353 - 5 Leadership Mistakes That Led To CNN CEO Chris Licht's Failure - John Laurito
Episode 353 5 Leadership Mistakes That Led To CNN CEO Chris Licht's Failure Tomorrow's Leader Podcast with John Laurito

353 – 5 Leadership Mistakes That Led To CNN CEO Chris Licht’s Failure

Leadership is an immense responsibility that should never be taken lightly. Even the most competent leaders can occasionally be perceived as intemperate. In this episode, our host, John Laurito, explores the leadership mistakes that ultimately led to Chris Licht’s dismissal as CEO. While some individuals may have a natural inclination towards successful leadership, others must diligently work at it. It’s important to note that effective leadership is not solely reliant on having an extroverted personality that commands attention through words. Rather, it revolves around an individual’s capacity to foster collaboration, empowerment, encouragement, and accountability within a team, enabling them to collectively achieve goals. Throughout history, truly remarkable leaders have endured a transformative journey, learning from numerous mistakes along the way before attaining their ultimate success.

[0:00] Intro

[3:06] In recent events…

[6:16] Making disparaging comments about his predecessor

[9:50] Physically separating himself from everyone

[11:51] Fired well-admired people

[13:01] Losing people’s trust

[15:10] Made people think he doesn’t care about them

[21:10] Outro

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 John: Over the last two decades, I’ve been in an insatiable quest to learn everything I can about leadership, what makes the best leaders so good after running companies small and large over the last 20 years. Today, I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question.


 John: My name’s John Laurito. I’m your host, and I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this very topic and what makes the best leader so good. Welcome to Tomorrow’s leader. 


John: All right. Welcome back to the show. Thank you for sticking it out. I, I, yes, I know it’s been a while since my last episode, but trust me, I have been building up tons of content and will do my best to release these and create these and get them out to you as soon as possible because I have gotten such great feedback from all of you.


 John: You’re, you’ve missed the episodes, the consistency of them. Uh, it has been the busiest first quarter of, or first. Almost six months I have ever had, I think truly. Uh, so thank you for bearing with me. Thank you for being patient, and thank you for being loyal listeners of this show. Uh, trust me, it does mean a lot.


 John: It means more than you would ever even know. So I, I greatly, greatly appreciate you tuning in. So, uh, a couple things. First of all, those of you who are tuning in on video, you can actually see on YouTube. I have a new setup here. Yeah, you’re like, where’s that, uh, you know, padded wall that you have that’s, you’d normally behind you.


 John: It is still there. It is in, uh, a separate part of this room. I’ve just reconfigured my office. My podcast, old podcast set up is on the other side, and this is my new wall. I just, I had to show it off. This is my brick wall. This did not come with my house. This is something I built. I put up with my own two hands.


 John: Now I will say this, this began as a, uh, like a thought that, hey, I could do this thing over a course of a couple weekends. Uh, it is real brick. Uh, it is, um, real mortar. It’s real. Everything there. I was thinking it would be a couple of weekends. Uh, and it was like, I’m gonna say six months plus easily. It might have been eight, nine months now.


 John: Uh, for those of you who have ever built a brick wall, put one up. You know what I’m saying? That this is a horrendous project. Now, I love a good project. I’ve done tile floors, I’ve done wood floors, I’ve done patios, I’ve done all kinds of stuff. This, to me, seemed like it was gonna be a fun project and wow.


 John: And it’s not like you can stop in the middle and change your mind. You are committed. This is one wall. It’s not even two or three walls, it’s one wall. Oh, and it was tough. So I’m proud, very proud. That’s why it’s now my background. Uh, but if any of you are thinking about putting up a brick wall and doing the same, please reach out to me and I will convince you.


 John: Otherwise, they’re much, much better things you can do with six months of your, of your life. So any event. Uh, okay. That said, today’s episode is, uh, about some recent events. I, I haven’t


John: done a lot of current events in this show. I’m actually going to work on doing more because there’s so many great leadership examples and, and situations and, and lessons that we can bring into this show based on stuff that’s been happening out there.


 John: Um, as you know, I have not made this a political show and it won’t be. But it will be a little bit more incorporating some of the stuff that’s going on in, in business li life and uh, uh, and, and, uh, our surroundings. Uh, so we can pull some of those lessons into this show. One of the things that happened recently, if you read in the news, was, The c O of c n n was fired recently, uh, a couple of weeks ago, Chris Licht, and it’s a really interesting story and I wanted to share with you some of the leadership leadership lessons that come from this because here was somebody that had all the makings of somebody who could do this.


