Roger Sterling in the workplace: A two-edged sword

If you watch the show Mad Men you will certainly know who Roger Sterling is.  If you do not, then picture this:

Roger Sterling can be the life of the party, but he can also be the knife that stabs you in the heart and his humor can be scathing and so inappropriate that it helps you remember why your firm has labor attorneys on retainer.  Enough of that overview, the best way to know how Roger operates is to watch the show.

If you have a “Roger” in the workplace today you will see some of the following behaviors:

  • The “Good”
    • He really can be a good guy
    • He can lighten the mood of a meeting in no time at all
    • He can be fun
  • The “Bad”
    • He is a “hostile environment” scenario on legs
    • He is the ultimate relativist
    • He will try anything once, or more

I think you are starting to get the picture.  Let’s talk a little about how to channel the good side of Roger and then we will swing to the bad side.

Here are just a few quotes from Roger, courtesy of the AMC web site:

“Look, we’ve got oysters Rockefeller! Beef Wellington! Napoleons! We leave this lunch alone, it’ll take over Europe.”

“When a man gets to a point in his life when his name’s on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.”

“Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?”

Most of us have a little Roger in us, but the differences between us and him is that he can be funnier than most of us, but he can also be more caustic.  His ability to take risks with what he says and does are on the fringe when compared with normal society.  This becomes very clear in the current season when he strikes up a series of trysts with Megan’s mother and then his usage of LSD.  While I am not so naïve to believe that drug usage was fairly widespread during this period of time, the portrayal of an accomplished executive stooping to such a level is sobering at best and troubling to say the least.  Roger is searching for the ultimate thrill and he will do just about anything to achieve this thrill.  That is why the good side of Roger needs to be kept in check because the bad side can have many ramifications.

The “bad Roger” can be costly.  Many of us have seen individuals in the workplace who treat women like chattel and who don’t have the proper emotional intelligence to understand that their humor is not perceived as funny by many others.  Even though the Mad Men show is set in the 1960’s, this kind of behavior still goes on today and it has to be dealt with by your organization if you want to stay out of court.

Another “bad Roger” trait is his willingness to try anything.  This man is seeking anything for a thrill; he is unfulfilled, and he will do anything to try and fill his empty life.  If you watch the show you will know that his character has left behind lots of carnage in terms of relationships, both with co-workers and with wives/girlfriends.  He just cannot find a way to get what he needs or wants; I am not sure he knows what he needs or wants.  Not being a psychologist, I’ll not pursue this farther, but he is an interesting character, both literally and figuratively.

Having Roger Sterling in the workplace may not be avoidable, but it can be managed.  Roger needs a lot of attention and he also needs some very specific boundaries.  What the good Roger brings can be very refreshing and creative, but the bad Roger can cause world war 3 at the drop of a hat.

Don’t avoid those with Roger-like behaviors, meet them head on.  They will not understand or pay attention to subtlety, they will only understand directness or confrontation.  Doing this direct maintenance will keep them in check.  Anything less will only lead to frustration, tears, and much worse.

Do you have a Roger Sterling in your workplace?

How do you deal with him/her?