Caissie St. Onge actively avoids cynicism. It’s why her teams succeed.

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Throughout her nearly 30-year career in TV comedy, perhaps the most powerful lesson Caissie St. Onge has learned so far is how not to lead a team. The Emmy-nominated showrunner has worked and written for era-defining shows like The David Letterman Show, VH1’s Best Week Ever, Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, and, most recently, Busy Tonight—but St. Onge admits that a great production on camera doesn’t always equate great leadership behind the scenes.

“I’ve come across lots of managers who were super cynical, and who would kind of roll their eyes at everyone's accomplishments,” St. Onge said with a smile, rolling her eyes right back at the memory.

For a long time, St. Onge remembers, there was a widespread industry norm of team leads firing any younger team members who “weren’t cutting it” in showbusiness, without much notice or reason why. But as St. Onge saw executives fire one talented albeit green new hire after another, she stepped in and tried something new, something radical: Genuine, direct communication.

“After a certain point, I just had to ask, ‘Has anyone told these people they need to improve in these areas?’ and a lot of people generally said, ‘No, that would be such an awkward conversation,’”  St. Onge recalled. “But I was like, ‘Don’t you think they deserve to hear the feedback?’ So I started giving feedback myself, and pretty much everyone improved.”

Nowadays, managerial norms are changing, and St. Onge is one of the key leaders in entertainment who are paving the new way. Maintaining open lines of communication is one of St. Onge’s core tenets of leadership, and she says it goes both ways: If leaders are honest with their teams, they have to be prepared to absorb constructive feedback from their team members as well. Giving and receiving criticism is not an easy task, especially when you’re in a fast-paced, high-stakes industry like late-night TV, but it’s a skill St. Onge insists every leader should know. That’s why she threads this idea throughout her four-part flight template series, Candid Leadership: Managing Fast-Paced Teams.

  • Foster Encouragement and Camaraderie
  • Thinking Big Picture: Unlock Team Creativity
  • Identify Managerial Feedback Opportunities
  • Evaluate Comfort Voicing Feedback

These days, St. Onge is putting her team-running chops to good use at her own production company, Kismet, which she founded with actress, talk show host, and St. Onge’s close friend Busy Philipps. One of Kismet’s pioneer productions is Busy Philipps is Doing Her Best, a podcast co-hosted by St. Onge, Philipps, and fellow Busy Tonight writer Shantira Jackson. It’s no mistake that the overarching theme of the podcast, which was released in August and has already garnered critical and popular acclaim, is resilience in the face of setbacks: If those early experiences with jaded managers taught St. Onge how not to run a team, then the resilient, uncynical leaders she has encountered in her career—like Letterman, Philipps, and every hardworking newbie who rose through the ranks by way of pure grit and determination (and a little championing from a perceptive higher-up like St. Onge herself)—has taught her how to run a team well.

“My philosophy is to listen to ideas from everywhere. The only job that is brain surgery is, well, brain surgery,” St. Onge said. “Almost anybody can learn to do almost anything else if they truly wish to. I want to make people's work wishes come true.”

Check out Caissie St. Onge's Flight Template Series

Emmy-nominated writer, producer and showrunner