Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi on January 29, 1954 (Academy of Achievement 2005). She was brought up by a grandmother in a farm where she learned to read aloud and recite at the age of 3. From 6 years old, she lived with her mother, Vernita Lee, in Milwaukee. From childhood, she went through experiences, which developed traits and capabilities that now set her apart as a peerless leader today.
survivor of abuses and misfortunes – Oprah suffered abuse and molestation, ran away
and was sent to a juvenile detention home at 13 where she was refused admission because all the beds were occupied. She was moved to her father’s house in Nashville where she was subjected to strict discipline. Her father, Vernon, made his daughter observe a midnight curfew and read and write a book report each week. Oprah would later admit that, despite his strictness, he was for what was best in her life and would not accept anything less than what he believed was that best. In adulthood, Oprah also got involved in drugs and then gave birth to a premature baby boy. The Neo-Freudian theory applies here in that Oprah was not completely controlled by the negative effects of her childhood and early life. This deviates from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory on the compelling control of the unconscious. The Neo-Freudian theory emphasizes that social factors, interpersonal relations or other cultural influences can and do alter the influences of past experiences upon personality.
persistent learner and diligent professional – Oprah finished a course on Speech
Communications and Performing Arts at the Tennessee State University (Academy of Achievement 2005). Her broadcasting career started at age 17 when she was taken in by WVOL radio in Nashville and two years later signed in as a reporter and anchor at WTVF-TV. Then she joined WJZ-TV in Baltimore in 1976. Two years later, her talent for hosting talk shows was discovered when she became a co-host of WJZ-TV’s program, “People Are Talking,” while she continued to work as anchor and news reporter. Her stunning career took a leap when she went to Chicago to host WLS-TV’s “AM Chicago,” then a failing local talk show. In less than a year, Oprah changed “AM Chicago” into the hottest show in the area. The show extended to an hour and, in September 1985, was renamed into “the Oprah Winfrey Show.” It became a nationally viewed show starting September 8, 1986 and the number one talk show in syndication in less than a year. Both the behavioral/social and the cognitive theories apply here. By her deliberate choices of finishing these courses and taking these actions, Oprah changed her life and her personality rather than allow her childhood misfortunes bring her down. The behavioral or social theory holds that a leader’s success comes from his or her acts rather than his or her traits. And the cognitive theory states that a person’s thoughts determine his or her emotions, behaviors and, thus, personality. Oprah thought that she wanted to overcome and succeed rather than give in to failure, thus the cognitive theory applies.
3. a fearless innovator – “The Oprah Winfrey Show” received three Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Host, Outstanding Talk/Service Program and Outstanding Direction in June 1987, the first year the show became eligible (Academy of Achievement 2005). Oprah’s show received the second and consecutive Daytime Emmy Award as Outstanding Talk/Service Program in June 1988. She was also named the Broadcaster of the Year by the International Radio and Television Society, the youngest and only the fifth woman to receive the award in the Society’s 25 years of history. Oprah first grabbed national attention to herself in her sharp performance in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, “The Color Purple” in 1985, for which she won nominations for an Oscar and Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actress. She was also hailed for her performance in the movie adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, “Native Son.” The Neo-Freudian, Humanistic, Behavioral/Social and Cognitive theories all apply to this trait. By her interactions, Oprah changed her life. The Humanistic theory says that one’s self-view creates his or her perception and thus facilitates personality development. It precisely applies to this trait. It also falls under behavioral/social because Oprah chose to act on her opportunities rather than rely on mere character traits. And this also falls under the cognitive theory in that Oprah’s thoughts formed her emotions and behaviors and, therefore, her personality.
4. a natural entertainer – Oprah then formed her own production company, HARPO Productions, Inc. in 1986 out of her deep love for acting and desire to produce quality entertainment material (Academy of Achievement 2005, Phila.Gov 2003). It is based in Chicago and includes HARPO Productions, Inc., HARPO Films and HARPO Video, Inc. by October 1988, HARPO Productions had acquired full ownership and production responsibilities for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” from Capitol Cities/ABC. The acquisition made Oprah the first woman in history to own and produce her own talk show. In 1989, HARPO produced a series of television ministries, “The Women of Brewster Place,” with Oprah as star and executive producer; TV movies, “There Are No Children Here” in 1993; and “Before Women Had Wings” in 1997. She produced and appeared in both movies. She also performed in the film version of the book, “Beloved,” by Nobel Prize winner American author Toni Morrison in 1998. This trait falls under the Neo-Freudian, Humanistic, Behavioral/Social and Cognitive theories. Oprah’s new experiences exceeded the limits of the unconscious experiences of her past. She was led by a pursuit of self-esteem. She also chose to act rather than be led by mere traits. And her thoughts of being a success always came first.
