After following three of Aaron Sorkin’s shows with a cult-like obsession, something finally hit me this morning. The new show The Newsroom, The West Wing, and yes, even the short-lived Studio 60 are all at their core about leadership. Each show follows someone (or someones) with some level of leadership and tells the story of that responsibility, the stress and emotional warfare, and even the loneliness that comes with the position. I’ve been a Sorkin-junky for seven years now and it just now hit me. Unbelievable.
Sunday’s episode of The Newsroom was no different. There was a huge lesson in what it means to be a leadership that prompted me to want to write about it, which led to this whole revelation. Long story incredibly short: a staffer was put in charge of booking someone for the show, she screwed it up, her boss covered for her to his boss, and his boss covered for him to her boss. Basically, nobody threw anyone under the bus.
To me, there are few ways to make your team hate you and turn on you quicker than selling them out. As a leader, you are responsible for your team, so if your team fails, you fail. Unless there is some catastrophic failure, that’s where the buck should stop. It’s always been a pet-peeve of mine to see people sell out someone on their team, so this resonated with me deeply.
Near the end of the show, the person who screwed up fessed up to Will (the news anchor, everyone’s boss), but he didn’t care anymore. He was more impressed with his team’s cohesion. Later in the show, the same person who screwed up asked Jim, her immediate boss why he covered for her, and he flatly said: “I cover for my team, Mac (his boss) covers for me, and Will (the news anchor) covers everyone. That’s how this works.”
And that’s the way it should be.
(ps - I realized all of Sorkin’s shows were about leadership as I thought about this scene, and realized the exact same thing has been a recurring theme in all his shows. Same thing happened on Studio 60 about a staff writer accidentally ripping off someone else’s work, and even though it escapes me, I’m sure it happened in The West Wing as well. Some people might say that’s just Sorkin having trouble with new content, but I think he just really wants to get the point across that we all need to do a better job of taking responsibility and not passing the blame.)