30 Lessons from Oprah on Building Your Personal Brand
1. NEVER LET ANYTHING HOLD YOU BACK
Two days after Oprah started kindergarten, she wrote to her teacher saying: “I don’t think I belong here ’cause I know a lot of big words.” The teacher agreed and she skipped to first grade.
2. BE YOURSELF
When Oprah was recruited to host her own morning show, A.M. Chicago, her major competitor in the time slot was Phil Donahue. Winfrey’s open, warm-hearted personal style won her 100,000 more viewers than Donahue in just a few short months. She went from last place to first in the ratings.
3. TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR DESTINY
The Oprah Show grossed $125 million in the first year, of which Winfrey received $30 million. She took over ownership from ABC soon afterwards.
4. SET BHAGS (BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOALS)
Oprah had a dream to run a marathon before she turned 40, so she did.
5. AN EMPOWERED PERSON, EMPOWERS OTHERS
Oprah injected a “Book Club” into her show and it launched many unknown authors to become bestsellers.
6. ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO SHARE THEIR STORY AND BECOME A TRUSTED PARTNER TO HELP THEM MOVE FORWARD
Drug cheat Lance Armstrong opened up to Oprah Winfrey and admitted his substance abuse. He opened up more than even Oprah expected.
7. WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES. WHEN IT HAPPENS, TELL THE TRUTH AND GET THE MEDIA ON YOUR SIDE.
Like many other celebrity brands, Oprah has had to deal with bad publicity and she has done so with honesty and openness.
8. MO' MONEY, MO' PROBLEMS - SET YOUR GOALS ON THINGS THAT MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE, NOT YOUR POCKET BIGGER.
Oprah is the richest African American of the 20th century and also the greatest black philanthropist in American history, having given away more than $51,000,000 for charitable programs.
9. SEEK STRONG MENTORS
The person who encouraged Oprah the most was her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, who motivated her to have the confidence to speak up at an early age.
10. UNDERSTAND YOUR ROOTS AND EMBRACE WHAT MAKES YOU AND YOUR PERSONAL BRAND UNIQUE
During filming of the PBS show African American Lives, Oprah had a DNA test and discovered she is 8 percent Native American.
11. BEING HUMAN AND OPENING YOUR SOUL TO THE WORLD IS VITAL FOR YOUR PERSONAL BRAND.
During a special episode of The Oprah Show, she openly discussed her childhood sexual abuse suffered at the hands of male relatives and her mother’s friends. The lesson, thus, is be the authentic you, sharing your joys, your sorrows and your journey with others. It will only empower others to embrace their own stories.
12. BE THE REAL YOU AND OTHERS WILL WANT TO BE PART OF YOUR BRAND
At just 17 years old, Oprah won a beauty pageant. She has always had an amazing presence and even through her issues with weight gain and loss, she has included her fans in that journey.
13. LET GO. YOU WILL GET THERE.
Oprah dreamed of playing Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s The Colour Purple, but it was a hard road to get there. She was rejected at an early audition, but eventually won the role and an Academy Award nomination. The bigger lesson she learnt was that of "surrender." Once she finally let go of expectations, she allowed the universe to deliver.
14. YOUR NATURAL GIFTS WILL SERVE YOU WELL
Speaking came naturally to Oprah, at age three she presented the Easter story, honing this skill to become the host of the highest ranking talk show, named after her.
15. YOU CAN COMPETE OR YOU CAN COLLABORATE, WHICH MAKES YOU THE MORE POWERFUL PERSONAL BRAND?
Oprah has stood by and supported fellow female talk show host Ellen on numerous occasions.
16. BE YOUR OWN BRAND
Oprah resisted calling herself a brand, insisting she was a person and worried that if she became a brand she would lose the connection with real people. That all changed when she heard her fans tell her how much she’d helped them change their lives.
17. YOUR PERSONAL BRAND IS BASED ON WHAT YOU SHARE, NOT JUST ON WHAT YOU KNOW.
Did you know that Oprah Winfrey taught the dynamics of leadership as a professor at Northwestern University from 1999 to 2000?
18. WORRY LESS ABOUT WHAT OTHERS THINK, AND MORE ABOUT WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU
Having struggled with her weight for many years and very public yo-yo dieting, many would think Oprah’s recent investment into Weightwatchers is an unusual move. Given the brand is more about weight management than "dieting," it proved a smart move.
