Oprah Winfrey at Sunday's Golden Globes show won the Cecil B. DeMille award, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s version of a lifetime achievement award. Midway through the broadcast, Winfrey got up on stage and gave a rousing speech that had the audience alternately tearing up and jumping to their feet.
Of course, it's not surprising that the woman who hosted the highest rated daytime talk show in history for 25 years can command a room. The self-made billionaire even lit up social media with the trending hashtag #Oprah2020.
The media mogul says that she currently has no plans to make a play for the highest political office in the land -- though that may be up for debate. But what the people watching at home and those at the Beverly Hilton recognized was that her speech was a prime example of Winfrey’s leadership skills.
Winfrey’s career trajectory is truly iconic, but any entrepreneur looking to make an impact can draw from her example to be an effective leader.
During her speech, Winfrey took the opportunity to place the moment in its historical context, both broadly and personally. She recalled how powerful it was watching Sidney Poitier win Best Actor at the 1964 Academy Awards and be honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award in 1982.
Winfrey noted that, “it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award.” She also made sure to thank the people who directly and indirectly opened doors for her and made it possible to be on that stage, from industry titans such as Quincy Jones to remarkable activists such as Recy Taylor, an Alabama woman who fought for justice after she was raped in 1944.
Winfrey understands that strong leaders do not succeed without the work of those who came before.
On Jan. 1st, 300 powerful women in Hollywood including Winfrey unveiled a new initiative called Time’s Up, an organizing body to help fight harassment not only in the entertainment industry but across the board, starting with a $13 million legal fund to aid those women who speak up.
To raise awareness about the work Time’s Up is doing, this year’s Golden Globes attendees wore black, and many of the actresses involved brought activists to the awards, including National Domestic Workers Alliance director Ai-jen Poo and Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement.
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“Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday,” Winfrey said, connecting the past with the present. “She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.”
Winfrey understands that success is nothing if you do not use your influence to make a difference.
While Winfrey always has a number of projects in the offing, whether it be as an actor, producer or advocate, she said in her speech that while she has had a varied career, there has always been an internal consistency to how she approaches her work.
“What I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome,” Winfrey explained. “And I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights So I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon!”
A strong leader knows that you can accomplish great things when you truly believe in what you are doing.