Gail Evans – Executive VP, CNN

Gail Evans

Gail Evans shares her insights on how to love the game and the dark side of goal setting

By David Cates

Throughout her career, Gail Evans has gone from making copies as a secretary on Capitol Hill to being Executive Vice President at CNN and authoring two best-selling books on business. And during it all, regardless of the demands of the job, she has kept one creed – Love The Game.

We’ve all seen the game playing that can go on in the office and the boardroom, and sometimes there’s little to love in that. And much of what goes on around us these days seems to be out of our control. Evans suggests that we may have more say-so and power than we might think we do. We have choices, but we need to stay mindful to be able to take advantage of them. “There are a lot of people who keep waiting for life to start,” says Evans. “The truth is, life is what you’re doing every day.”

Loving the game is about showing up, about living the moment, not setting some goal to be achieved in the future. “If you have a vision or set goals, you’ll miss most of the fun.” She says that ultimately, it is not the goal that gives us joy, it’s the people we work with or the culture of the company. “So a lot of people end up doing jobs that are different than what they thought they would do, but they do them in places they want to be.”

Here she tells PINK about loving the game, saying what you think and turning a lousy boss into a good one.

PINK: Do you have any advice for women who find themselves straying from their goals?

Gail Evans: My advice to everybody is you should always do what you love, and no matter what the job is, if you can’t find a way to love it, you shouldn’t do it. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do lousy jobs, but you have to figure out a way to really enjoy what you do in any job. And if you can’t figure that out, then you shouldn’t be doing it.

PINK: As you look at women in the workplace, do you see any kind of consistent obstacle that inhibits them from reaching their goals?

G.E.: I’m not a goal person. All goals and plans do is cut off possibilities. If you’ve got goals and specific plans, chances are you’ll miss the good things along the way because you’re so focused on the goal. I think that most successful people don’t have a plan, don’t have a goal. They show up for work, they show up for life. They do what’s there, and through that, they discover what they love to do.

PINK: How can women learn to “love the game”?
G.E.: What you have to do is ask, “What excites me about what I’m doing?” and get in touch with that, before you focus on what makes you unhappy. If you can’t, you’ll never be a big player. The focus is on being positive and being wide ranging, always looking at the possibilities that are out there – trying new things, spreading your wings and taking risks. The way that you enjoy your business life is to make today as good as it can be and to ask how to make tomorrow better. But if you keep thinking, “If I do this for five years, something else is going to happen,” what you end up doing is waiting for life to start.

PINK: You started your career with CNN in 1980. When you began, did you already have your “love the game” attitude or is that something you developed over the years?

G.E.: I never expected to be in the journalism world. I started out in the 1960s in politics, and I always thought that politics was what I loved. The journalism world came along at a time when I was looking for something to do. They put the game in front of you and you play. did always enjoy playing for the fun of the game. I probably never gave it a lot of deep meaning. I think I always believed that I could go sell shoes if I couldn’t earn a living in journalism, and that would be fine. You know, it would pay the rent.

PINK: Do you think that there’s a responsibility for women who have been in the workforce to mentor younger women who are just getting a start?
G.E.: Yes, I think it’s every woman’s responsibility. I don’t think you need to be in a job ten or twenty years; I think it’s every woman’s responsibility to be mentoring other women – on every level. So that the next generation of women struggle with new issues, not the same old issues. I think that we are just as good a mentor as peers as we are as bosses. Some of our best mentors are people who are just like us.

PINK: As you mentored people at CNN, was there a consistent theme that came up?

G.E.: I think that we pushed them to make sure that they were doing what they wanted to be doing, so they could be good at it. And the other thing, be it at CNN or any other place, was to get away from complaining and find a solution. People can be very unproductive when they see everything that’s wrong, and I think it’s successful people who can think about what’s needed to fix it. Identifying the problem is not a great business skill. Figuring out how to solve the problem is a great business skill. There’s a very big difference.

PINK: What can professional women do if they find themselves in a job they don’t like?

G.E.: There are all sorts of ways to make lousy jobs into good ones. It’s the frame you have to put on it. If you come in everyday with a complaint, then you’ll never get out of the rut. A lot of people stick around and think if I change this, things will be different. The truth of the matter is that’s not true. You can end up staying there for a few years and never be happy. That’s the person who’s waiting for life to start. So you have the choice, you either make your boss the right boss or the wrong boss. If you make your boss the wrong boss, they will always be the wrong boss. If you come into the office in the morning and say “I hate my boss” because he micromanages everything, you’ll be miserable, and you’ll see everything as being micromanaged. Or you can come into the office and say, “It’s really good working for this guy or this woman, because she micromanages, and as a result everything we put out is really good, and all the feedback our department gets is that we always do topnotch work.” Exactly the same person.

PINK: How can women take control of their careers and success?

G.E.: I believe that I am responsible for my own success. I’m responsible for my own failure. And I also believe that I don’t deserve anything from anybody else. I think the worst thing you can tell a boss is what you deserve. People go in for a raise and tell the boss this is the salary they deserve because of all the things they’ve done. You must learn to say, “I want.”

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