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Inder Sidhu

Inder Sidhu

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For Your Consideration: The Twin Qualities That Made Oprah One of TV's Best

Posted: 05/23/11 04:21 PM ET

You're probably aware that Oprah Winfrey signs off this week as the host of TV's top-rated daytime talk show. Over the years, Winfrey has taped 4,500 episodes and collected 35 Emmy Awards en route to building one of the most successful brands in business.

Her final show, slated for Wednesday, is expected to be one of the most-watched daytime broadcasts in TV history. In case you're thinking of doing a little branding of your own that day, ads for the show are selling for $1 million a pop, according to USA Today. As her daily talk show wraps, it's worth taking a moment to consider what made Oprah so successful and how it applies leaders like you.

To understand what made Oprah special, you have to go back to the beginning of her show as we know it, back to 1985 when AM Chicago became The Oprah Winfrey Show. A year later, she went national. From the very beginning, Oprah was different. For starters, she didn't look or sound like anyone else on the air. What is more, she set her show in Chicago, not New York or Los Angeles where most of her competition was based. Because of these and other factors, Oprah didn't fit the mold. So to prevail, she needed an edge.

It didn't take her long to find it. While other TV hosts turned to comedy or shock content, Oprah focused on quality programming. Her specialty: shows that could make viewers both think and feel. To provide this type of content year-in and year-out, Oprah pushed herself to develop her own intellect and emotional capacity.

Consider her intelligence. In addition to the novels chosen for Oprah's Book Club, Oprah reads constantly. Because of this, she is as comfortable talking to Nobel Prize winners and heads of state as she is celebrities and everyday people. She is particularly adept at getting intellectually gifted thinkers to share their ideas in a relatable way that viewers can absorb and put to use in their lives. Oprah also has an uncanny ability to triangulate her thinking. Because she talks to so many interesting people who talk to other interesting people, Oprah is able to anticipate trends and react to developments very quickly. Her book recommendations, guest bookings and choice of program topics always seem to be exquisitely timed as a result.

If her intelligence helps her recognize when and where important moments are occurring, her emotional integrity helps her make the most of them. Comfortable in her own skin and willing to discuss her own experiences -- the good and the bad alike -- Oprah can credibly cover the difficult issues of our time. With her guests, she has confronted racism, obesity, child abuse, sexual discrimination and more. Because Oprah can absorb people's pain and indignities, her viewers don't turn away when she shines a light on difficult issues. This ability has enabled her to probe the depths of human emotions in a way few others have.

Getting people to think and feel is what all good leaders are supposed to do. So why don't more do both? Blame the mixed messages we are taught as young professionals. In times of crisis, for example, we're told to keep our wits about us and not lose our heads. Think, in other words. At other times, we're admonished to go with our gut and get in touch with our emotions. Feel, to be more precise.

Which is correct? As Oprah exemplifies, both are. When you stimulate people to think, you can inspire them to come up answers to some of life's most challenging problems. When you get them to feel, you can help them appreciate things that resonate at a deeply human level. Oprah's capacity for doing both helped make her not only of one of the most powerful figures in TV history, but also one of its most admired.

What about you? Are you an emotional boss who is threatened by the intelligence of others, or perhaps a brainy leader who has little affinity for the feelings of others? If you can't think and feel simultaneously, then don't expect those around you to be able to do so.

When you can effectively increase the intelligence and empathy of those around you, you can inspire people to reach for new heights. If you don't believe me, then tune into Oprah's show Wednesday afternoon. You'll hear emotional stories that will tug at your heart and inspiring words that will stimulate your mind.

Should your employees hear any less from you?

Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: Capturing Today's Profits and Driving Tomorrow's Growth. Author proceeds from sales of Doing Both go to charity. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.

 
 
 

Follow Inder Sidhu on Twitter: www.twitter.com/indersidhu