America's Best Leaders: Q&A with Brian Lamb, president and CEO of C-SPAN
Who's the leader past or present who's inspired you most?
There is no one; there are many. I would say that more than anything else I have learned from my chairmen, my bosses over the years. I've had 15 of them over the last 26 years, and I've learned something from every one of themyou know, you learn compromise from one; you learn the ability to delegate from another; you learn how to spend money correctly from another.
I think of major American leadersI've studied a lot about the presidents, and I've picked up lots of little things from the presidents. I've interviewed most presidents since Lyndon JohnsonI think I've interviewed all of them since Lyndon Johnsonand they're fascinating creatures. You know, they're the most studied people in our country, every word and all that stuff, and so you can't help but watching them and their philosophies.
Ronald Reagan used to have this little plaque on his desk that saidand I don't remember the exact quote"No telling how much you can get accomplished if you don't care who gets the credit." I've used that; I just find that to be incredibly important. I haven't been perfect about it, but I've used it. Bill Clinton had an interesting habit, when I would interview him, of stopping, and thinking throughhe would sit in front of you for 30 seconds without answering the question. I thought that was terrific, not to have to have an answer immediately.
I've watched all the presidents, for instanceand I haven't done a good job of thistheir ability to get away from the center of the activity, and that's a very important thing to learn. Ronald Reagan did it. Bill Clinton did ithe never had a place to go to. George [W.] Bush has been away more than anybody else. And they get criticized for it quite a lot by people who don't like them. But your head can be very muddled right in the middle of Washington, D.C., and being surrounded by people who do nothing all day but tell you how good you are. We've played the Lyndon Johnson tapes for the last seven years on our radio station, and you learn a lot just by listening to his engagement. He engaged people like crazy. Presidents are interesting; I've enjoyed the study of presidents.
What [do] you look for when you're hiring people?
In a place like this, what you first look for is, are they political? Are they wearing their feelings on their sleeve? And do they come to this with a chip on their shoulder or a bias or all that stuff? You can figure it out pretty quicklyit shows. . . . Somebody who walks in here and they're cocky and they've got opinions and all that stuff, you know you'll get trouble right out the box. . . .
We have a lot of women that run things here. I've always been very pleased that we were able to be one of those companies at least 26 years ago that had a lot of women in leadership positions, because it's the new company. We have two chief operating officers and one's a man, one's a woman, and they both earned it, and they both get along beautifully, but they have different traits. But they run the company. Susan Swain and Rob Kennedy.