Tonight we’ll be saying goodbye to Jon Stewart, 16-year host of “The Daily Show” and, more importantly, the man who taught the United States to hold its leaders, press and citizens to a higher standard — and to do so while laughing.
Stewart started as a comedian, but as his show gained a greater audience and covered deeper topics, he became a teacher rather than the class clown. Through logical hilarity and hilarious logic, he exposed the shortcomings in the status quo where we are often comfortable, or at least too complacent or jaded to change.
That’s part of a learning leader’s job, right? We often talk at Chief Learning Officer about what employee development professionals are doing to get employees engaged and committed to self-improvement. Stewart did that with the American public by not only illuminating our faults but also challenging us to fix them.
But like a good learning leader, he didn’t just tell people where they went wrong — he set an example through his actions. When Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would get health care to 9/11 first responders, he hosted a panel that led to a modified bill being passed at the end of 2010. Upon learning about Veterans Affairs’ delays in awarding benefits to post-service military members, Stewart dedicated several episodes to pushing for updated systems. He also hosted “Night of Too Many Stars,” a fundraiser for autism research, as well as participated in several other fundraisers and pushed people to contribute to organizations like the Malala Fund, which supports education for girls in developing countries.
Some pundits don’t feel quite as sentimental as most Daily Show fans, or even those with a passing knowledge of Stewart’s work — online magazine The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson wrote that the program has become “a robust political organ of the Left.” As a journalist, I probably should feel a little slighted because my industry was often the butt of his jokes. Yet I can’t help but want to be better despite all the times he turned my profession into a laughing stock.
If there’s one thing learning leaders — all leaders — should take from Stewart’s legacy, it’s that people with an audience, be it an organization or Comedy Central’s weeknight viewership, have a responsibility to use that platform to their advantage. Don’t just tell people what’s wrong. Inspire them. Even better, make them laugh while you do it.
Viewers aren't the only ones who learned from Stewart. During his final episode, almost every correspondent who had appeared on his show — including Steve Carell, Olivia Munn, Larry Wilmore and Samantha Bee — came back to wish him well. Among them was Stephen Colbert, who first delivered a scripted speech before launching into a more impromptu thank you that left Stewart teary-eyed.
"We owe you because we learn from you," Colbert said. "We learn from you how to do a show with intention, how to work with clarity, how to treat people with respect. You are infuriatingly good at your job. All of us who were lucky enough to work with you for 16 years are better at our jobs because we got to watch you do yours, and we are better people for having known you."
Preach, Colbert. Preach.Filed under: Leadership Development, Learning Delivery