By Michael Berland
Published November 30, 2009
Q: Why has Oprah Winfrey been so successful as a TV talk-show host? Does it make sense for her to end her syndicated talk show in 2011 when she’s still dominating the daytime ratings? Can you imagine anyone replicating the following she’s been able to build?
Oprah has been so successful because of her integrity — by which I mean her personal authenticity as well as her ability to take on endeavors that fit with who she is as part of a larger whole.
Oprah embodies very clearly one of the four success archetypes that I and my co-author, Douglas E. Schoen, identified in our research for What Makes You Tick?: How Successful People Do It — And What You Can Learn from Them. She is what we called a “Do-Gooder.”
Do-Gooders get their greatest satisfaction from working for the greater good and helping other people. That’s what motivates them. Everything else that comes with success is collateral. Do-Gooders are all about personal contact and connection. (And luckily for Oprah, personal contact and connection that make Do-Gooders thrive are the very same skills that make a great talk-show host!)
Oprah also has some of the qualities of the “Visionary” success archetype. Visionaries are the people who change our world, who see beyond the accepted models.
The evidence of both archetypes is that she’s used her talk-show success as a foundation from which to envision and build a full-scale, multi-media empire (broadcast TV, film, magazines, book publishing, radio, online and so on, cable) to help people live a well-examined, enriching, mentally healthy, empowered life.
What makes her a successful leader (a real business leader as opposed to just another great entertainment personality) is that she hasn’t been competitive with the talent she’s met along the way. She has brought that talent along with her — Dr. Phil, Suze Orman, Dr. Oz, Rachael Ray, even her best friend, Gayle King. Their success is her success.
But I think what has helped her achieve that success is that she was able to recognize early on who she is and to put herself in situations that value who she is.
There’s a well-known story about her that demonstrates even more what I mean. At the local TV news station in Baltimore where she worked before she moved to Chicago, she would get too emotional to report the news — if the story was sad, she would tear up; if it was funny, she would laugh. Did she quit broadcasting? No. She moved from straight-news to a talk show, where being emotionally connected to the topic is an asset, not a liability. She didn’t change who she was.
And setting her exit date for her syndicated TV show now while she is ahead, so she can give her full attention to new cable venture with Discovery Communications is right in character for her.