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Jessica Guff on Management

By Jessica Guff

FAT Like Me

I did a documentary for ABC in 2003 called Fat Like Me. Childhood obesity is a topic that’s really close to my heart, and it was a one-hour special on the childhood obesity epidemic. I put a thin girl–the daughter of one of my closest friends–in a fat suit and she went to school with hidden cameras in her glasses and her backpack. She recorded the way people treated her as a fat person and went back as a thin person and revealed how differently they treated her. It had about eight million viewers on ABC in primetime, and we won the Gracie Award and the Front Page Award. We were also nominated for an Emmy Award.

Leading WOMEN

Women nurture more as leaders and men are not as aware of their employees’ feelings. I think women are almost painfully aware of how their employees will react to things and sometimes overcompensate for that awareness by being really tough. I can be tough, but as a leader I think that I try to be kind and compassionate first, and if somebody gives me a hard time, my way of dealing with it is to try to understand where they’re coming from. I don’t know that men lead in quite that way. I think men don’t really care where you’re coming from; they just want to get the job done.

SHHH…No Need to Yell

I had a boss at Nightline in the early 80s who used to call me a moron. He was so rude and hurtful and I cried so many times. He taught me not to be rude and hurtful to people. It was such a negative experience that I don’t yell at people in the workplace. Now my kids will tell you that I yell at people at home, and my husband would certainly second that. But in the workplace I’m not a yeller and I never insult people. I think that’s really unnecessary. The best bosses I’ve had have acted as if it’s a democracy even though the workplace isn’t really a democracy. They’ve always included everybody’s input and opinions, solicited everybody’s comments. I had a boss who used to say “the best idea wins” and it’s not necessarily my idea. I think the best bosses include you in decisions, even if you’re low on the totem pole.


The other day we were doing a shoot and I ran out to get sandwiches. When I came back with them, I said to the crew, “What other executive producer goes and gets sandwiches?” That’s just not done. When people get to the executive producer level they boss other people around. But I have always pitched in working my way up and I don’t see any reason not to do it now. If something needs to get done, you do it. What inspires me is the fact that my staff is really hard working and a really great group of people. It’s a team effort. I’m inspired to work hard along side them because we’re all part of the same team.

Good Ol’ Fashioned HARD WORK

I find intelligence inspiring. I also love a hard work ethic. I’ll work for anybody who’s going to roll up their sleeves, but if somebody’s going to be a diva, forget it. Diane Sawyer works harder than anybody I’ve ever met in my entire life male, female, rich, poor, doesn’t matter. Barbara Walters has a strong work ethic. The people who are at the top are there because they bust their asses and don’t rest on their laurels. Everyday they’re trying to kick it up a notch and trying to make it sharper, smarter, newsier, better. They’re relentless. Some people might say they’re obsessive, but I find them inspiring.

Managing VS. Inspiring

Management involves knowing your staff well enough to know whose skills work right for which particular job. I think being a good manager involves listening to people, understanding people, knowing where to put them and who does what when, and also being able to keep track of everyone and their skills and their interests.

Inspiring people is an attitude. You inspire people by your attitude and your energy and by working hard yourself. Working hard is part of being a good manager as well, but I think they’re two different skill sets. I know lots of people who are really great managers who would not make great leaders because they don’t have charisma and they don’t have a high enough energy level to marshal the troops and get everybody gung ho about a particular project. You have to engender an esprit de corps—a sense of being part of a team to inspire people to want to be there. And if they don’t feel inspired at work, maybe they’re not in the right line of work.