“To every thing there is a season” or so said Pete Seeger and the Byrds, or the Book of Ecclesiastics in the King James Version of the Bible, depending on one’s preference. And in keeping with the ends of the personal preference paradigm, Fox News has shared a classic business lesson. No, not “those” kinds of lessons. This is one of those timeless lessons of business, of life, of organizations and leadership. Ford did it with Lee Iacocca. The 49ers traded Montana and the Colts let Peyton go to Denver. The Today Show let Katie go, ESPN has lost almost everyone, and even MJ and the Bulls came to an end. And every company in history has parted ways with their top sales person. Eventually, there comes a time when those “too valuable” are simply not that valuable.
Fox News as an organization has demonstrated that maxim that “no one person is more valuable than the overall organization”. Everything else about Fox News aside, there is no denying, they have put the good of the organization above some of the most “valuable” personalities in the infotainment industry. For various reasons, which we will not discuss or debate, Fox News has parted ways with two hugely successful personalities in Bill O’Reilly and Megan Kelly. Vastly different scenarios, but the fundamental truth remains: the organization was placed ahead of the individuals.
It is quite easy to fall into the leadership trap that the team, the organization, the business, the company, cannot survive without the “top performer”. While it is true that great talents, performers, sales people, operations leaders, analysts, skilled craftsman, or the uncounted millions of committed team members are all special, there are some that just seem to have more of an impact. They apparently are the one generating the lion’s share of the revenue, that are the driving force in innovation and change, that are the glue that holds the team together, that are simply “too valuable”. Yet eventually, there comes a time.
It was a key component of military life, no one is indispensable; the mission and the team come before the individual…no matter whom it might be. The same holds in sports, entertainment, and business. Sure, those special “stars” can have an enormous impact, but the Bulls remained relevant without MJ, the Broncos have won after Elway (thanks Peyton), the Today Show is back on top, ESPN marches on, and Ford has continued to build cars. And the country carries on regardless of who is in which office. In fact, quite often organizations and individuals flourish after the split. “A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing” as the lyric or verse reminds us.
It is challenging for leaders to take the long view when the decision is at hand, but while the temptation is there to make “just one exception” for that great talent; to retain and profit from that special person a little longer, let Fox News and Bill O’Reilly pass through your mind. He was a ratings and revenue goldmine for the network, and while his particular scenario made for a relatively easy decision, most are more of the Megan Kelly variety – tough calls, but in the end no one is indispensable. Ever.