America's Best Leaders: Q&A with Brian Lamb, president and CEO of C-SPAN
The great leaders know their deficiencies can't be ignored. What are yours, and how do you address them?
I have them. You bet! I have been accused of having a short attention span. I've learned to get away from that somewhat. . . . I sometimes jump to conclusions about what's wrong with a problem, when if I wait a little bit longer I'll find out that my first instincts weren't right. This is both an asset and a deficit: In jumping to conclusions and being wrong, I have to back down because all of a sudden I've said, 'Oh, I know why they're doing that,' and it turns out they've not done it. I'm somewhat of aI have to fight cynicism, based on being in Washington for 40 years. It's a constant fight, I'm not kidding you, and people who know me know that it's very hard because it's easy to assign motives to people based on what is actually going on.
What are the biggest risks that you've taken?
Well, actually, it's interesting; I've always felt that the risks weren't very significant, because no one knew who I was and I didn't have a reputation to uphold. And so if I failed, so what? I've often thought that it would be easier for my kind of person to do this than somebody who had a big name, because they're always finding their public image, and I've never had a public image.
Everybody said this place couldn't work, in the beginning, and I suppose it's like anything, that was somewhat of a risk, but I never thought it was a riskI never doubted it, and that's probably one asset that I have: I had a job to do, and I would do anything to succeed. I could have been proven wrong.
It's not there yet, it's stillit's not a perfect success; as [former C-SPAN board chairman] Ed Allen would say, there's still some systems to carry us. And that's the only measure of success, when you don't make money for somebody, you don't have advertisers, it's just, is it available? And we're in 90 million homes; we started with 3½. And the second network's almost 80 million, so you don't want to shortchange it.
But it's been, I think, more than anything elseand I would really like this to show up in your piece somewherethis was not a one-man band ever, after the first couple of months. And it would not have succeeded and will not continue without an incredible number of people acting cooperatively. That's the success of this place. There are hundreds and sometimes thousands of people involved in making it work, because on the surface it's not going to make it in a commercial society, period. There's no taxpayer money, not one dime of taxpayer money, it's all been done by private industry; it's not required to be carried by the federal government, and the amazing part of the success is that all these different people that I've mentioned to youthe staff here, my board members, the public outside, have all come together to make it work and do its job. It's not the most important job being done in the world; it's just a job that now fits nicely into the smorgasbord of everything else.