Tag Archives: Malcolm Gladwell

What I Learned About Being a General Manager

48I loved being a general manager of radio stations. It wasn’t the job that first attracted me to radio however; it was to become a disc jockey. From as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a DJ on the radio. My first radio microphone was made out of tinker toys. Then I got a Caravelle (pictured) transmitter for Christmas from Santa Claus and I took to the air waves.

I started in commercial radio when I was in the 10th grade in high school, getting my FCC 3rd Class Radio-Telephone Operator Permit. Due to my age at that time, I needed to get a work permit. The Massachusetts employment office that issued those types of permits for underage workers asked me what type of employment I would be doing. I told them, I’m going to be a DJ. They didn’t have a category for DJ in their book, so they wrote “Talent” on my work permit and sent me on my way. I never mentioned that I would also be taking transmitter readings every half hour standing next to a 1,000-watt broadcast transmitter. If I had, they would never have issued me a work permit, as that environment would have been considered to hazardous for a person who was only 16 years old.

As I look back on it, it almost seems ironic that I could have a license to operate a commercial radio station, but my mother would have to drive me to work and pick me up because I couldn’t get a driver’s license to operate an automobile.

In time, I would learn that what I really wanted to do in radio was not be the person who was the product, but the person who ran the whole enchilada; also known as the general manager. To get to that lofty office, I would need to leave the air and programming and go into sales.

Once in sales I quickly rose through the ranks to sales manager, station manager and finally general manager. Yes, at the ripe old age of 32, I was a general manager in Atlantic City, New Jersey; the world’s famous playground.

Lessons Learned

So what did I learn almost three decades later? A career is not a sprint, but a marathon. You never know everything you need to know. Every day is a learning experience. That your attitude becomes the attitude of your employees, so keep it positive.

Success

Like making a baby, you can’t speed up the process of success in life. It takes time. Repetition is key. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers wrote it takes about 10,000 hours of repetition and practice to master anything.

While Radio Ink Magazine named me one of the best general managers in radio before I left the industry to become a broadcast professor at a university, I would find that I would learn even more about my craft trying to teach it to others. So today, I think I’d be a much better general manager than when I took a sabbatical to enter teaching.

Love

They say if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. That was true for me about my radio career for over four decades and it’s been just as true for my teaching these past six years. But here’s the big take away: You can love your career, but it will never love you back. So you have to make time for the things that do love you back like your family. I may have been a hard working, successful radio general manager, but I never missed any of the special moments in my boys’ lives as they were growing up.

But the real credit goes to their mother. She made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom – the most important and difficult career choice on the planet – and the credit for the successful men both of my sons turned out to be, goes to her.

Marriage

Sadly, while I tried to be a good dad and a good radio general manager, I probably was lacking in the husband department. The mother of my sons and I would divorce. My life was not in proper balance. Don’t let this happen to you.

Stay Curious

When you’re starting out, you are very curious about how everything works. You’re like a sponge trying to soak it all in. Don’t lose that curiosity. Always pitch in and do whatever needs to be done. Always listen to the ideas of others; it might surprise you how much they know. Make every day a new day to learn and grow and be better than you were yesterday.

Management

When you manage people, unlike things, know that each one is different. Each person is an individual and there’s no “one size fits all” approach. Celebrate your people’s victories, benchmarks and life events. Empower your people to not need you. Compliment in public, correct in private. Compliment in a note, correct face-to-face.

Listen

You were born with two ears and one mouth. Listening is what you should be doing twice as much as a general manager. Just because you’re the GM doesn’t mean you have all the answers. You don’t. Collaboration is the 21st Century Skill Set. It’s been my experience that often the answers to the problems confronting my radio stations were inside my own workforce. As manager, it was my job to get the answers out of them.

My Boss is a Bastard

This is a tough one. You never really want to work for a boss who’s an S.O.B. But sometimes family obligations put you in that uncomfortable position of just having to tough it out until you can make a change. I tell my students when we go over case studies of employees working for a bastard that unlike now – when they are students with no other people they are responsible for – it seems like it would be easy to just walk away from a terrible employment situation, but when you have a mortgage, car loan, kids etc. you can’t. But what you can do is begin you job search and get out of there as soon as you can. Bad work relationships are toxic. Don’t stay in one.

It’s About More than Work

New managers sometimes have a hard time understanding why everyone isn’t as dedicated as they are to their job. But often, the reality is, your employees have lives outside of their workplace and those lives aren’t always smooth sailing. Each of us has a finite emotional capacity. So if their home life is stealing more than 50% of their emotional capacity, it leaves less capacity for the office. So if one of your best employees is suddenly under-performing, explore what’s going on in the rest of their life and how you, as their manager, can help them through this rough patch in their life. People will never forget how you made them feel when they needed your help and understanding the most. Even better, when that rough patch is over, you have one of the most empowered and dedicated employees now on your team.

Does Everyone Share the Same Mission?

Every company has a “Mission Statement.” Most are too long and rarely remembered, let alone embraced and understood by every employee. And that’s a BIG problem for you, the general manager.

