America's Best Leaders: Q&A with Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO of Fox News channel
I'm not sure that journalism school teaches young journalists how to recognize heroes. And most people are not heroes at everything. So when the day comes and the time comes and you rise to the occasion, you qualify. The truth is, you have to look at the individual acts of heroism committed by civilians and the military and the people who made this country great, and give them their due. And I think we live in a time when the media spends all its time tearing down heroes, when in fact we need them more than ever. I don't think there are fewer heroes. There's more opposition to heroism.
Great leaders take risks, and sometimes those turn out to be mistakes. Tell us about one of yours.
I don't want to get into personalities, but since we've started the network there've been three or four people who I had to change [whom] I had made a mistake, a bad judgment on, or I thought the show would work and it didn't. And those are painful times for me, because in many cases they're good people who, for whatever reason, I made a judgment or the show wasn't produced right, or I put 'em in the wrong time period, I did something and it could be my fault. At the same time, if you look at our business book, after nine years I think CNN and MSNBC have over 30 show titles and stars in primetime, and we have the same lineup we launched with 9 years ago. So I have made mistakes, and they were difficult ones, but I made decisions and changed them. So, it's painful to me, but it's not a bad track record.
What you have to do is make a decision. Life is very rarely a 90-10 decision. Most of the decisions I make are inside the 45-yard lines, they're not easy. There's a case on both sides. But you make the decision. The only decision that is absolutely unfixable is if you don't make a decision. Because that is a decision; not to act. And that decision, almost always, leads to some kind of failure. So you obviously try to maximize the time you have to make the decision, you make it, and as soon as you know it's a bad one make another one. The most important thing is to continue to make decisions.
Great leaders sometimes have to stay the course.
Well, I've stayed the course in terms of the decisions I've made on the air. I think if you start second-guessing yourself on the air, changing talent and programming too much, you really start chasing your tail. I rarely look at a show I put on the air for a month after I put it on. I know they're going to screw it all up and it's going to be ugly. If I start micromanaging it and terrorizing the staff, they'll never get the rhythm. I prefer to have a meeting about what I'd like to see, how it's going to work, what we're trying to achieve, and then back out. Usually four weeks or six weeks in, I'll take a look at it and say O.K., here are some quick fixes that I can see and make changes from there, but otherwise it's too panicky. You shouldn't put it out unless you have some confidence in it.