Leaders Repair Relationships

Warning: If you keep Jon Stewart on a pedestal and only like reading high praise for the man, stop reading now.

Jon Stewart is filming his last show today and a lot of journalists (Fresh Air, NY Times, etc.) are covering this event. I have a routine of watching the previous day’s show on the internet over lunch and Jon Stewart is the only anchor I have known on The Daily Show. I miss the Colbert Report because it went away entirely. I hope when Trevor Noah takes over I will remain enthusiastic about watching it over lunch.

I marvel at his intelligence and wit, but I have occasionally witnessed his thin skin showing through when he interviews guests or is parrying attacks from Fox News and others. And then I listened to Marc Maron’s podcast interview with former Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac. He tells his story about the incident that ultimately led to his leaving the Daily Show. He expressed a difference of opinion to Jon Stewart about how Stewart chose to respond to an event. Cenac’s opinion was informed by his experience with race as a black man in America and unfortunately Stewart took it personally and responded in anger (perhaps rage).

And then Stewart did not repair with Cenac and so ultimately Wyatt Cenac found working at the Daily Show so uncomfortable he left the show.

First, I want to share that I have done the same thing (losing it to the point of screaming) to an employee of mine. And I eventually learned to feel truly sorry. It took about 4 months of executive coaching before I could recognize how damaging what I did was to the other person. By that time my employee had moved to the other side of the country for a new job and my team had gone through hours of team building using tools from John Gottman’s research. I never repaired with the individual though.

I am not proud of this fact. And having experienced this lapse in my leadership, I have compassion for Jon Stewart and have an idea of why he may not have been able to repair his relationship with Wyatt Cenac.

I also know that leaders repair relationships. It was a much longer journey to really learn this lesson. It was only when I had experienced CTI’s Co-Active Leadership Program that I locked in the learning about how to clear with people and keep relationships in good trim. It takes a lot of conscious effort and it means I have to deal with my own “stuff” (and by stuff I mean shit).

Maybe this is part of Jon Stewart’s decision to leave. Maybe he does not feel his current job gives him the bandwidth to deal with these personal issues. We have no way of really knowing; however, I can still learn from the WTF podcast interview. I do not think Jon Stewart is a racist or a rage machine, just as I am not the sum of my episode with my employee. And this is the same Jon Stewart who did the delightful interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates. I wish him all the best and I will still miss him.

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