There’s an old story about President Kennedy visiting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration complex when he stopped and asked a person cleaning the floor what his job was. The person said their job was to put a man on the moon. Now that’s a focused workforce.  What would your people say they do in your radio station if someone were to ask?

Don’t wonder what the answer is, ask your people. Get everyone on the same page.

Facebook

The world we live in today has blurred the lines between our work life and our home life. Our computers, tablets and smartphones now mean we are always available to our employer and always able to connect with our social networks. So should you ban Facebook? I was asked do to that once by one of my employees. My response was “no” I would not ban Facebook. And here’s why: First that person got all their work done and done correctly. That person was available to me at any time 24/7 if I needed something fixed regarding our program logs. If I could invade their home life, if necessary, then their home life could invade my work place.

The good news is recent research has shown that employees who take social network breaks online are more productive than those that don’t. Everyone needs to take a break and refresh to continue to perform at the highest levels they are possible of achieving.

Sales people are known to take a break after a lot of “No’s” and hit some golf balls at the driving range to refresh and get back to closing sales.

Personal Ethics

You know right from wrong. Never let any work place or manager compromise your personal ethics or values. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. And if that “duck” doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Take a stand. Speak up, especially if you’re the manager because your people only have you standing between them and the top management of your company.

Failure is Learning

Want to learn more, fail more often and more quickly. Sounds counter-intuitive but research has proven that failure is all part of the way we learn. We only eliminate the unsuccessful paths by finding out if they lead us to success or not.

I had the opportunity to visit the Thomas Edison laboratory in New Jersey. A sign in the lab where Edison had invented the light bulb had this Edison quote: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Don’t fear failure. Learn to take risks.

Management vs. Leadership

In the end, what you really want to become is a leader. What’s the difference you ask? Peter Drucker says it best:

Management is doing things right;

leadership is doing the right things.

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Mentoring Talent

Chase the DJThe Broadcast Education Association (BEA) meets every year in Las Vegas concurrently with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual convention. In forty-plus years of being a professional broadcaster I never attended an NAB convention. In six years of being a university professor, I’ve attended six conventions. I know, like that’s insane, right?

This year I was asked to serve on the panel about mentoring talent. This panel was not only selected by peer-review but I’ve been told was ranked number 4 out of all the panel proposals that were accepted for this year’s meeting.

My section on panel will deal with mentoring college students to be air personalities. Here’s what I’m going to say.

Rule #1

People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Whether you’re mentoring air talent or sales talent, the person needs to first know that you really care about them and their success. What people value most is “being valued.” The tricky part is you need to know how the student (employee can be substituted every time you see the word student) wishes to be valued and do that. It’s not about you and what you think is important.

The perception of being valued is completely in the eye of the student.

Understanding this distinction creates a big opportunity for you, the teacher, to influence the student to continually strive for better and better performance.

A person who feels valued will focus their energy to the task at hand and be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is contagious and spreads quickly to others.

Air talent likes to know they’re being heard. If you’re the teacher (or their boss) they want to know you’re listening. When you give them positive feedback it makes a big difference in their growth.

Rule #2

Everything is won or lost in the preparation stage.

Before I started teaching the Advanced Radio Performance class at my university, I noticed the students in our college radio station appeared to be bored when they were on-the-air. Those that weren’t bored were spending all their time on their smartphones. Needless to say, listening to the radio station was pretty uneventful too.

What I tell my radio performance students is the same thing I tell my broadcast sales students, if you go on the air without being prepared, you won’t attract listeners, just as if you go on a sales call without being prepared you won’t make sales.

Have Clear Goals

Establish clear goals for your class and then everyone will be on the same page. Be consistent in dealing with students both individually and as a group. Help your students to have a clear picture in their mind of what success sounds like.

Plan, Prepare, Perform

I give each of my performance students a HOT CLOCK to plan out their shows on. Each of their clocks must contain a station ID at the top of the hour, weather breaks twice an hour, a break about something happening on our campus, a break about something happening in our city, a break about something interesting that’s happening in their life, a break that tells us something new about the local musical artist we are featuring that hour that we didn’t know about.

They need to personalize their show.

If they are interested in sports, then I ask them to put a sports commentary into their show or a sports report. If they are interested in movies, then I ask them to give us a movie review or preview what new movies will be playing in our area.

Be present. Be now. Be personal.

Then practice, practice, practice off-the-air before you enter the studio to perform your show.

Students need to learn the discipline of planning and preparing before each of their shows. I tell my students about my recent guest appearance on 650AM-WSM in Nashville. I prepared for three days to do a four hour air shift.

My performance students that had previously volunteered at our college radio station tell me that now they are planning and preparing their radio shows now find radio exciting and fun. They say the hours they are on the air just fly by. One student said her mother called her and said she sounded so much better and she told her mom that it was due to her professor’s mentoring.

Remember, when your students deliver, be sure to praise them.

