7 Enduring Leadership Lessons From 'The Daily Show's' Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart announced this week that he would be leaving The Daily Show, a late-night talk and news satire program he began hosting in 1999. The show is best known for tackling domestic and international news and politics, as well as address many of the significant (and often insignificant) cultural issues we face, all in a humorous and sometimes painfully honest delivery.
The Daily Show was for many the source for daily news.
For the show's many loyal viewers (myself included), the show was Jon Stewart, and as the highly visible face of a television program that requires hundreds of people and hours to produce, he has continued to earn the praise and respect of his viewers and his peers by demonstrating many admirable qualities of a true leader.
So, on the big (and sad) announcement that he will soon be leaving the show, let us reflect on a few of the leadership traits that have made him successful.
1. Surround yourself with better people.
Over the years, Stewart has hired and worked with incredibly gifted writers and producers, some of whom may arguably have been more talented. In fact, a number of successful personalities have launched their careers from his show, namely Stephen Colbert (former host of Comedy Central’s Colbert Report and new host of CBS's Late Night), Steve Carell (NBC's The Office), John Oliver (HBO's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver) and Olivia Munn (HBO's The Newsroom), just to name a few.
You cannot be afraid to hire really talented people and, more important, support them as they develop through their career -- even if it means they may someday leave. This approach produces great allies in the future.
2. Demonstrate humble intelligence and polite sincerity.
Stewart is well read and incredibly smart. He is also clearly humble and respectful -- he never sits before a visiting guest has taken their seat. And although his show is based in comedy, he has on numerous occasions used his platform to take a sincere and honest look at real problems in the world, such as his moving reflection on the events of 9/11. Even his announcement this week was incredibly touching.
The most effective leaders are those with the presence and ability to bring others up to their level, often without them even knowing.
3. Learn to ask questions and listen.
Stewart is an effective host because of his ability to ask poignant and direct questions of his nightly guests. When he did not necessarily agree with their opinion, he was always respectful and allowed them to express their point of view uninterrupted.
The ability to ask questions and listen effectively, resisting the urge to inject your views into every conversation, is a highly unrecognized characteristic of a great leader.
4. Don’t be afraid to tackle difficult problems -- even with humor.
Stewart never backed away from discussing the latest controversial issues of politics, religion or culture. He did so effectively with humor, which proved to be an effective way to make very difficult matters easier to consume for his viewers.
Humor is not always effective for everyone or for all occasions, but far worse is avoiding the difficult challenges that we face altogether. Never back down from difficult situations and face them head on.
5. Work harder than others.
The Daily Show airs only four days a week for 30 minutes an episode. With that said, the show requires hours of relentless work throughout the week to research and produce segments, all while being flexible enough to make up-to-the-minute changes that reflect the most current news. Stewart often bears this burden with his staff and is known in the industry as being one of the hardest working people in show businesses.
Great leaders work just as hard as those they lead -- and often harder.
6. Stay sharp by diversifying your interests.
While few would argue that hosting a highly successful comedy show would be a dream job, Stewart has never settled and is well known for his creative restlessness. In addition to authoring several books, Stewart recently wrote and directed the acclaimed independent film, Rosewater.
Focus is important, but so is having creative outlets for yourself. These outlets will not only help you maintain your sanity but also keep you sharp and motivated.
7. Find your daily “Moment of Zen.”
Most episodes of The Daily Show end with Stewart’s sign off, “Here it is, your moment of zen,” followed by a ridiculous video clip. The brief segment is meant to make you laugh as the show closes, but it also helps put the show in perspective and bring you back to crazy reality in which we live.
Once in a while, we all need to remember to take life a little less seriously. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to reflect and bring your focus back to what is really important in your life.
For those of you who, like me, have grown up tuning into Jon Stewart's show over the past 15 years, it is difficult reconciling how to end the day after his departure. Regardless, because of his creative and inspirational leadership style, I look forward to the great work he will undoubtedly produce in the future.