John: The role of a, of a CEO of cnn, uh, potentially extremely well, um, had certainly worked like crazy. I mean, this is a guy that was working 80 plus hours a week, uh, truly, um, and still was not able. To make it a successful run. He also had, uh, a, a, certainly a great track record of background, uh, of success. Um, he had all the makings of somebody who really could have done what needed to get done.


John: Now, this was a classic turnaround job. I mean, this was really taking a, a news organization that had been steadily, uh, dropping in ratings. Uh, and he came in about a year ago. With the mission to not only change c nm, but really to change journalism as a whole. As you know, uh, the credibility of journal journalism has been at stake, uh, for some time now, and his mission was really to, to kind of bring.


John: CNN to a point where it was, um, had regained some of its lost, uh, respect some of its lost, uh, certainly viewers and, and listeners and really, uh, put CNN on a new place on the map. So, But here was what’s interesting that there were a number of things that happened. Um, and, and in the spirit of trying to keep this a relatively quick episode, I wanna give you a lot of content.


John: I’ll give you some of the background, but I wanna make the points of what some of the great l lessons are to take away from this. Now, I’ve been in situations many times in my career of doing turnarounds and turnarounds are really exceptionally challenged, challenging to do some of it. Has to do with the, the reasons that you’re turning around the organization.


John: Sometimes it’s been an organization that’s been absolutely misled. Sometimes it’s got culture issues, financial problems, whatever the situation is, there’s a reason that you are there and doing a turnaround is incredibly challenging. But there were some things. That Chris Licht did not do. There were some things that he did that compromised his ability to really lead, um, an effective, uh, turnaround.


John: So let’s start with some of the things that really are kind of the basics. So here was somebody who walked in. Now one of the things he was. Um, challenged with was not just the fact that this was a turnaround, uh, and just the normal challenges of a, of a turnaround, but his predecessor, um, who had been there for 10 years, Jeff Zucker was absolutely beloved.


John: Uh, he was admired, he was respected. He was kind of that larger than life type of CEO that just. Drew people in. He was very high relationship. Uh, the type that, there were 4,000 employees at CNN and everybody felt like they were part of this family. Um, and part of his family. So he knew kids’ names and knew people’s.


John: He had nicknames for people and they called him nicknames. And it was just this kind of very loving. Uh, feel, uh, extremely, extremely high relationship leader, uh, respected, uh, admired, loved. So to say that his departure left a sting in the organization is an understatement for sure. So, you know, challenge for sure for Chris Lick to step into a situation like that.


John: Um, but he made a couple of really key, uh, Mistakes. One was he went on record making disparaging comments about his predecessor, Jeff Zucker. Um, and for what reasons? You know, it’s hard to say. I mean, he almost had this obsession, obsession with him. Uh, and, and maybe that was him feeling threatened by him.


John: Maybe it was just he knew how much people were loyal to him and he needed to kind of stake a new, put a new stake in the ground. So he felt the way to do that. Um, was to make disparaging comments about the predecessor that I really loved. So immediately, uh, that drew some opposition to him internally within c nm.


John: Um, so right off the bat, you know, you’re stepping into an organization that, whether it was led by somebody who was admired or not, it’s always a dangerous thing to make disparaging comments about a predecessor. Uh, it just puts you in a situation where you, you’re immediately. Uh, you’re, you’re immediately, uh, making it personal.


John: Um, you’re not stepping into something that’s, you know, that’s just purely business oriented. It’s, it makes it seem, from an a, an outsider’s perspective as though there were some other issues there, or maybe even some personal relationship that you have with this person. Either way, it’s just not a good idea to bring in your feelings about the predecessor to the organization.


John: You may have them, they may be strong. But keep them to yourself. It usually doesn’t bode well when I’ve seen leaders share how they feel about their predecessor. In addition, um, what, what? Chris Lick did was, was make disparaging comments about just c n N as a whole. So here was the organization that he now was running and he was making disparaging comments about the C N N that was before him, which was only a matter of months prior to him.


John: It was all the same people that are still there that he’s now leading. So in essence, Even though he’s making broad brush comments, people are taking that very, very personally. So he did a couple of things with those comments that really caused him a lack of trust, um, and confidence in people. Um, so that’s number one mistake that he made.


