What I Learned from Jay Leno

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Motivational Speaker Bill StaintonA long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to write monolog jokes for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. One day after the show I happened to be sitting with Jay (no doubt having pizza; with Jay, it’s always pizza), and the conversation turned to fame. Specifically, the double-edged sword that is fame. At one point, Jay said something that has stayed with me ever since.

“I have to be really careful,” said Jay. “I mean, you know me—I try to be nice to everybody.” [Note: This is true. Jay does try to be nice to everybody. Unless you’re an NBC executive. Then all bets are off.] “But here’s the thing: I meet 500 people a week. I try to be nice to them all, but sometimes I might slip. Maybe I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to sign that autograph, maybe I don’t see the guy who just wants to shake my hand. Could be anything. But here’s the thing. If I accidentally mess up, and as a result, say, person 384 thinks I’m a “jerk,” well, to me that’s just person 384. But to person 384, I’m their ‘Jay Leno is a jerk!’ story for the rest of their lives! And not just for them: for their friends, for their family, for their co-workers—for everybody they ever meet, it’s ‘Jay Leno is a jerk!’ So I have to be careful.”

Here’s what I learned from that. Jay Leno gets that he is the producer of the show called “Jay Leno.” I don’t mean The Tonight Show. I mean his own personal brand. He takes responsibility for who he is and the impact he makes. (Yeah, I know Jay has taken some hits in the press in his day. And who knows—maybe it is a case of “Dr. Leno and Mr. Hyde.” All I know is that in my experience, Jay was always a fair, decent, hard working guy.) Jay Leno gets it. Jay Leno is the producer of his own show.

You are the producer of your show as well. You are the producer of the show called [insert your name here]. You may not have Jay’s kind of fame. You may not meet 500 people a week. But you’re out there, aren’t you? You’re talking with customers and potential customers—in person, on the phone, through email. You go to the store, you go to the post office. You’re out there. And when you’re out there, you are the producer of the show called you.

So the question is, how’s your show? Do people enjoy it? Would you watch it? Is it consistent? If not, guess who gets to gets to change it? You! Because you are the producer. Not your co-workers, not your spouse, not the weather. You.

Your job, your relationship, your life is not a dress rehearsal. Every day is showtime, and you’re the producer. Make it a great show!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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  • Rory Vaden says:

    Good stuff Bill. Thanks for sharing. It’s an important lesson that I’ve often thought about. Impressions are such a delicate and important part of personal branding

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