Career Guide


Winfrey’s speech

Raising her leadership game plan!

So, some of you may have seen, heard, or read Oprah Winfrey’s stirring and soul-inspiring “Time’s Up” speech when she was honoured with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the 75th Golden Globes awards last week.

In 1982, Sidney Poitier became the first black man to receive the same award at the Golden Globes. Thirty-six years later, Winfrey would be the first black woman to receive it.

What can her speech teach us about what it means to raise one’s leadership game? What do we need to raise ourselves from?

Let’s make sense of her speech by providing its context.

Today, the entertainment industry is reeling with a series of male actors and directors who are being charged with sexual harassment.

Today, women are risking their own reputations and careers by speaking up.

This has given rise to the #MeToo movement.

Today, the male locker-room mentality and chatter are spilling into our everyday lives, and it is not limited to the entertainment industry only.

It is, as Winfrey said, one that “transcends… culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or the workplace.”

How did she raise her leadership game especially when she was in the middle of abuse, open violence, and a widespread disregard of treating people as people, rather than as things or objects to be used and manipulated?

Here are four courageous ways as offered by Winfrey.

1. Courage to begin with an attitude of celebration

Winfrey did not miss a beat. She began her speech by recalling that day in 1964 when she was a little girl. She watched how Sidney Poitier, the first black man to win the Oscar for best actor, being celebrated with such applause when he received the award from Anne Bancroft on the stage.

While in the middle of challenging times, she did not begin with an attitude of blame, reproach or condemnation that stands as an antonym to celebration. It would have been easier to begin with the latter tone. But she did not. She raised her game. She chose to begin with an attitude of celebration. Her attitude of celebration enabled her to choose her focus.

Blame, reproach and condemnation come from a place of rage, anger and pain. Celebration comes from a place of tranquility, peace and honour.

In the middle of your troubles and frustrations, raise your game by asking the question: “What is here to celebrate?” Allow that celebratory energy to resolve your challenges!


2. Courage to be thankful

Winfrey raised her game by acknowledging the support that she had received over the years. It was not an ego-centric approach to leadership. She thanked the “incredible men and women who’ve inspired, who challenged me, who sustain me, and who made my journey to this stage possible.”

She publicly named a few: “Dennis Swanson who took a chance on me for ‘AM Chicago’, Quincy Jones who saw me on that show and said to Steven Spielberg, ‘Yes, she is Sofia from The Color Purple’, Gayle [King] who is the definition of what a friend is and Stedman [Graham] who is my rock.”

You did not arrive to where you are on your own. You are where you are because others helped you get there. To disregard their support is to go low. To acknowledge others with thankfulness is to go high. To whom can you give thanks?


3. Courage to speak your truth

It is never easy for abused women to tell their personal stories. They risked their reputations and careers. They risked being treated as pariahs in their community. They could have chosen to live in fear and remained silent, but they did not.

They raised their game. Instead of remaining silent, they “felt strong enough, and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.”

What is your truth? What are the risks of speaking your truth or telling your story? What would the implications be if you chose to remain silent?

Want to know what Winfrey’s fourth courageous point was? Check out: bit.ly/2mGrJHc


4. Courage to overcome the ugliest things life can throw at you

Winfrey herself suffered the indignity of sexual abuse at the age of nine – by her own family members. The “one quality” that enabled her to withstand some of the ugliest things thrown into her life was her “ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even through (her) darkest nights.”

The dawn and hope of a bright new day would only be possible if we choose to “fight hard” and take the time to construct an environment where we are respected as human beings. A life without hope is a life of despair. It is a life that is a seat bed for cynicism. It is a life that keeps us trapped and imprisoned to the ugliest things that life may have thrown our way.

What are your darkest nights? What if you chose to live a life of despair? What would you need to do to remain hopeful and believe in the dawn of a new day?


Bringing things into perspective

What connects all four points above is the human capacity to choose. We can choose our responses to the good, bad or ugly conditions. We can choose all of the above, one of the above, or some combination of the above, to raise our game. Or, we can choose to lower our game by choosing none of the above.

At a fundamental level, what needs to be noted is that life is not a game. It is all that we have. So, how would you choose to live your life today?


Malaysian-born Dr Stan is currently a research associate and lecturer in Canada. As a scholar-practitioner in the discipline of leadership studies, he brings over 25 years of experience both in the public sector and in higher education. To send us your thoughts on this article, write to us at editor@leaderonomics.com. We would like to hear from you!

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