John: Uh, he was kind of badmouthing the, the, the, uh, prior regime, so to speak. Uh, don’t do that. Number two, here’s a real, uh, key one. So here was his predecessor who was so loved, and part of that was just his whole, his whole environment. He was just in the mix of everybody. He was right in the middle of everything.


John: In fact, his office was on the 17th floor, right where the news room was, where the. The production studio was where the journalists were. I mean, he was literally right in the center of all the action, and that was a big part of who he was. He was right in the center of all the action. Well, Chris, when he came in, one of the first things he did was he took, uh, that office of Jeff Zucker’s and converted it.


John: To a conference room, and then he moved his office five floors up, up to the 22nd floor. And, and actually some people said they couldn’t even find it, they didn’t even know where the office was. It was in this really secluded, hidden part of the, the, the 22nd floor. So, talk about making a statement. It really.


John: Not only separated himself physically from everybody from the organization, but it really separated himself, uh, in terms of really being in touch with the organization. And most people ended up describing him as very detached. So for everything that his predecessor did to build relationships, you know, Chris kind of came in and, and had a very, uh, low relationship, uh, just almost this very.


John: Um, uh, just secluded way about himself, kind of aloof. Um, and just an alienated people. I mean, bottom line, when you’re, when you’re, when you’re that far removed physically, it’s really hard for you to get a pulse from what’s going on, and it just makes a really big statement, right, that you’re, you’re not accessible.


John: Uh, you’re not somebody who really. Cares enough to be that close to what, what is actually happening with the organization. And it kind of lends to that whole perception that, okay, you’re gonna lead from the ivory tower and actually not really understand what’s happening in the organization. So that was, that was mistake number two.


John: And that happened really early. Here were a couple, a couple of the things that he did, number number three. Um, he came in and, and fired some really admired and loved people. Now, this is a tough thing and I’m not even gonna make a, a huge deal about this, but you’ve really gotta be very cautious and, uh, and thoughtful about.


How you make a change in an organization. Now, granted, I’m, I’m a firm believer that if you can’t change the people, you’ve gotta change the people. And oftentimes an organization is failing because of the people and the leaders, certainly in that organization. But he made some calculated decisions that really were not probably well thought out.


John: My guess is he didn’t really have, so this is pure opinion for me, but my guess is he didn’t really have a clear picture on how, what the ripple effect of those decisions would be. He fired Brian Stets, uh, Stelter, who was the, uh, chief media correspondent and, uh, anger and some key journalists that really were very, uh, loved, admired, respecting the organization.


John: So that was another kind of trust blow. Um, And, and along with the trust. So here’s, you know, 1, 2, 3. Uh, the fourth thing is also trust. And that was, he made some comments early on about not firing any individuals or major layoffs yet. Very quickly, uh, announced some pretty significant layoffs. So, Right away.


John: He lost a lot of trust. And I see leaders that come into organizations like that, and this goes in that category of over-promising. So be really, really careful of what you say, uh, especially regarding layoffs, especially regarding some of the things that. You may need to take away that we’re there doesn’t matter, whatever size organization it is.


John: I mean, you know, you can have some small things that are really important to people and if you make comments that, hey, you know, we’re, we’re not gonna do anything, we’re not gonna change anything or we’re not gonna. Change that national trip or whatever that we do every year. Um, and you find yourself as you look closer at things that you really have to, and you have to make some changes, it’s really that much more difficult because you’ve gone on record and you’ve announced to people that you don’t plan to make those changes.


John: So just be careful the things you say. Much easier to say, Hey, you know what? My goal is not to make any changes, uh, that affect these areas. That’s my objective. At the same point as as ceo, I have to look at every option. What I will tell you is I’ll promise you transparency, I’ll, I’ll promise you, you’ll understand the big picture and, and this and that.


John: You can make comments that. Are, are at least not promissory that kind of back you into a corner. Um, and I’ve seen a lot of leaders do that in many times where they say things that they, ultimately, it comes back to bite them because they said them too soon. And without all the facts, they didn’t really do enough of the due diligence.


John: They didn’t really come to the right conclusions. Um, they didn’t really know the, the true picture of things, and they made those comments way too early. You see that a lot with politicians. You see a lot of ta, a lot of. Politicians make promises they can’t commit to, they can’t deliver. Um, and they get into a situation and then they have to backtrack on that.


John: You see that, uh, time and time again. Uh, so here’s the fifth thing. And the last thing, the the most important thing, you have to build the trust. You have to build the respect of the people in the organization. You know, what they’re looking at. And anybody, and you’ve heard me say this in other episodes, what they’re trying to do and trying to assess is they’re really asking themselves in determining whether they’re gonna follow you.


