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Listen Up, Nerds: Hiring and Leadership Lessons from Tina Fey and Liz Lemon

bossypantsThe series finale of NBC’s ‘30 Rock’ has recently come and gone, but insight on what it means to be a leader from both ’30 Rock’’s creator and star, Tina Fey, and her alter ego, Liz Lemon, lives on.

(After all, who better to look to for dealing with difficult employees than someone who’s worked with ‘creative types’ on SNL and a character who’s done the same on its fictional equivalent, TGS?)

Tina Fey: “What SNL Taught Me”

In her bestselling memoir, Bossypants, Fey shares the lessons she learned from ‘SNL‘ creator Lorne Michaels during her days as a writer for the show. Despite their slant toward show business, the lessons she shares could easily pertain to recruiting, management and leadership. Consider the following:

  1. “When actors have ideas, it’s very important to get to the core reason behind their idea.” Working with so many creative types, Fey is often inundated with ideas from the actors, her employees. As a producer, however, it’s her job to dig deeper and find the reason behind the idea, because sometimes, it could lead to a deeper truth – such as the revelation that something she’s asking them to do is making them uncomfortable. Likewise, as a manager, it’s your job to keep a pulse on your employees and ask the right questions to understand how you can keep them happy and productive.
  2. “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” Despite all your best efforts, sometimes time constraints force us to submit work we know isn’t our best effort.  As a writer for SNL, Fey learned that for every great joke written, some are real “sh*t nuggets.” And for those times those “sh*t nuggets” actually made it onto the air, Fey says, she had to learn to let it go. “You can’t worry about it. As long as you know the difference, you can go back to panning for gold on Monday,” she writes. The lesson for managers? Not every project is going to be a glaring success. Instead of dwelling on the failure, however, and letting it stunt your grown, let the mistake go, learn from it, and forge ahead.
  3. “When hiring, mix Harvard Nerds with Chicago Improvisors and stir.” At SNL, the strength in its writing team was its diversity. Having writers on hand with a variety of writing styles, experiences and backgrounds gave way to more ideas, stronger ideas, and in the end, an overall better product. The same applies to the “normal” business world. Recruit and surround yourself with employees of diverse background and experiences, and your organization will be that much stronger.
  4. “Don’t hire anyone you wouldn’t want to run into in the hallway at three in the morning.” This advice speaks to the importance of hiring for cultural fit as well as experience. Knowing that the show calls for a lot of long hours, Fey says she look for writers who can deal with the stress and exhaustion of such a demanding schedule. “No matter how funny someone’s writing sample is, if they are too talkative or needy or angry to deal with in the middle of the night by the printer, steer clear.” In other words, be able to spot the characteristics it takes to be successful employee in your organization, and hire based on that.

The Wit and Arguable Wisdom of Liz Lemon

She may not be as articulate as the woman who plays her on ’30 Rock’, but Liz Lemon, the show’s flawed but lovable boss, does have her moments when her own unique leadership wisdom (her ‘Lizdom’?) shines through. Consider the following Lemonisms and how they apply to real world workforce situations:

  • “Sometimes the right thing and the hard thing are the same thing.” Sure, she may have read that on a tea bag, as she admits, but it doesn’t make the statement any less valid. When it comes to recruitment, this statement rings especially true…When you’re in need of talent right now, for example, it might feel easier to hire someone who’s not necessarily the best fit for the job or the company than it does to wait for the right candidate to come along (or train someone to meet the skills you need). In the long run, however, making a bad hire right now will cost far more in money and morale than waiting a little longer to make the right hire.
  • “You can’t solve all your problems by shooting someone or setting a stranger on fire.” In other words,  don’t settle for the status quo. “That’s just the way it’s always been done” is no longer a sufficient mentality in today’s business world. There’s always another way. Find it.
  • “I did Big Sister in college. That little girl taught me how to use tampons.” In other words…Sometimes your employees will surprise you and teach you new things. Don’t be afraid to learn from those younger or seemingly less experienced than you.
  • “You can’t force fate, you just have to let it wash over you like a spray tan that won’t take because your skin is too oily.” In other words…be agile. Embrace change and learn to adapt to it.

Do you have a favorite quote from ’30 Rock’ or ‘Bossypants’ that pertains to the workforce? Share!

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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