Zig Ziglar, author, speaker and native Mississippian, once stated, “You will make a lousy anybody else, but you will be the best ‘you’ in existence.” Similarly, we often hear the phrase that we need to “be true to ourselves.” This is no easy task as we are bombarded from all angles with people and companies telling us who we need to be. I recently had the opportunity to interview Sam Haskell, who is one of Mississippi’s real leadership success stories. A native of Amory, Haskell spent 30 years in Los Angeles in the entertainment industry. Building a career in Hollywood can certainly be a challenge to living an authentic life, but Haskell managed to do just that while becoming a powerful force in the industry. In fact, he was named in 2007 by TV Week as one of the 25 Most Innovative and Influential People in Television over the last quarter-century.
Before retiring in 2005, he was executive vice president and worldwide head of television for the powerful William Morris Agency and personally represented a number of well-known clients including Bill Cosby, Kathie Lee Gifford, Ray Romano, Whoopi Goldberg, Debbie Allen, Delta Burke, Dolly Parton, George Clooney and Sela Ward. However, his career began humbly in 1978 in the mail room. Interestingly, David Rensin wrote extensively about this in his 2003 bestseller “The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up.” In 2009, Haskell published a best-selling autobiography, “Promises I Made My Mother,” in which he details how he has lived a “principled life in unprincipled times.” He went on a 90-city national book tour and is donating all of the proceeds from the book sales to a number of charities.
Haskell exhibited strong leadership qualities early on in life that carried into adulthood. Growing up, he was a leader in school and was an Eagle Scout troop leader. In college, he was a leader in his fraternity at Ole Miss, and when he built his career in Hollywood he ended up as president of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society and chairman of the Television Academy Hall of Fame. Haskell summed his guiding leadership philosophy as “focusing people on their strengths.” He noted that, “I embrace a good work ethic, character, honesty, and maintaining and nurturing relationships.”
Haskell was candid to acknowledge that “the biggest challenge I have faced in my career is my maintenance of who I am.” He shared that like most of us, he spent the first couple of decades of his life trying to figure out who he was and what he wanted to do with his life. Importantly, Haskell emphasized that “once I knew who I was, I had to ask myself if I liked who I was, and once I knew I liked who I was, I’ve spent the balance of my life maintaining who I am.” He noted that the maintenance of who we “are” is always under attack, challenge and compromise each and every day. However, when we know, like and maintain who we are then “we can do anything.” Haskell has observed that when you maintain who you are it is easier to keep and grow the people that you are entrusted to lead.
Haskell’s commitment and principled life is an encouragement to me. His life example is instructive of what can be done when you maintain your core values and have a clear and compelling vision for your life. His ability to maintain his sense of self within the entertainment business should motivate us to stick to our own principles in our respective industries.