes you a leader is your ability to take responsibility for your actions. After all, you can't really solve a problem until you own up to it. And, at the end of the day, your customers, clients and staff will appreciate your honesty and willingness to work things out.

"You're happy because you're successful — for now. But what is happiness? It's a moment before you need more happiness. I won't settle for 50 percent of anything. I want 100 percent." – Don Draper (Season 5, Episode 12)

Similar to the sentiment behind Joan's quote about goals, this statement from Don puts success into perspective. Becoming complacent with what you've already achieved isn't really success unless there's really nowhere else to go from there. A smart leader knows not to settle, when to keep pushing, and to expect and inspire others to put in all of their effort.

"When you have no power, delay." – Henry Francis (Season 3, Episode 8)

Not every situation is easily fixed, and sometimes — especially when you're dealing with a business crisis — it's hard to find a solution right away. Henry Francis may have been talking about a government project when he said this gem to Don's wife, Betty (and later his own wife, after Don and Betty divorced), but it makes sense. When all else fails, buy yourself some extra time. A good leader will search for the best answer to a problem, not the quickest one.

"I have a life, and it only goes in one direction: forward." – Don Draper (Season 1, Episode 5)

Don was talking about his personal life when he said this to his brother, but the sentiment rings true when discussing careers, too. Don's past was bleak at best, but he moved on, took on a new identity, and worked his way up in life and in business. It can be easy to get caught up in the past, especially if you've made a mistake, but to truly succeed, you need to keep looking and moving forward. A good leader knows this, and will push others to think about what's next, instead of dwelling on what already went wrong. 

Brittney Morgan
Brittney Morgan
Business News Daily Staff
Brittney Q. Morgan is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor, as well as a graduate of Drew University, where she majored in History. Her work can be found all across the web at Apartment Therapy, HuffPost, and more. You can also find her on Twitter at @brittneyplz.