5. a well-loved missionary – Oprah’s own memories of childhood abuse led her to campaign for the establishment of a national database of convicted child abusers in 1991 and also testified before a US Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of a National Child Protection Act (Academy of Achievement 2005). This Act was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1993 and called it the “Oprah Bill.” This database is now available to law enforcement agencies and other interested parties all over the country. She has since then risen to greater fame as one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century by Time Magazine (Phila-Gov 2003). In 1998, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award. This trait falls under the Neo-Freudian, Humanistic, Behavioral/Social and Cognitive theories as well as the Biological theory in that Oprah’s being a woman of color has inclined her to favor people of her color.
6. an awesome commercial success – Her awesome success and fame branched out into the publishing industry when she started an on-air book club, the Oprah Book Club (Academy of Achievement 2005, Phila.Gov 2003). The Club’s selections became instant bestsellers, for which she was given a gold medal by the National Book Foundation in its 50th anniversary in 1999 for her service to books and authors. She is also a partner in Oxygen Media, Inc., a cable channel and interactive network, primarily catering to women. In 2000, the network presented a $100,000 “Use Your Life Award” to those who use their lives for the improvement of the lives of others. In 2003, Forbes Magazine listed Oprah as the first African-American woman to become a billionaire. In the same year, she was also Philadelphia’s recipient of the 2003 Marian Anderson Award. All these have made Oprah Winfrey one of the most influential voices of the times. Her HARPO multi-media corporation has poured in contributions beyond television into publishing, music, film, philanthropy, education, health and fitness, and social awareness. Specifically as supervising producer and host of her powerful show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she entertains, enlightens and empowers her millions of viewers all over the world. This trait falls under the five theories stated in the last trait.
7. a global communicator – Along with these huge successes, Oprah founded and directs “O, The Oprah Magazine,” a monthly magazine, which connects to her audience and provides possibilities of changing their lives (Phila.Gov 2003). Its magazine launch was said to have been the most successful in recent times. In April 2002, Oprah launched the magazine’s international edition in South Africa.
Oxygen Media LLC includes a women’s cable network and through it, Oprah created and produced originals, such as “Oprah Goes Online,” “Use Your Life,” and the prime-time “Oprah After the Show (Phila.Gov 2003).” The last is a daily half-hour spontaneous and unscripted show taped after holding “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” In September 2002, Oprah also created and launched “Dr Phil,” which featured life strategist Dr. Phil McGraw, a frequent guest at “the Oprah Winfrey Show” since 1998. It quickly earned success ratings and drew the best audience figures since Oprah’s own show started in 1986. This falls under the Humanistic, Neo-Freudian, Behavioral/Social and Cognitive theories as earlier explained. Her training in the communications field was most effectively utilized in her becoming a world success.
8. an advocate and supporter of people of color – The Oprah Winfrey Foundation was established to extend support for the inspiration, empowerment, education and well-being of women, children and families throughout the world (Phil.Gov 2003). Through it, she has directly served the needs of the less fortunate and has awarded hundreds of grants to organizations, which implement or assist the same objective. Through it, she has also contributed millions of dollars for the provision of better education to under-served students who deserve help but do not have the means. Oprah has served as the national spokesperson for “A Better Chance,” an organization that provides academically fit students of color, especially from the inner school districts, with the chance to enter the nation’s finest college preparatory schools. She operates The Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program, which gives scholarships to students who are determined to gain education and use it back to their communities in the US and abroad.
The Foundation has expanded global humanitarian efforts in developing countries (Phil.Gov 2003). In December 2002, Oprah gave joy to tens of thousands of children through her Christmas Kindness South Africa 2002 through visits to orphanages and rural schools in several provinces in South Africa. Children in these institutions received gifts of food, clothing, athletic shoes, school supplies, books and toys. These continued till the following year. Oprah also formed a partnership with South Africa’s Ministry of Education in building a model leadership school for girls, which opened in January this year. This trait comes under the five theories earlier mentioned, with emphasis on the Biological theory because Oprah is a woman of color.
9. a most admired international public figure — Oprah has created an unprecedented and unparalleled connection with people all over the world through the power of the media, specifically as supervising producer and host of her globally acclaimed and award-winning Show (HARPO 2005). Through it, she has brought fun, information, enlightenment and uplifted millions of viewers for the past two decades. She has accomplished a lot and carved her name in fame as a television pioneer, producer, publisher, educator and philanthropist and one of the most respected and admired public figures in the world today. Young leaders of any color, race, gender, calling or religion can gain inspiration from Oprah’s beginnings, struggles and awesome successes. Her dedication to the less fortunate all over the world has endowed her with much fame and influence that the world will always remember. This trait comes under all the theories, except the Psychoanalytic theory. Oprah has taken utmost advantage of her interactions and opportunities and used these to achieve what she thought she wanted.
