The passing of well-loved celebrities is always marked not only by an outpouring of grief but also by an outpouring of newspaper copy. These panegyrics are often parodied in Private Eye with versions such as the “celebrity and me” and “how I taught the celebrity everything he knew” whereby the writer manages to place themselves at the centre of attention at the expense of the late-departed celebrity. This is my attempt at the genre.
I did not know Wogan (although I did bump into him a couple of times) but his passing did give me pause for thought. However, it is worth stating that, like all previous posts, this is a blog about leadership, coaching and communications. But the point is that Terry Wogan presents a remarkable case study. He may not have recognised it, but he was an extraordinary leader with millions of followers who loved and admired him. He was also, it seems, universally liked by everyone who worked with him and he treated all his teams with the utmost respect. Let’s be honest, there are very few CEOs who could claim a legacy anything like that. And so we need to ask ourselves why that was the case and what others can learn.
Wogan’s style was warm and gentle. He was unthreatening. He told stories and he treated all equally. He possessed, it seems, the most extraordinary gift of putting other people first. And he was genuine. There was only one side to him. He himself made the point that there could only be one Wogan because in order to be successful on the radio you had to be yourself and that meant being yourself when you were off-air as well. As CEOs and leaders search for authenticity they could learn a lot from people like him.
But enough of him, where do I come in? The truth is that I always used to think of Wogan as rather naff. I never listened to Radio 2 because it was naff. Blankety Blank was naff, Children in Need was super naff, and the Eurovision was the acme of naff (before, of course, becoming post-ironic). It therefore took me a long time to recognise just how good he was, and how hard he worked to make it all seem effortless. He never took himself seriously nor his audience for granted. And when these elements of his projected personality came through I realised that there was more to admire in that man then in most so-called leaders. And so to the legions of leadership qualities perhaps we can add those Wogan traits: story-telling, self-deprecating, hubris-free, light-hearted, generous of spirit, genuine of mind, and always putting others first. These, for me, are the characteristics of true leadership. After all, as Mark Twain said: “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”