John: They’re asking three things. One is, does this person really care about me? Um, Do they, do I trust this person? I will say it’s four things, not even three. Do I trust this person? Um, do I want to go where this person wants to go? So do I believe in their mission and their vision? And then do I think this person can actually get me or get us?


John: There? Is this person capable of leading us effectively to this person? Now, in this case, Chris Licht. Made people feel like he didn’t care about them. Um, he lost their trust for those things that I just shared with you before. They actually believed, a lot of them believed in his vision. His vision was to, to change not just c Nnn, but journalism and make it much more, uh, respected and bring it back to what it used to be, where it was, uh, reporting facts.


John: It was fact checking. You know, he had a, a statement he would say all the time, uh, this is Chris. He would say, listen, you know, some people like rain, some people don’t like rain, but we won’t ha have people on this show that will say it’s raining when it’s not raining, or it’s not raining when it is raining.


John: Um, and that was a real big kind of mission that he had, was to change c n m to bring it back to a place where it wasn’t alienated. People that were on one side of the aisle or, or the other was really based on truthful reporting. But his decision making really was what lost a lot of respect from people.


John: So he made some key blunders, uh, that really were kind of hard to come back from, you know, in, in January, he dec he, he was very, uh, forceful and telling the producers to not cover, uh, the January 6th, um, con, uh, con, um, congress committee that was, uh, Really something that CNN View viewers and most viewers wanted to tune into and see.


John: And because of that, they got slaughtered by Ms. Nbc. So made the decision and really not big deal that committee hearing and, and in reality that proved to be a mistake that was probably smaller in scale to a couple other things. Uh, he put a really. Controversial, uh, anchor, uh, in a, in a much more prominent spot in the morning.


John: Um, and really tied a lot of Chris Chris’s own and CNN zone future to that decision, which that proved to backfire. Uh, and then the last big decision he made was, was really, uh, kind of the, the straw that broke the camel’s back. And that was, um, To, to try to win back, uh, the Republican audience and do it in a way where it went against the.


John: What CNN had been trying to do. Um, and this is not political in any sense, uh, but he had, they had decided, and he had decided to do a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, uh, with Donald Trump. And fill that town hall with, uh, with, uh, Trump supporters. So it became a very much of a Trump platform. Now, whether you love him or you hate him, uh, that really was a great thing for Trump and in insiders and cnn, uh, didn’t understand it.


John: They didn’t really understand what was happening, and it seemed very disingenuous to not only both to Republicans, but also to Democrats. It seemed like a very. Uh, a, a very, um, a move that was very calculated for a specific benefit and it ended up really, really backfiring. And that proved to be a decision that he tied everything to.


John: It ended up backfiring and a matter of. I think it was days after that began his, um, his exit out of cnn. So, uh, I’m sharing this with you because I think there’s a lot of lessons to be drawn from this for anybody who’s taking over an organization in general, but certainly an organization that is struggling, that it’s a turnaround that we’re trying that, that you’re trying to make as that C C E O or that leader of that organization.


John: It is absolutely critical to think of those four decisions, four questions that people are asking you. So they’re asking themselves rather, can I trust you? Do you care about me? Do I believe in the vision that you have? Do I want to go to that place that you’re trying to take the organization and do I think you’re the person that can actually take us there?


John: So that’s the trust, it’s the respect, it’s decision making. It’s how you’re interacting with people. It’s the communication. It’s everything that goes into those four. Questions and answering those, um, effectively. So, nave, I thought that was interesting to share. There’s tons of news pieces on that. I’m interested in your thoughts.


John: Of course. So, uh, shoot me a note, shoot me an email, let me know, uh, your thoughts and some of the things maybe that I might have missed that were other lessons from this. Um, I’m also interested to know other pieces, uh, of your life or your business experience. Situations where you’ve learned leadership, uh, from either your own actions or even somebody else’s.


John: I’d love to profile some of these stories and just bring ’em to the show. So many event, uh, thank you for tuning in. Thank you again for being patient, uh, with me. I am in production mode. There will be a lot of episodes coming soon, trust me. So thanks for tuning in. You know the deal as always, like share, subscribe, go down below, give a five star review and.


John: I will see you next time. Thanks. Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader. For suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching, reach me at john@johnlaurito.com.Thanks, lead on!


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