Aside from having a great ear for talent and an amazing eye for content, what major talent do young program directors require but rarely display these days? If you said "effective management skills," you hit the jackpot.
With few mentors and fewer consultants, program directors obtain management acumen primarily under fire. While some take to managing people as if they were born with a gift, many PDs learn only through mistakes. With a better focus on this subject, it is possible to improve this rapidly deteriorating situation in our industry.
Before I offer direct advice on the subject, it's important to point out that there is no substitute for formal management education. Program directors should be encouraged to take management classes at a local university or community college, on site or online.
As preparation for the start of course work, a general manager or market manager should begin discussing a few concepts with a program director to make an immediate improvement in style and substance on a daily basis, while laying the groundwork for learning.
Been there, did that
It should be obvious that performing a job for a substantial period of time doesn't necessarily mean knowing how to do it well.
However, people, especially young ones, have tremendous facility of convincing themselves that they already know how to do something well just because they've performed the task.
The longer someone does that task, regardless of formal training, the more likely it is that they've decided that they know all they need to know.
Calmly and diplomatically discuss the importance of managerial skill with your PD. If he insists that training wouldn't be helpful, ask him to define the study of "organizational behavior" and the classical styles of management. You may get something like, "I don't need to know that stuff to know what I'm doing!"
Next is a series of conversations about improving communication, confrontation and negotiation.
Communication: It's vital that staff members know that the door is always open to discuss issues and that if they feel that their problem isn't solved, they should feel free to bring that concern to the general manager without fear of retribution. Many lawsuits by employees could be avoided if they simply felt that someone was actually listening to what they were saying and might take action to resolve a conflict. Does your program director consider herself a good one-on-one listener? Ask her to give examples of how she reacted when a staff member successfully approached her to discuss something of great importance to that person. If she can't cite an instance of this happening, you've got a major concern to deal with right away.
iStockphoto/Nicole Waring Confrontation: This word has come to have an ominous ring to it, but what it really means is that good managers know how to be direct without being obnoxious, negative or threatening. It's common for managers to avoid confrontation because it makes them uncomfortable. Expressing and dealing directly with concerns, or simply motivating people — especially on-air talent — is not easy for most people.
Negotiation: While this behavior may seem almost second nature to a general manager, especially those who came up through the ranks in sales, it is a hard-earned, hard-learned skill for most folks.
As kids, we are natural negotiators but get so hammered during our formative grades that we mostly lose the ability and have to re-learn as adults. PDs often negotiate contracts, including salaries, bonuses, vacations and more, without any training. When this happens, you're losing money, time and possibly even talent.
I can almost hear the response to my plea for education: "We have no budget!"
I don't know of anyone who has done this, but it's not unthinkable that a community college in your area would trade you course credits for advertising. Option two is budgeting properly now for 2011, so it can happen next year. Option three is to encourage your program director to pay for the course himself.
Everyone involved will thank you for encouraging the investment.
The author is president of Lapidus Media. Efirstname.lastname@example.org.