I've long been fascinated by media personality and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah rose to fame while hosting her ultra-popular talk show of 25 seasons, The Oprah Winfrey Show, which is still the highest-rated talk show in American television history (despite the fact that the show ended in 2011). Whether interviewing a celebrity or the "person next door," Oprah brought people down to earth--and built an immense, diverse and dedicated fan base in the process.
I spoke recently with Paul C. Brunson, who worked as the co-host for Lovetown, USA, a reality documentary series that aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Brunson is an entrepreneur who's passionate about sharing the habits and skills that lead to success, and he credits Oprah for teaching him many of those lessons.
Here are just a few things Paul learned from Oprah:
1. Invest in yourself.
You might think after achieving a certain level of success, someone like Ms. Winfrey might no longer focus on self-improvement.
But this wasn't what Brunson witnessed, who saw the entertainment mogul "spend a significant amount of time dedicating resources to self-development."
The takeaway, says Brunson: "The moment you stop investing in yourself is the moment you have written off future dividends in life."
2. Take responsibility.
"I was working for Oprah during the time she was taking heat from the media about poor network ratings," says Brunson. "Instead of covering the losses up with fancy PR tactics, she stepped to the stage and said, in essence, 'I own it and I'm going to fix it.'"
And guess what: She did.
3. Diversify your community.
Oprah possesses what Brunson refers to as "tremendous bridging capital."
"Oprah spends a disproportionate amount of her time gathering information from communities of people outside of her core (different age groups, social classes, ethnicities, education levels, careers, etc.) and then she shares that information within her community," he says.
Why is that so important?
Having grown up in a multicultural environment, I learned quickly how differently people can see the world. What we see too often nowadays, especially in larger businesses, are leaders who all come from similar backgrounds. This breeds groupthink and echo chambers, which are cancerous to any organization.
In contrast, different cultures, backgrounds, and age groups bring along multiple perspectives and viewpoints, different ideas of how to get a job done, and increased flexibility. All of this contributes to innovative thinking and provides countless learning opportunities.
Brunson sums it up this way: "Your ability to be of influence within your community is directly related to your ability to make connections outside of your community."
4. Leverage your strengths. Get help for your weaknesses.
"From afar, billionaires like Oprah appears to be masters at everything," says Brunson. "But, in truth, they're specialists in one or a few areas and average or subpar at everything else."
Where Oprah excels, though, is in building "dream teams" to handle those weak areas.
The takeaway: No one is great at everything. Learn to maximize your strengths and find experts who excel in areas where you're weak; then, learn from them.
Not only will your end product be better. You will, too.
5. Never stop taking risks.
Any good entrepreneur knows that without risk, there's no reward.
"Even at her high financial status and success level," writes Brunson, "Oprah still possessed a willingness to risk her most precious asset (her name and legacy) on new and bolder projects."
This doesn't mean that you pursue anything and everything that you can, or that every risk is a good one. But if you're not taking any risks, you're limiting your opportunities to grow.
6. Improve your presentation skills.
If you've seen Oprah present, you know she's one of the best people alive at connecting emotionally with an audience.
"Don't make people guess or assume," says Brunson. "Make sure your community understands your message, precisely...If you can't articulate your ideas and your vision (in a compelling way) you can't galvanize the support required to make things happen."
7. Learn to laugh. At yourself.
"You can't go more than two minutes in a conversation with Oprah without her smiling and belting out a laugh--typically at her own expense," says Brunson.
Everyone makes mistakes. If you don't take yourself too seriously, you won't fall apart when you make yours. Others will be drawn to your humility, and every stumble becomes another chance to learn.