A few weeks ago while leading a corporate workshop on team communications, I began talking about trust and suddenly Oprah popped into my mind as an example. Now, I speak of trust frequently because it’s foundational to leadership. I’m also an ardent fan of Charles H. Green’s work around trust and his accompanying thought-leadership.
But I don’t usually talk about Oprah, and certainly not in a mixed group of senior executives. The quickly nodding heads in the room made me realize that maybe I should be! Perhaps as leaders we can all learn something from Oprah, even if we’re more likely to be in a board meeting weekday afternoons than at home tuning into her program.
On this occasion, of course Oprah came to mind because there’s been media buzz around the upcoming show finale, and the analysis is beginning around how she’s forever changed the culture of our country on dozens of social issues. It’s hard to determine where her influence begins and ends.
As leaders, wouldn’t we all like to have the same said about us, if at least in our corner of the world?
So how has she been able to lead in this superhuman way? It’s not because she’s famous. There are tons of famous people who float in and out of our collective consciousness. Nor is it because she’s a talk show host or one of the wealthiest people in the country. Lots of those too who haven’t shaped a culture.
She’s done it because we trust her.
It’s that deep trust that has created a fertile ground for her influence and inspiration. In fact, she exemplifies the elements of The Trust Equation highlighted in the book The Trusted Advisor, in which the authors break down what creates trust:
(Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy)/Self-Orientation = Trust
By nailing each of these, Oprah has created influence far beyond anyone else in her position.
She’s credible because she has experience around many of the issues she discusses, and is passionate about elevating the human condition. She’s reliable because she presents herself the same way, with the same presence each time we see her. She’s dependable.
We can be intimate with her because she’ll tell us the truth, and hear ours without harsh judgment. And finally, she’s not acting in her own selfish interests by being self-oriented at every turn. Many talk show hosts have come and gone because it’s all about them. Oprah, who certainly doesn’t need the money or fame at this point, has kept us focused on her guests and their causes.
Oprah is moving on to her next phase. But her legacy is a reminder of how to play to our biggest capabilities, in our fullest lives, by starting with the simple act of being trustworthy.