10. a pure achiever – Oprah’s honorary achievements include the 2005 Hall of Fame Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the Global Humanitarian Action Award from the United Nations Association of the United States of America in 2004; the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters; one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine; the AAP Honors Award from the Association of American Publishers in 2003; the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award during the 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2002; Hall of Fame Award by Broadcasting & Cable; the 50th Anniversary Gold Medal of the National Book Foundation in 1999; and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1998. The following year, Oprah would refuse any more future Emmy Awards for herself and the Show. By then, the Show had already received 39 Daytime Emmy Award: 7 for Outstanding Host, 9 for Outstanding Talk Show, 21 in Creative Arts, and 1 for Oprah’s supervising production of the ABC After School Special Shades of Single Protein. Oprah was also named by Newsweek as a Most Important Person in Books and Media in 1997; the Television Performer of the Year by TV Guide; recipient of the Gold Medal Award of the International Radio and Television Society Foundation in 1996; and the Individual Achievement Award by George Foster Peabody in 1995 (HARPO). This comes under all the five theories, except the Psychoanalytic theory, as a consequence of Oprah’s optimum use of her natural talents, her interactions and sheer will combined.
11. an effective product endorser – Ophra’s effects have been everywhere. When she recommended the use of Kashwere for her trainer and some close friends, the company was overwhelmed with calls from people across the country to buy the robes before that Christmas (Brown 2006). Kashwere LLC’s robes were featured as one of Oprah’s favorite things on her show’s November 22 episode. Orders were said to have poured faster than they could be filled. Kashwere staff could only be awed by the power of Oprah. The robes were mentioned at the Dr. Phil Show before, but the exposure resulted only in small sales. But that was to change when Oprah’s boyfriend, Stedman Graham, gave her one of the robes to refresh her after a hard day. During the show, Oprah told the story and gave out vouchers for 350 robes to her audience. Kashwere is a wholesaler selling robes and blankets, which are made of fabric soft like cashmere but washable. It sells these products mostly to high-end boutiques, hotels and spas. Because it sends large orders to only a chosen list of customers, it could not easily or quickly respond to the hundreds of orders of only one or two. This was the experience since Oprah endorsed the robes on her show. This falls under the five theories, which have given Oprah much power over her audiences.
12. a charismatic preacher – The entertainment industry may not always be perceived as the fit medium for a spiritual mission, but many see Oprah as a woman with a mission (Nelson 2002). Her magazine, O, carries mission themes, which may not be part of orthodox Christianity, but refer to God quite clearly. Ophra’s daily TV talk show includes a range of topics, which converge on how one can be happy. She talks and emphasizes how happiness can be maximized in oneself and for others. She clearly has a choice and prominent position to preach. Her TV show is enthusiastically viewed by 22 million people. Her two-year-old magazine has 2.5 million readers and brims with advertisements. Authors and publishers also attested to her commercial magic. The 46 works she chose for her book club sold at an average of 1.5 million in 1999, the club’s most successful year. Oprah endorses books, which edify. Many of these are written by women of color and possess strong plots, characters and moral awareness. On TV, she comes alive with her easy and casual conversational style. Once there, she becomes personal and personable, a pastor and best friend. Her fans see her as authoritative but approachable. It was to her that New York Mayor Rudoph Giuliani turned when he needed someone to lead a multi-faith service in rousing hope and solace to a devastated city after the September 11 attacks. Oprah is the voice of women in the middle class, middle-American and middle-aged. She speaks for people caught in the middle of families, interpersonal conflicts, those with too many good intentions, and those with too many tasks to do. She verbalizes for women who try to manage their busy lives and households, tackle personal and social concerns or even lose some weight. She offers ways of doing things. She has been called an encourager. Her slogan is “live your best life.” She suggests tools for living that best life. Her show includes heartwarming and amazing tales of candor and courage. It indulges in confessions, which has become the signature of the show. Oprah encourages expression as crucial and even one’s way to salvation. Expression is the ultimate aim of her show and the essence of her crusade in helping make things in life become better (Nelson). This again falls under the five theories, which have enabled Oprah to go beyond merely achieving what she dreamt for herself and her people of color. Her rapport with her audiences has given her the power to convey the message of humaneness and wholeness.
In conclusion, Oprah is a survivor of childhood abuses, a persistent learner and diligent professional, a fearless innovator, a natural entertainer, a well-loved missionary, an awesome commercial success, a global communicator, an advocate and supporter of people of color, a most admired international public figure, a pure achiever, an effective product endorser and a charismatic preacher. These traits fall under all the theories, except the Psychoanalytic Theory, because Oprah refused to be controlled by the negative influences of her unfortunate past.