Roger Ailes

“The real problem with our society is that we’ve started thinking that responsibility is an option.”

AilesRoger Ailes is one of those beleaguered individuals that other people love to hate. He’s a lightening rod for invective because he just happens to be the executive responsible for bringing Fox News from concept to dominance in only four years. In today’s environment that feat alone is enough to generate substantial amounts of love or hate depending on your political persuasion. Lost in the rhetoric is the fact that Ailes is a pretty interesting man and one of the savviest leaders around. He came of age just as TV was moving from an entertainment gimmick to a cultural powerhouse.  He started out in Cleveland as a gofer for the then local Mike Douglas Show. By the time the show went into national syndication he was an executive producer and later won two Emmys for his efforts. In the 1970’s, he branched out into live theater. He brought the environmentally themed musical, Mother Earth to Broadway (an accomplishment in itself) but it closed after only 12 performances. Undaunted, he produced another show—Hot-L Baltimore—off-Broadway. The play was a hit and he won four Obie Awards. Ailes stayed busy with an eclectic mix of directing, producing and consulting. It was in his role as consultant that he first became involved in politics. He worked briefly for the Nixon campaign but became influential in Republican circles for his work with Ronald Reagan. His coaching is widely rewarded as the decisive factor in Reagan’s win over Mondale in the second presidential debate. He’d perform the same services for George H. W. Bush’s successful 1988 presidential campaign. In the early 1990’s, Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of GE, hired him to breathe life into the languishing CNBC cable channel. During his six-year tenure, he introduced a robust mix of new talent and programming that firmly established the channel as a major player in the business community. After leaving CNBC, Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, hired him in 1996 to launch a cable news channel designed to rival CNN’s supremacy. After five months of intense effort Fox News went on the air and it’s safe to say, Ailes “exceeded expectations.”

In discussing his varied career, Ailes says that he’s been given the opportunity to “fail up,” by regularly being asked to do things he’d never done before. There’s something deep in his character that tells him these opportunities are never to be missed and so he accepts the challenges and assumes the attendant risks. In other words, he takes responsibility. A lot of folks crave authority, but when they get it, they dedicate most of their time to dodging responsibility. That’s because when you’re responsible for something, you’re expected to make decisions and that can be risky. If you aren’t afraid of taking risks, decision-making is easy. It’s simply a matter of evaluating the available data, acting decisively and then moving on. It also means you’re willing to take the punch if things don’t work out. Risk-aversive leaders, on the other hand, spend a lot of time dithering and trying to figure out how to cover their tracks in case they make a mistake. This can lead to a type of paralysis. These folks try to avoid making a decision without realizing that their inaction is, in fact, a decision—and usually not a good one. No matter what your level of authority is, responsibility isn’t an option, it’s a requirement. It’s something you have to exercise if you expect to succeed. So take responsibility and then, take the initiative to act decisively when faced with a decision. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail up when opportunity calls. …You decide!           —Ebert

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