Catch People Doing Things Right

Ken Blanchard has written many great management books. I was delighted when one day Twitter notified me that I had a new follower and it was Ken Blanchard. Ken preaches the way to have people do more of the right things, all the time is to catch people doing things right and praise them.

Since making the move from managing radio stations for most of my life, to now teaching at a university, I’ve learned that most of the same things one needs to do in the business world with professional talent, works the same way with student talent.

Everyone loves to hear they’re doing a good job.

When I’m listening to one of my students shine on the air, I call them up and tell them how great they sound – or I send them a text message – or post it on our Facebook page for the entire world to see.

Rule #3

Praise in public and critique in private.

I won’t ever call up a student if they are doing a bad job while they’re on the air and tell them that. That’s the worst thing you can ever do to air talent.

I might call them up if there’s a technical issue that needs to be corrected – like, I think you’re saying some really great things, but your mic level is so low I can’t really hear you. Make sure you’re properly modulating those VU meters when you’re talking and don’t just think you’re OK because it sounds OK in your headphones.

Air Check Sessions

One of the things I found to be different in college radio with my students than I found in commercial radio is doing air check sessions. Professional radio talent would rather have a root canal at their dentist than go through an air check session of their last show.

Students love it.

I schedule private one-on-one air check sessions with my students and we go over a telescoped air check of their last show. Now to get that telescoped air check, my students need to scope them from a full-length air check. This means by the time we sit down to listen to it together, they’ve heard it themselves a lot.

What’s amazing is they come to these sessions with a list of things they need to improve. All I need to do is amplify on what they’re hearing and offer suggestions for their next show.

What you want students to hear when you listen to their air check together is their delivery style. You want it to be natural, like they are speaking to one listener in a conversational manner.

Whether the student is doing a show live or voice tracking, it is important that they always act as they are live and understand they need to maintain listener ear-contact.

Radio is an intimate and personal communications medium.

The whole key is to get students to critically listen. Critically listen to their own air checks, to other students and to professional broadcasters.

Learning to be a great radio personality is like learning to be great at anything. It takes practice, practice, practice. Malcolm Gladwell wrote it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master something. Just remember, practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

In other words, you need to coach your students to not develop bad habits that will be hard to break but keep moving them in a direction that will make them a superstar.

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Building Trust

trust-building-big-sizeA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about “Why I Fired My Top Salesperson.” And it all came down to a single reason, trust. I can’t think of one thing a successful leader needs to do more in a business than establish a culture of trust.

 

Leaders influence people. Trust is the foundation upon which the ability to influence others is built.

 

Simon Sinek puts it this way: “Being a good leader is like being a good parent. You catch glimmers of hope when you catch them doing something right, but you really don’t know if you’ve done a good job for like 30-years.”

 

Trust is comprised of two basic components: character and competence. Character means you make decisions that go beyond your own self-interests. Certainly, in firing my top salesperson, that wasn’t going to help my month or quarter. It wasn’t in my own self-interests for the present moment. But knowing that the long-term good of my radio stations was the value I was protecting, and maintaining the trust of the people who I worked with every day, made doing the right thing clear albeit difficult. Competence doesn’t mean having all the answers. Competence means having the experience and knowledge to make decisions that positively impact the performance of the enterprise and the courage to ask for help when you need it. (I always tell people I have an awesome contact file full of brilliant people to call when I need help.)

 

When your people trust your character and believe in your competence, they will follow you wherever you lead them.

 

Being a trusted leader is done with love.

 

I attended Weight Watcher meetings for the first time in my life this year. Like everyone else on the planet I wanted to drop a few pounds, but I also wanted to see if I could pick up any new information about nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle. What I learned was that change occurs by what you consistently do every day. That message was shared by others in the room that had lost lots of weight, all taking the same journey and it was shared with love. Simon Sinek also says when we are surrounded by people who believe what we believe and we feel loved, trust develops.

 

10,000 Hours

 

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book “The Tipping Point” that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to get really good at something. You can’t rush trust building anymore than you can rush how long it takes to make a baby. Babies are born when they are good and ready. And you can’t build trust via email, Facebook, Twitter or any other form of modern day communication. You build trust when people come together through human contact. It’s why webinars lose one of the main benefits of seminars, that being people coming together and meeting one another. (Besides, I don’t know about you, but I’m always doing at least two other things when I’m on a webinar.)

 

Again, when we’re surrounded by people who believe what we believe trust develops.

 

Be Like Ed Koch

 

Ed Koch was a three-time mayor of New York City. Mayor Koch was famous for asking people everywhere he went “How Am I Doing?” He got in their faces and asked. Over and over and over; Mayor Koch asked “How Am I Doing?”

 

You build trust by being consistent.

 

The best teachers teach by sharing their mistakes and what they learned. People don’t connect with perfection. People connect with people who’ve been there, screwed it up, learned from it and shared the experience. Real courage is being able to share your mistakes with others and like who you are in the process of doing that.

 

When you reveal yourself in this way, you demonstrate what you believe and value.

 

In other words, you build trust.

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