Thanks to my Netflix addiction, I’ve had the pleasure of watching all seven seasons of “30 Rock.” The show stars Tina Fey as the creator and head writer of a TV show that highlights bad talent and fart jokes, and I admit that “30 Rock” is an acquired taste. But the development of its ensemble cast of characters has me smitten with the writing and, more specifically, with the character of Liz Lemon.
Watching Liz grow into her role as a manager, squeezing scripts out of her insubordinate writers and wrangling her wayward actors, has me thinking: Everything I need to know in business, I can learn from Liz Lemon.
Leadership. There’s an episode where Liz is reliving her college days and revels in the memory of her first two weeks. She was inadvertently assigned a spacious dorm room with handicap accessibility and for those blissful two weeks, her room was Party Central. She became intoxicated with her new-found popularity. But then the dorm room mistake was discovered, and she settled into a smaller room and ultimately into her role as R.A. (resident adviser), reviled by her peers. In the same way, Liz learns she can’t lead the cast & crew of her TV show and always be popular. She has to make tough decisions that may compromise her friendships. The role of a leader is sometimes lonely, and there are boundaries.
Mentoring. Jack Donaghy, played by Alec Baldwin, is Liz’s boss, an ambitious but lovable executive who takes Liz under his wing. Their relationship evolves and grows into a friendship, and Liz learns to appreciate Jack’s guidance. She also asserts herself, with mixed results. Jack allows her to fail, teaches her the art of negotiation and continues to mentor her along the way–even if his advice is sometimes warped and often Scotch-induced. A mentor provides the space for his protégée to succeed and to fail, asking “What did you learn?”
Authenticity. Liz Lemon is, above all things, authentic. She admits to her weaknesses (food, a lack of fashion sense and a fondness for scatological humor) and doesn’t try to be someone she’s not. When she writes a best-selling book called “Deal Breakers” that has a chance of evolving into her own talk show, Liz has a complete melt-down after an ill-fated make-over. The talk show is scrapped and Liz goes back to doing what she does best–being head writer and creator of TGS. Successful people know who they are and show up that way, consistently over time.
Some of the things I love most about Liz Lemon are the endearing way in which she calls her writers “dummies,” her crooked walk and, above all, her willingness to admit her nerdiness. She isn’t a glamour-puss and she doesn’t wear designer clothes and stiletto heels. Her pedigree isn’t from Harvard: she got most of her training at Second City in Chicago. If a woman like Liz (and her real-life counterpart Tina Fey) can make it in a nearly all-male world wearing glasses and flat shoes, then maybe there’s hope for other aspiring business women. Maybe it’s all about being ourselves.
(photo credit: www.nbc.com)