The beloved “Today” hosts talk to Moneyish about mentorship, knowing your worth and the secrets to their success
This story is part of “Uninterrupted,” a series where female leaders — who also happen to be friends — talk to Moneyish about the issues that matter to them.
Rise and wine.
“Today” anchors Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb celebrated a decade of co-hosting the fourth hour of the morning show together this week with a celeb-studded anniversary show and a party at the Rainbow Room, the place where it all began.
Despite saying she had no interest in returning to morning television a decade ago, Gifford said she agreed to meet Kotb at the request of then “Today” producer Jim Bell. The two decided on lunch at the Rainbow Room.
“I couldn’t believe I was having lunch with Kathie Lee Gifford,” Kotb says. “And then she got up to sing, and everyone was just looking, and I was like, ‘Yes, this is really happening!’” The two ended up talking for hours, eventually leaving when the dinner crowd started to arrive.
“We laughed, we cried, we drank wine,” says Gifford. And while she didn’t think she would end up doing the show with Kotb, she knew that they had shared something really special that day. “I told her that we would be friends for life.”
— GIPHY Pop (@GiphyPop) April 5, 2018
Ten years later, the duo is still laughing at each other’s jokes and finishing each other’s sentences as they’ve turned the 10 a.m. hour of “Today” into a wine-soaked must-watch with a cult following.
I caught up with Kotb and Gifford — friends who’ve helped me navigate plenty of awkward work stuff — to talk to them about mentorship, having difficult conversations at work and how they make things happen.
Here’s what they said.
On asking for a raise and knowing when to walk away:
HK: I am the worst at asking for anything, even if it’s what I think I deserve. A long, long time ago, there was an opportunity for a promotion that I was ready for. I thought, well, I had been [at the station] the longest; everyone said it was mine. So I walked in and told them I would like to be considered for the 5 o’clock show. I knew it meant more pay and more everything, my heart was pounding, I was sweating, it was not pretty.
KLG: And you sweat a lot anyways…
HK: I was pitting down to my knees. And the guy who was hiring said to me, without hardly even hearing me, “Thank you for coming in, [but] we already have a candidate for that job.” At first I was like, “OK, sorry!” — I’m always like, sorry, sorry. Then I come to find out it was a woman who was just hired, who didn’t have any of the experience that I had, but she was just really pretty. I was crushed. I decided at that point that there was no growth for me, so I went to another station. I think there’s a point where, if they keep telling you no, they already have your number.
KLG: They are signaling your future. Or your lack of future.
HK: I got another job and I was leaving, and then a funny thing happened. The same guy who barely heard me when I asked him for the job wanted to keep me at the station. And I will never forget this, because it’s only happened once in my life, but he slid a piece of paper over to me and said, “Write your number.”
KLG: Did you write something?
HK: There was no number. It wasn’t about the number. I was a kid and I would have been begging for just enough to pay my bills. So I slid it back, and told him it wasn’t about that. Because it wasn’t. What about you, Kath? You’ve always known your worth — you are different than most.
KLG: When you’re young and you’re inexperienced, you’re willing to negotiate things you’re not willing to negotiate later. Now I’m at the point in my life where I live by: “Your joy is non-negotiable.”
On knowing your worth:
HK: What about when there was a pay disparity? I think that’s what a lot of women face.
KLG: I have the perfect example. When Regis and I were first working together, it was something called “The Morning Show.” And when they decided to syndicate us, we were going to be on at different times during the day, so we had to find a new title. Regis and I had the same agent — he was mine first, and then he started working with Regis. So he calls me and tells me the deal is going through, and I ask him what the new show title was going to be. He said: “’The Regis Philbin Show.’ Why, do you have a problem with that?” And I remember exactly saying, “I have a problem that you don’t have a problem with that.” I told him that he could tell the network — and I loved Regis, still do — that I would not be a part of that show.
HK: That’s a big conversation. Most people couldn’t do that.
KLG: So he went to Regis, and of course Regis agreed with me. He knew my contributions! But that person didn’t stay my agent much longer.
HK: Some people might have taken it. You can rationalize anything: “I’m still there, I have a job.” But Kath, you are so smart. That was so bold of you.
KLG: I didn’t think my worth was anything other than what it was. I wasn’t going to sign a major deal and be devalued from the beginning. And they changed the name of the show.
On mentors and learning from the people who came before you:
HK: Everywhere I’ve ever worked, ever, I’ve always had someone who was like a teacher to me. I remembered seeing how they did things, and I would just ask, “How did you get that interview? How did you come up with that line? Tell me! Show me!” As I went from market to market, I would take on someone as a teacher, and when I stopped learning in that city, that’s when I moved. Here, it was Kath. She was the one who showed me all those things, all the things about not being afraid…
KLG: Trusting your instincts.
HK: Trusting things that you’ve built that you don’t trust. I think you need somebody who you watch and say, “Wow, she makes it look easy,” even though you know it’s not easy.
KLG: But it was easy! When we started this show, I just wanted you to be that same person I met at lunch the first time or that I was talking to in the makeup chair. Because if that Hoda could show up everyday in front of the cameras: HIT!
HK: Hit with YOU.
KLG: Well, of course, that goes without saying.
HK: You can be yourself with somebody else and it’s a total nothingburger.
KLG: Chemistry only works in a petri dish. You can throw two of the most fabulous people in the world together, and they may not have the chemistry.
HK: You have to have the courage to ask people. I go with good intentions, so when people ask me, “How did you do that?” I tell them everything! I don’t hide one thing. Give it away! It’s like love; you give it and it comes up. Give it! Just give it. Don’t hoard it, don’t hold it, don’t make it like it’s yours and you don’t want people to know your secrets. Just give it all away.
KLG: If you don’t share, it doesn’t come back.
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