Ellen DeGeneres was born in Louisiana, USA on January 26, 1958, is a comedian, TV host, actor, writer, producer, author, activist, humanitarian and now named the ‘Queen of Daytime’ hosting her award-winning TV show ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ which is now on its season 15. She also hosted the 86th Academy Awards in 2014, won 30 Emmys and 20 People’s Choice Awards. She married her longtime girlfriend, Portia de Rossi.
Ellen is the epitome of courage, resilience and optimism in today’s modern and complex society. Former US President Barack Obama accurately and beautifully articulated this when he awarded Ellen with the Medal of Freedom in 2016:
In 1997, she came out on her sitcom ‘Ellen’ with about 42 million viewers. On Oprah Winfrey’s show, ‘Oprah’, she shared that she finally came out because she realized it was okay. It was important to live her truth and stop dodging the questions. Unfortunately, the show got canceled within a year after the revelation. People won’t return her calls and received a lot of hate mails. Hollywood shut down on her, many made fun of her, advertisers pulled out and no money. This situation went on for three years.
To her those years allowed her to sit still and think about what she can do, without people loving her and without a career. She then realized that she could actually create a job for herself. She said to herself- “why would I wait for somebody to give me a job, I am a writer.” She went back to writing for her stand-ups and finally, for her comedy TV talk show, ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’. The rest as they say is history.
LEADERSHIP LESSONS LEARNED FROM ELLEN
Ellen’s resilience spun her way up to the top after she floundered coming out in 1997. If she just wallowed in depression and stayed there, she would not have achieved all the accolades she’s received in the recent years. She used the downtime to contemplate and recreate her game plan on how she would move forward and succeed again. She did not stop pitching her ideas and find small platforms to share her passion. She did not allow hurtful words to shut her down but instead focused on her greater mission which is to make people happy.
Leaders must take constructive feedback with a grain of salt. Being defensive will never help us. It doesn’t allow key learning to seep in our minds and hearts as well as missing the opportunity to learn and understand where the other party is coming from. Allow feedback to propel growth not shut you down. Sift and process the ones that truly matter to you, to your mission and your people. Act on them quickly.
Ellen took courage to come out even is she’s aware that there’s a greater risk. However, being truthful is important to her and that she needed to share to those who follow her. I always say in my leadership classes that leadership is a step closer to sainthood, and my participants laugh every time I say this. You can’t live a double life when you latch on this leadership journey. You can’t say one thing at work but actually do the opposite when you’re home or with friends. People look up to you and follow you so it’s good to always think before acting and to be true and sincere. This inspires others to do the same.
To live in truth is liberating. The newly open boundaries will unleash creativity and self-discovery.
As leaders, kindness naturally comes out, from our passion over people and our pursuit of their growth and success. Being gentle doesn’t mean we are weak. Putting on a strict persona or a strong personality doesn’t mean strength in leadership either. Kindness is an act of humility- you are kind and approachable enough to your people so that they can come to you without any hesitation or fear of being judged. You’ve been in this difficult situation too and not only that you know how it feels to be there but you got ways to survive it.
Humiliation is always counterproductive. If you know how our brain reacts to this threat, humiliation should never be part of your leadership style or your retention rate suffers. You will find yourself endlessly onboarding and never seeing the ROI to that training cost. Praise your people in public and coach them in private. Some parents want to humiliate their kids so they will remember how painful it feels to be humiliated and they avoid anything that will cause it.
Ellen DeGeneres’ humor is always very kind. She believes that our jokes should make people happy and should not, in anyway, hurt people.
Leadership, when executed right, can be fun and will make your people happy in the end. Hope these leadership lessons we learned from the life Ellen DeGeneres help us lead our people better and become a great leader, God wants us to be.
Tell me about your leadership stories! I would like to hear from them.