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February 10, 2015

Living with my Inner Brian Williams

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I worked at NBC News for 17 years. For much of that time I was high on the intoxicating cocktail of truth-telling to a massive audience, collaboration with some of the smartest people on the planet, self-importance and adrenaline. It was exciting and important work that I allowed to envelope me – I didn’t just work for NBC, I felt I was NBC 24/7, whether I was at home or on vacation or flying off on assignment. As the years wore on, I began to see that this way of life wasn’t sustainable and it wasn’t really me — the purpose, connection and creation that I most wanted had little to do with a big title, deadline drama or corporate politics.I’ve been thinking about that disconnect between the network life and my truest self a lot this week as I read — with childish excitement, I’ll admit — article after article gleefully pillorying Brian Williams as a self-important fabulist.

And in my experience of Brian, it’s true: he was a self-important diva who put Brian first before everything else. And so was I. So was all of the NBC I knew; we lived a culture of hype and drama that put us all just one step ahead of our comeuppance.But conscious leaders quickly look beyond the drama of the moment to find the building blocks for what they most want to create. So today, as Williams’ career and NBC’s credibility lie in balance, what future can they create through conscious leadership instead of unconscious drama?

Adversity as Ally

This is the very best thing that could happen to Brian Williams and NBC at this precise moment.Like it or not, Williams has the opportunity to redefine his career and NBC has the opportunity to redefine its evening newscast. How often do we have the chance to re-examine our deepest purpose and priorities, change them and strike out on a new and more enlivening course?

Once I bottomed out in my job at NBC (with a messy, self-important splat), I found I was free to jettison the habits and practices that had kept me locked in conflict and drama. My career actually flourished once I gave up on my desire to be right and make everyone else wrong. It wasn’t a quick or direct line out of the swamp, but over the years I built a much more satisfying and successful role for myself.Using this cataclysmic implosion as a clean break with their current trajectory, Williams and his NBC colleagues have the opportunity to step into a new paradigm for telling the news that is more aligned with current reality (network news has been in a decades-long decline) and more sustainable for their lives.

Integrity is More Than Telling the Truth

Conscious leaders and their organizations know that integrity means much more than radical attachment to the truth. Integrity is a wholeness and alignment between what we say we believe and what we do, what we want to accomplish and how we accomplish it. (For more on how to create integrity, check out this video.)

It was the lack of alignment between how I did my job and how I really wanted to live that nearly destroyed me. After years of banging my head against the wall (sometimes literally) and then coming home to a few stiff drinks and hours of compulsive exercise, I saw the cost of not bringing practice, belief and lifestyle into alignment. In my case, it took getting hit by a car and an unexpected layoff to bring the message home. The bigger the misalignment, the bigger the blow needed to restore integrity.

NBC and Williams now have the chance to bring their practices and public image back into alignment and integrity.

I Approve of Myself

The most puzzling aspect of all of this is why such a wildly successful man would feel the need to puff himself up with such adolescent chest-thumping. Probably for the same reason I told more exciting stories of my exploits in the field, or buffed up my race resume, or pretended my world was somehow shinier and more perfect than it was: I was (and still am) afraid the real me was not good enough. Many days when I look inside myself I see the dark, ugly things and want to paper them over with a puffed-up chest, new suit and fancy car.

And that’s just me, living a private life on the dark side of the camera. When I consider what it’s like to see one’s inner imperfections while living in the glass cube of a 30 Rock studio, I feel sweaty and sad.I know approval, safety and security comes from inside me and not from glittery possessions or credulous friends. And yet, still, my biggest struggle is to live my life as if I’m the only one who matters. What would it be like if our news anchors did the same?

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