19. FIND YOUR "WHY" AND LIVE YOUR BRAND
Winfrey most famously said, “The reason I’ve been able to be so financially successful is my focus has never, ever for one minute been money.”
20. DON’T LET YOUR PERSONAL BRAND BE DRAGGED DOWN BY OTHERS.
One of the most well-known quotes from Winfrey is about surrounding yourself with the right people. She said “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher." Partner with supportive people who believe in your brand almost more than you do.
21. USE YOUR NATURAL GIFTS AND TALENTS TO INSPIRE AND HELP OTHERS.
Oprah Winfrey credits her father for helping her choose the right life direction as he was more strict with her and set high expectations of her. She revealed that if she hadn’t gone to live with him as a teenager, she may have gone down another, less positive, path.
22. WHILE YOU CAN GROW YOUR BRAND WITH SPONSORSHIPS + ENDORSEMENTS TO CAPTURE ATTENTION, BEING REAL AND ENGAGING WITH EVERYDAY PEOPLE WILL CAPTURE HEARTS.
Oprah has interviewed an amazing bevy of stars; the Michael Jackson episode became the fourth most watched event on American TV. But it’s the regular people with extraordinary stories that have really made her personal brand so loved.
23. HAVING SELF-CONFIDENCE AND SELF-BELIEF IS IMPORTANT TO BUILD A STRONG PERSONAL BRAND, BUT DON’T LOSE YOURSELF IN THE PROCESS.
She’s been called "America’s Ultimate Brand" yet it’s Oprah Winfrey’s down to earth approach which has endeared her to so many.
24. LOOK GOOD, FEEL GOOD
A woman in the audience of the Oprah Winfrey Show once revealed she bought a pair of Oprah’s shoes in an auction and would stand in them to give herself confidence.
25. BE AUTHENTIC
“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.” - Oprah Winfrey
26. IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED, DUST YOURSELF OFF AND TRY AGAIN
“Go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground.”
Oprah, like mostly insanely successful people, doesn’t believe in failure.
What most people think of as failure, Winfrey considers to be a new perspective, a new lesson, another stepping stone to her destination.
This is the advice she has for those afraid to fail: “Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better.”
27. PAY IT FORWARD
Not only has Winfrey started her own charity (Oprah’s Angel Network), she’s also given more of her own money to philanthropic causes than any other performer in America (estimated at $303 million in 2007).
The main reason that Oprah does this is so that she can make a positive impact in the lives of others, but she also has a selfish reason:
“The surest way to bring goodness to yourself is to make it your intention to do good for somebody else.”
As entrepreneurs helping others, we demonstrate our value, encourage reciprocal help, build our networks, and create good karma. Doing good for others is doing good for yourself.
28. EXCELLENCE TRUMPS PREJUDICE
In the early 1970’s, Oprah landed a job as the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV. In 1976 Winfrey got an offer to anchor the six o’clock news in Baltimore. Ten years later, she was the host of The Oprah Winfrey Show – the number-one daytime talk show in America.
Oprah knew all along that she wasn’t what TV producers wanted in front of the camera. As TIME magazine wrote, “In a field dominated by white males, she is a black female of ample bulk.”
Knowing this, she could have given up. But Winfrey believed that she could overcome prejudice in her industry by being the best in her industry:
“Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism.”
29. TRUST YOUR GUT
“Your gut is your inner compass. Whenever you have to consult with other people for an answer, you’re headed in the wrong direction.”
A few years ago, I was faced with a big life crossroads. I wanted to choose my path in the most rational way possible, so I made a weighted chart with all of the positives and negatives, analyzed the data, and determined the “right” choice.
But something didn’t feel right.
Oprah would have told me to go with my gut. She’s a strong believer in her instincts, saying they’re “where true wisdom manifests itself.” She’s made her big decisions (like deciding to retire from ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’) just based on a gut feeling.
30. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”
To celebrate two decades on national television, Winfrey thanked her hard-working staff by taking them and their families on vacation to Hawaii (1065 people in total). That’s a pretty big thank you.
Oprah’s such a fan of saying thanks, that she’s created an app called the “Thank You Game” which aspires to thank a half a billion people.