Watching the Behind-the-Scenes making of the final season premiere of the Oprah Winfrey Show on Oprah’s new television network gave me a good glimpse into Oprah Winfrey’s leadership skills. I was impressed and surprised.
I shouldn’t have been. Oprah’s highly valued media empire is evidence that she’s doing a lot of things right. But, I think it’s disarming in that we all know Oprah as the high energy TV personality and don’t often think about what it takes to produce a show every day of the work week.
I’m amazed that there hasn’t been more attention paid to Oprah’s leadership skills over the years. I believe anybody in a leadership position can learn a lot from her.
Here are some of the things I noticed.
In addition to having a flair for hosting, interviewing, having good visions about what people want to watch, she’s one helluva people leader.
She appears to have made some very wise hiring decisions.
She doesn’t appear to micromanage. She gets good people and let’s them have some rope.
She gives general directions and ideas about what she’s looking for and her people come back with specific ideas and then they follow through with making them happen.
Oprah heaped praise on her team as being top notch. And everyone appeared to be energetic, creative, detail oriented and engaged. Everybody from the teams of producers, to her director, to the team that brings in the audience and gets them ready for the show and the stage hands received praise from Oprah and it appeared well deserved.
I was even impressed with the state of the studios and the offices. All the details seem attended to. Nothing was out of place, every place seemed warm and inviting. Reminds me of the old adage that you can tell how well an employer takes care of its associates by the state of the break room.
When one of the production teams pitched a crazy idea for the season premiere (to have some road tripping ladies unknowingly drive right up on stage during the taping of the show) Oprah was blunt. “That’s a crazy ass idea.” The producers pushed forward. Other producers praised them. “It take some guts to go with an idea that Oprah thinks is ‘crazy-ass’.”
The producers in question did seem to have some fear for their jobs, “this could be our swan song.” But, they still pushed ahead. They must have felt comfortable enough to take risks. And, back to the hiring decisions, they seemed to hold themselves accountable, “nobody will be more disappointed in me than me if this doesn’t work out!”
The production team pulled it off (though they did sweat bullets) and it worked beautifully. Oprah came into the production booth and gave them high praise and said, “You were right, I was wrong!”. I have not heard many leaders say that.
I’d love to see how Oprah handles it when something doesn’t work out well. That is one of the truest tests of a good leader. In my experience, that’s where I’ve seen big separations between the mediocre and the superstars. Bad leaders do nothing. Mediocre leaders either tend to get mad, huff and puff, flex their muscles and show their teeth or simply lose confidence in the talent, write them off and second guess them until they eventually part ways.
Superstars tend to understand that not everything goes perfectly all the time and they give clear, timely and actionable feedback that will help the person improve, rather than feel like a heel. Good talent will blossom into superstars working for such leaders.
I’d like to interview Oprah about how she came about her leadership skills. Some of the questions I would ask:
1. Is hiring good people something you always knew to do or did you learn that through experience?
2. What a-ha moments led you to realize the importance of a good team?
3. What about micromanagement? Did you ever have a tendency do it? How did you overcome that and were there any a-ha moments that made you realize that micro management could limit you?
4. Have you made any bad hiring decisions? How did you handle those?
5. Surely, things don’t always go as expected. How do you handle it when that happens?
6. Were there moments early in your career where you didn’t think it was going to work out?
7. Were there any lucky breaks that you had, that when you look back you think, “wow, if that didn’t happen, I may not be doing this.”?
8. Was there anyone particularly that inspired your leadership style?
9. What advice would you give other leaders?