What Oprah’s “New Day” Teaches Us About Change Leadership

Brand and Strategy Change

When Oprah Winfrey stepped onto the stage at the Golden Globe Awards to accept the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award, she delivered a passionate and moving speech that had people suggesting she run for President of the United States in 2020.


The #metoo movement has already generated significant press and social media attention. Every time you catch up on the news these days, there is evidence of the new focus on eliminating sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace. Those who misuse their positions of power are being exposed and victims are encouraged to speak out — revealing a fundamental shift in the workplace.  


But despite the forward momentum, Oprah’s speech gave #metoo additional power and a new look. When she declared, “a new day is on the horizon!” she gave hope that change is finally on its way.


As I reflected on her speech, I thought about why Oprah’s message was so powerful and what leaders who want to inspire change might learn from her.


Leaders are passionate and positive

Oprah delivered her speech with passion and positivity. In fact, the idea of a ‘new day’ in and of itself is a positive message. And Oprah expresses her faith in people to rally together to make real change so that the new day will dawn:

“So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say, “Me too” again.” Oprah Winfrey


In the book, Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor, refers to numerous studies that show leaders with positive messages get the most out of their teams. Even U.S. Navy squadrons led by positive commanders outperformed those with negative leaders. Leaders who are positive and passionate about change have the power to inspire and motivate others.


Leaders are authentic

In my opinion, you can’t get more authentic than Oprah. She is real. She shares her humble beginnings, emotions, her failures, and her success with all of us. She has even shared her own story of abuse.


True to form, her speech was also authentic. It was consistent with her ongoing effort to seek equality for women and people of colour. The Oprah Winfrey Foundation was established to support the inspiration, empowerment, education, and well-being of children, women, and families. She has given millions in support of education, including charter schools, programs that support African-American students, and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa.


Authentic leaders are sincere and they earn the trust and commitment of others when their actions and decisions are aligned with their words.


Leaders listen

Oprah is a gifted listener. I mean, she’s the Queen of Talk,  right? On the Oprah Winfrey show, it’s those listening skills that get people to really open up to her. But I think it goes beyond that.  John Travolta said it best, “Oprah Winfrey is not only a great friend; more importantly, she’s a great friend to many people who truly need a friend. One of the reasons she’s such a great friend is because she listens. And thanks to her show, Oprah has taught the world how to listen and to face some of the most important issues of our time.”


When leaders listen, they gain a better understanding of their people and the work challenges they face,  and they can then begin building trust and strengthening relationships to encourage change.


Leaders are the force that drives change. It doesn’t matter whether your organization is making changes to end a culture where harassment is quietly swept under the rug, putting a focus on mental health, or if you are undergoing some other type of shift or transformation, leaders who take a page out of Oprah’s book will be off to a good start. 

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