Oprah Winfrey provides lessons in career derailment

Posted April 26, 2012 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

Oprah Winfrey was in Toronto last week offering up her “life class” to thousands of avid fans.  I’m sure it was a great day, but it did make me wonder how Ms. O finds the time to fit this little jaunt around North America into her busy schedule.  Particularly when she’s been recently quoted as complaining about how much work running her new tv network is.  It got me thinking about one of the key derailers for many leaders: super hero syndrome – aka biting off more than you can chew.

There’s a saying “if you want something done, give it to the busiest person you know.”  I don’t know who came up with that saying, but it certainly speaks to the fact that some people just seem to have a higher capacity for productivity than others, so you can load more on their plates.

When you’re the person with the high capacity, the danger is that you start believing all that hype.  You delude yourself into thinking that you really can manage everything that’s being thrown at you.  And, if your self-image is based around the idea that you are the guy/gal who can get anything done, no matter how big it is, well… you’re all the more at risk for derailing yourself.

I mean, look at Oprah.  Here’s a woman who has had a track record where just about everything she’s touched has turned to gold.  Everyone around her tells her how wonderful she is (turn into Season 25 behind the scenes to get a great view of what corporate “yes men” behaviours look like) and so she decides to launch a network.  Her very own OWN (how many times did you hear her say “that name really worked out for me!”).  Um, yes… great name.  But about the amount of work it’s going to take to run a network, Oprah…

So, as Oprah laments about how much work running a tv network is, I have one reaction:  D’Uh.  No kidding!

Before you commit to that next big project, ask yourself: am I having an Oprah Winfrey moment?  Is this something that you really can devote yourself to or does it have the potential to be a colossal career derailer where you’ll be wishing, like Oprah, that you’d said “no”?  Get yourself a sounding board who’s going to give you a good solid reality check before over-committing yourself and regretting it later.

Happy leading!


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