Jon Stewart is arguably one of the best, brightest and undoubtedly funniest journalists on the planet. He has won the hearts and minds of millions throughout his epic career along the way surprising the masses with his wit, charm and unremarkable brilliance. If you have had the pleasure of watching his show then you know he is far more than just quick puns and physical comedy.
Stewart is the real deal, plain and simple. He paid his dues along the way which is in part what makes him humble today even though he is the highest paid new anchor on TV making around 25-30 million dollars a year, has won 18 Emmys and a Grammy.
Many people know of his stand up roots braving the unruly and sometimes unforgiveable audiences across the comedy club circuit but few know that before comedy, he worked a myriad of jobs from contingency planner for the New Jersey Department of Human Services, a puppeteer for children with disabilities, and soccer coach at a Virginia high school among others. These jobs alone portray a selfless man, a man who at his core – loves to give back and provide to others.
This brings me to why I am writing today.
In many ways Jon Stewart is undeniably the epitome of a strong leader and displays certain traits that we could all learn from in making us more successful.
- Never be the smartest person in the room.
This quote couldn’t be more true. One of the most important decisions we make in life is who we choose to be around and associate ourselves with. Jon Stewart is a stand up guy (no pun intended) and is always quick to give credit where credit is due. He has hired and worked with some of the most brilliant and gifted writers, producers and overall talent. He is also known for launching the careers of Steve Carell, John Oliver and of course Stephen Colbert.
Leadership Lesson: As a leader, never shy away from hiring talented people who will drive you to be better, smarter and stronger at what you do. In doing so, you show great vulnerability in putting yourself aside to see the larger picture in both developing the people around you as well as allowing yourself to grow and be developed.
- Being humble and fearless is key.
The man doesn’t back down from any topic. Nothing is off limits and nothing is taboo. In fact, Jon Stewart will tackle the issues that many of the major news outlets are afraid to touch or filter the content in a way that spins the information and dilutes all level of accuracy. Comedy may be his platform but don’t be fooled, the man is smart and holds a Psychology degree from Williams and Mary University. He will be the first to admit when he is incorrect or speaks off term, he is quick to make it right and own his faults.
Leadership Lesson: As a leader, owning your faults and being able
to overcome them is a sign of maturity and behavior that is worth modeling for others your lead. Challenges and breakdowns are opportunities to grow and level up your craft. Your ego is not
- The Art of Asking Questions & Skillful Listening.
Knowing what to ask may be just as important as knowing when to listen. Stewart is always present with his guests and provides them the space to be themselves while skillfully listening to what they had to say. When appropriate, he asks thought provoking questions that engage both his guests and his audiences to look past the content (of what was being discussed) and pay close attention to the context as well. Understanding where someone is speaking from emotionally is key to understanding their point of view. He may not always agree with their logic or beliefs but allows them the freedom and space to express themselves.
Leadership Lesson: As a leader, your ability to ask thought provoking questions while listening intentionally, resisting the urge to dominate your views or opinions into the conversation is a highly valuable skill and characteristic of a great leader.
- Be fearless but smile along the way.
There was never a topic that was off limits or taboo for Jon Stewart. In fact, some of the most memorable episode of his show were filled with guests that he openly mocked such as Bill O’Reilly or speaking up for causes such as the health issues surrounding the first responders of 9-11. Along the way, he would tackle these sensitive topics and controversial guests with humor and a big smile. Stewart was a master at taking a challenging topic and making it inviting and comprehensible – something that many of the cable news anchors knew nothing about.
Leadership Lesson: As a leader, using humor may not always work for all people and all occasions but it’s always worth practicing. In the end, the challenging topics and people will have to be addressed so why not look to inject some humor (when applicable) to ease any fear you have in taking on a difficult situation or individual.
- Balance is key.
Stewart loves to end his show with what he calls the “moment of zen” which is typically an online video filled with some funny satire of sorts. The show does tackle serious issues even if it’s done in a comedic backdrop. It’s somewhat refreshing to have something serious end on a lighter note. It reminds you to not take life too seriously and leaves you with a smile on your face as you think about what you just watched.
Leadership Lesson: As a leader, it’s important to remember to not take life (or yourself) too seriously and find the balance of your “moment of zen” that will enable you to lead more effectively and successfully. In the end, how you leave people when you exit a room, end a meeting or hang up on a phone call is critical in determining the perception others will have you. Find your balance to ensure your able to tackle both the serious and silly while leaving others in a good place.