Like millions of other women around the world, I have followed Oprah Winfrey as my guide for inspiration and motivation to pursue and live my best life. In my 20-year entrepreneurial journey, I have held up Oprah as an example of how to achieve my highest objectives regardless of the challenges along the way. She has also served as a role model for how to give back and contribute my time and talents to improve my community.
Like most of her admirers, over the years I gleaned this inspiration mostly from watching her TV shows and video interviews, and reading her magazine. Recently, however, I had the fortune of getting an up-close-and- personal introduction to Ms. Winfrey while attending an exclusive inspirational talk she gave to our private, non-profit university headquartered in La Jolla, Ca, for which I sit on the board of trustees.
I must say, she was more gracious than I could have ever imagined. The focus of her talk was to “Live Your Best Life” and “How to live your life for the Greater Good.” With that theme I expected her presentation to be about personal development, but I was surprised and delighted that she shared several secret pieces of business wisdom that helped her build the number one TV show for more than 25 years and a billion dollar empire.
I want to share seven highlights from an evening with Oprah that are beneficial pearls of wisdom for business owners. These key insights will help anyone – and especially minority women – on their journey to succeed in business.
After every show, Oprah spoke with her studio audience to build a connection and understand their needs. This allowed her to master the client development process commonly called “Lean Startup Methodology,” which uses iterative testing to find the best ways to serve customers. This is a MUST DO for building a successful business, brand, and franchise.
Most people know that the Oprah Winfrey Show was on the air for more than 25 years. There are very few shows that have held on for so long. Usually, they no longer relate to their current audience. The closest shows that have lasted that length of time have been late-night talk shows like Johnny Carson and David Letterman.
Oprah shared that every day for several years she would record two shows a day with a live studio audience of some 300 attendees. She shared the process she used for producing each show, vetting guests and stories, and hiring key talented team members. She determined earlier on that the key to success was to relate to her audience and to determine the best ways for doing so. She came to realize that she faced the same life challenges and life experiences as her show attendees; and she was willing to be vulnerable enough to share her personal issues and challenges with the audience.
A key process she used: After each show she would allocate time for a post-show conversation with her audience to learn what they liked, wanted, and needed from her show or, more importantly, in their lives. She also learned what they didn’t like. She used regular communication with her audience to develop the programming for the show. This is how she was able to stay current with her audience and expand into other areas like books, magazines, conferences, products, and much more to help address the needs of her market.
Oprah shared with us that as she gained success, that she was constantly asked by friends, family, and others for her time and money to solve their problems. She shared how she felt guilty and compelled to continuously give because she didn’t want people to think poorly of her. She wanted people to think she was nice. She told us how she had conversations with her partner, Stedman Graham, about addressing this issue of wanting to be perceived as being “nice” all the time.
She said she eventually realized this was not a healthy process – for her or the people she was giving her time and money to. It was okay to say “No.” In fact, it’s necessary.
Oprah shared that every incident and experience in your life, whether positive or negative, can be used as a positive guiding light to help you achieve your life goals and objectives
She said that people become in life what they believe they deserve. That does not mean that you get what you want or need. Before you will be able to achieve the life you want, you need to check your beliefs.
She said she has often been asked how you become that person you believe you deserve to be. You must commit to saying you will do better and believe you deserve better. She also shared that everyone has a thread that connects all of the their experiences in their life, that has meaning to where you are now and where you are headed. Nothing is wasted. It doesn’t matter how challenged, difficult or traumatic an experience was for you. All of these experiences shape your character. Use them to live your life for the greater good.
For example, Oprah shared she learned how to read and speak in church as a young child. This helped her get advanced from kindergarten to second grade in her first week of school. Then, when she was in high school, she won Ms. Fire Prevention because she again leveraged her speaking and presentation skills. All of these experiences helped her build a foundation for her career in broadcasting.
Oprah said that when she started her TV show she treated her team as a family. Decisions were made democratically. She did everything. She didn’t delegate because she was more concerned about being friendly and nice to folks. She found that it wore her out and she didn’t get much done.
She determined she had to change that arrangement. She changed her team and brought in people with exceptional experience. She recruited and retained people who were focused and made a priority of understanding, relating to, and serving her target audience.
She used this similar methodology to hire the president of OWN network. Often business books and leaders state that you need to hire your team to be better than you. But that also means you should make sure that they are passionate and focused on executing your business strategy and operational plan.
Oprah talked about how important it is to make time for personal growth because it will fuel your vitality as a business leader. Take time to “work on yourself” to help you get what you want to achieve externally. That means doing things to make sure you feel good, happy, and confident. You have to achieve this in your own personal way. She shared one way of taking time for yourself is with meditation. You must treat yourself how you want others to treat you and don’t compromise.
While this may sound like just a personal development goal, Oprah believes it’s important to business leaders. Many of the challenges business owners face are with sleeping, stress, and tiredness. These can lead to bigger health issues and negatively affect the overall quality of your work and life as well as relationships with employees and partners.
Oprah shared one of the personal challenges she has overcome is how she leverages the fact that people often have very low expectations of her. She uses it to surprise people with her capability and talents because of the low expectations they have of her. She uses the third law physics – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction – to achieve a positive response.
Your number one job is to put out positive energy because you get back what you put out into the universe. If you are putting out positive energy, you will get it back. If you are putting out negativity and bad feelings, that too will come back to you.
This will allow you to be the master of your fate. Focus on what you’re going to make happen for you. That may take some time, even years, but it’s important to stay positive. Don’t give up on your dreams.
Oprah shared how important is to live a life full of joy, vigor, and fulfillment. She measures success by the number people she loves. Pay your success forward in some way. Have a satisfying and joyful life.
She discussed how blessed and excited she was to be in a relationship, a partnership, in love with Stedman Graham, the man of her dreams. She shared her story about how her relationship with Stedman occurred when she believed she was ready to be partnered with someone who loved her in the way she deserved to be loved.