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Leadership Lessons

Many people wish to become leaders because often it means power, respect of others and general acceptance. James Burke and Oprah Winfrey are the greatest leaders in their fields of activity. Is there anything similar in their leadership behavior? Could I use their career principles as the lessons for successful leadership? It is most likely that these questions occur in the mind of any person who has ever wanted to be a leader. James Burke and Oprah Winfrey have gained much success in their careers; furthermore, they can teach many lessons about how to become a good leader in ethical, forecasting, risk and team-building spheres.

Ethical Leadership

James Burke and Oprah Winfrey provide their ethical lessons on personal examples. Johnson & Johnson was facing a corporate nightmare when capsules of its best-selling Tylenol medicine caused several deaths. James Burke, Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, advertising for Tylenol and recalled all of the bottles from the stores. In response to this step, the positive reviews of its social responsibility appeared in the media. Management of the company entered into a close relationship with the police and authorities, agreeing to provide any necessary information. Top management from Johnson & Johnson attended the funeral of the victims.

It was the example of ethical leadership of James Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, and the lesson of adherence to the morality principles despite widespread censure. Roy Lubit (2004) comments this conflict “Emotional intelligence is the key to understanding others’ perspectives and needs, resolving conflicts, and wielding influence” (p.6).

Oprah Winfrey is a well known leader standing by her principles and a woman with big heart. Lussier and Achua (2009) mention the words of John Grace, who highlights “Oprah stands for a certain set of very specific American values that very few of celebrity competitors can claim, like honesty, loyalty, and frankness.” Moreover, there are numerous examples of her charity, gifts to less fortunate people and specific organizations which highlight her good intentions. Working heard for others, Oprah shows that it is possible to be a good leader with ethical intentions. The actions of James Burke and Oprah Winfrey show that the leaders, first of all, must be more than individuals of high character. Oprah Winfrey encouraged me to be more charitable by her examples of disinterested charity. I even think that her successful career is a result of her belief in God and readiness to give a helping hand to everybody.

Forward Looking

James Burke and Oprah Winfrey teach people to look ahead in their decisions and actions. The example of James Burke’s predicting was the advertising and marketing company after Tylenol disaster. He foresaw that Tylenol would be popular as before and didn’t refuse from this product. His experience might help him. Grimm Jack and Raines 2004) reviewed “My first “job” involved selling items door to door…so I learned early the importance of being able to market my product” (p.26). Therefore, Burke has shown that looking forward is a good quality for a leader.

However, the predicting ability appears from the experience, so as for young person sometimes it’s difficult for me to envision the future. Probably the best way is to look backward over earlier mistakes and learn from own and others mistakes. I think it will be more useful to me to pay more attention to my mistakes in career, their cause and consequences.

Do Not Be Afraid of Risk

James Burke and Oprah Winfrey teach us to take risks when they are justified. James Burke agreed to start a new product in J&J; however, he was a young manager, who was working for several months, therefore, both products failed. Grimm and Raines (2004) assert unexpected words of General Johnson Chairman “Thank you for your courage …Taking risk is at the very heart of building new business” (p.26).

Oprah is also an example of a risky leader. She brings things to screen that no one else will be able to do. Furthermore, Jenna Goudreau (2011) also described one of the most risky steps Oprah did “…on January 1, she will take her biggest business gamble yet with the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) on cable TV” (p.25). There were plenty of other women-focused cable channels to watch, such as Lifetime and WE TV. However, OWN finds its viewers and becomes popular.

Team Building

No leader has done anything extraordinary without outside help. One of the essential aspects of leadership is the relationships between leaders and constituents. Oprah’s business philosophy is as follows, to be а successful leader а person must surround oneself with people who are smarter than he/she is because а person can always learn from them. When Oprah’s Book Club was launched in September 1996, she relied on the opinions of others to aid in the selection of the featured novel.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you would like to reach something you should be risky sometimes. Everybody knows this, however, it is not simply, especially if you can loose something valuable. Sometimes I used risk, but I would like better to use plans with low risks, even if they are less profitable. I always like working in team, especially if there are smart and bright persons. I will appeal this quality in future and try to be a good team worker. I am sure that to be more friendly and good-natured will also help me to achieve my goals.

Reading biographies of famous people and their life situations, I am trying to remember the basic principles of their behavior. I think it will help me to solve my own problems. Lessons that I have learned from James Burke and Oprah Winfrey, research more deeply their lives – to be honest and fair, not afraid risks, try to predict the results of actions and try to work in a team. Looking at these qualities, you know that to be a successful leader is not so easy, but I am sure it is worth it.


Goudreau, J. (2011, October). Oprah Winfrey’s own battle. Forbes Magazine, 20-26.

Grimm, J., Johnson, C., & Raines R. (2004). My one big break. New York: Sports Publishing LLC.

Lubit, R. (2004, March/April). The tyranny of toxic managers: Applying emotional intelligence to deal with difficult personalities. Ivey Business Journal, 1-7.

Lussier, R. N., & Achua C. F. (2009). Leadership with infotrac: Theory, application, & skill development. New York: Thomson/SouthWestern.