It was the mid-90s, her nationally televised talk show was getting its sea legs. At that point, she could not command presidents and heads of state as guests. She was still
Oprah Winfrey, with a first name and a last name. I wa
s living in Chicago, and my mom was visiting from Detroit. She was a big Oprah fan, so I managed to get tickets to a taping.
The taping itself was not memorable. In fact, it was an awful show that featured the relatives of the victims of a famous serial killer. I could tell my mother was a bit disappointed after the show. But then, something magical happened. The producers asked the audience to line up to meet Oprah. My mother and I found ourselves near the end of the line, but no matter. Oprah stood there and personally greeted every single audience member -- I would say 200 or so folks -- with a smile, a handshake, a friendly word, a funny comment.
Apparently she did this after ever taping.
I have never forgotten how this woman -- clearly a rising star -- took the time to connect with strangers. My mother certainly hasn't forgotten it. Years and years later, she still talks about it. And she never misses Oprah. That day, Oprah made 200 life-long fans.
I learned something from Oprah. I learned the importance of connecting with people. Of being in the moment. After that show - bad as it was - she owned it. The show may have been dreadful, but it was her show, and she was grateful that we were there. What a lesson!
I am reminded of my first management job. I was suddenly promoted, plucked from my peer group, to do a job I had never done before. I had one direct report and a short timeline to prove myself. I'll never forget the words of our HR leader when I expressed my doubts about being a manager. He said, simply, "own it.". So I did.
Some years later, I offered the same advice to someone experiencing the same thing. A colleague who was experienced and talented and wise was reluctant to take on a leadership role. I offered her the same advice. As everyone around her could already see, she was a born leader. She needed only to own it.
So, in this new year, we have new opportunities to go at it with everything we have. And while few of us plan to launch television networks, we have dreams and goals and resolutions that we can own. We can step into whatever greatness awaits us, as if we were meant to be there all along.