Leaders and Entrepreneurs - Gail Evans, Executive Vice-President CNN on Leadership
An Interview by Marie J. Kane

MJK: You've obviously thought quite a bit about men and women in business. I'd like to talk about leadership specifically, not about rising through the corporate ranks or about management, but about leadership. In your opinion what makes an effective, powerful leader, whether a man or a woman?

GE: To be a really good leader you have to have a vision of where you are going and understand how to coalesce people around you in seeing that vision. I think charisma is a very important part of leadership. I have never seen a really great leader who doesn't have some kind of charisma, who people don't want to follow. Really great leaders know how to take risks and are comfortable taking risks. They can lead their people into the fire in such a way that the people believe it is safe to be there. They can lead them through it or know when to turn around and go back. Good leaders know when to cut their losses. Good leaders pass all the glory down so that the team feels great about winning and when things get totally screwed up they say, "It's my fault. I did it." Really great leaders are willing to give the power to get things done to other people. They are not hoarders of power. Real leaders are clear that power is achieved by getting somewhere, not by having somebody tell you you've got it. They take power; they don't want to be given it.

MJK: So far you have described a great leader as a charismatic person who has vision and can get other people to buy into it, who's a risk taker, who is willing to give credit to the team and who takes responsibility when things go bad. A real leader doesn't wait to be given power and at the same time shares it freely to get things done. What else do you think makes for a great leader?

GE: I think a really good leader knows how to hear the smallest idea and make it into something. Really great leaders listen and hear everything. Even though they may look aloof or like they are in outer space sometimes, they really are absorbing everything around them and then putting all of it together and coming out with great ideas. I think leaders probably have to have some sense of humor. I think that great leaders almost have to know how to laugh at themselves. They don't take themselves too seriously and I think that's very important. If they really think they know all the answers chances are you're never going to have a vision you can coalesce other people around. People who see things as very black and white are not very good leaders because leaders have to be able to blend everything together to move it ahead. They have to be able to see beyond their own selves. You also have to have the ability to create a mystique about yourself; that what you see is bigger than what other people see. Most really great leaders are in their own particular way a little bigger than life. I don't know that great leaders have to be humble or pompous. I've seen them do everything. I think great leaders do what works for the moment and they are not stuck with any one given style all the time. Some of them are very powerful and forceful when they speak and some of them are very quiet, but there is equal power in both.

MJK: What else have you learned about leadership that you would like to share?

GE: One of the things that I have learned from Ted, which I think is a good strategy for leaders, is don't watch the giant in front of you; always watch the maverick behind you. I think smart leaders know that. Ted also says that if you can't say it in two pages then you don't really know what you are talking about. I do think it is a leadership quality to say your idea is not ready to be used if you haven't developed it to a point where you can explain it to me in two pages.

MJK: In your job as Executive Vice-President here at CNN, do you feel you have to be a leader, a manager, or some of each?

GE: You have to be some of each, but I have smart people to manage for me. I try to keep very smart managers. I wouldn't say management is my forte. I'm a competent manager. I've managed things many times in my life, but management takes all of my creative juices away.

MJK: So your function at this point in your career is more one of leadership. What is your greatest challenge as a leader?

GE: Enrolling everybody in my vision. Getting them out of their own small world into a bigger world. For me it's getting them from beyond their unit or show to see that there is a bigger picture called CNN and there's this bigger picture called Time Warner and this bigger picture called AOL. They all hold on so closely and tightly to their own little world because they are holding on to safety. What is easiest, what's safe, what's familiar and they don't want to rock the boat. My experience is most people would rather be safe and mediocre, than brilliant and hanging on the edge and taking a risk. Most people are not risk takers and most people can't even see the risks they are so busy trying to be safe. I think that much of the world to people is about survival. I think most employees act out of survival. I think it takes a lot of work as a leader to keep shaking them so that they think beyond survival and move them out of their comfort zone. Most people think they are moving out of their comfort zone and they are stuck in it. They can't even see anything. I also think most people are focused in too many different directions. How do you choose the really brilliant people in anything? I think the people who arrive at a clear destination in their life are fully ready to play.

N.B. This article was originally published in Competitive Edge Magazine.


Marie J. Kane has been an executive coach and corporate consultant for 20 years. She specializes in innovative approaches to executive development with a special emphasis on individual and group virtual coaching. She is the author of a comprehensive team assessment and development process, creator of "The Leader's Way" executive development program and a co-creator of an integrated strategic and operational planning process as well as offering state-of-the-art employee selection and development systems integrated with performance management and organizational culture. Marie may be reached at Marie@executiveevolution.com , and visit www.executiveevolution.com for additional information.

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