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Radio Needs Great Leaders

Good management is about more than keeping a station in the black

For about 20 years, a friend of mine worked part-time on the air at a major-market radio station. Although his “day job” was with the police department, he loved radio, so he consistently performed weekend after weekend, rarely asking for time off. He would also do vacation fill-ins at night during the week, after his police work.

Credit: iStockphoto/Choreograph One weekend, he walked into the control room to find another staffer getting ready for the same shift. Awk-ward! He double-checked the schedule and his name was not listed. He called the relatively new program director three times before finally reaching him. “Oh, yeah,” said the P.D. “I decided to give this new kid a shot — sorry I didn’t call to let you know.”

Taking this in stride, my friend checked the schedule the following week and discovered he still was missing in action. He called the P.D. again. “Oh, uh … yeah. Sorry, man. We’ve decided to keep trying the new guy. I’ll call you when we decide to put you on the schedule again.”

My friend waited three weeks and never got a call. He resigned — not that he needed to, but because he felt a sense of responsibility. That’s obviously more than he got out of the station management.

He later died young from cancer, but I’ve never forgotten his story. A solid performer, one who sounded great on-air, took direction well and showed up on time only to be dropped.

What’s going on here?

This story is about management neither acknowledging nor recognizing the value of its employees. The issue continues to manifest itself against on-air talent, engineers, sales reps and, at some stations, entire staff rosters.

The solution to this ongoing problem is leadership. When a general manager or market manager doesn’t know his or her employees on a first-name basis and is not involved with their performance evaluations, department heads will wield power that many of them don’t have enough experience to handle.

And don’t tell me that a market manager can’t take on responsibility for that volume of employees. I once worked for a CEO/chief operating officer who knew the name of and something about every employee in his chain of stations. This enabled him to greet an employee by name and inquire about his well-being at any encounter.

Leadership is about commitment to excellence, valuing everyone’s contribution and nurturing loyalty. Why are these attributes important? Because such leaders are capable of creating a happy environment in which employees do their very best to drive success at all levels.

When employees are recognized, heard and encouraged, the entire environment shifts to one where people actually look forward to coming to work and tackling challenges. An open, caring environment stimulates creativity, which is the key to success in content creation, the sales process and even engineering solutions.

The opposite situation — anonymous employees with no voice in operations, unrecognized contributions, and no feedback loop other than negativity — creates an environment where people hate their boss, can’t stand to come to work and complain to their peers.

The not-so-obvious part of this for executives who strive to be leaders is that action is even more important than words.

If you say “I have an open door! Whenever you want, come see me and we’ll talk.” But if your door is rarely open or you don’t treat employees warmly when they enter, you are not living up to your commitment. To have a two-way conversation with your employees, you must learn how to listen and internalize meaningful emotions transmitted to you.

Here’s an easy test: The next time you have a conversation with an employee, try to recall the next day what it was he said to you. If you can’t recall, you weren’t truly paying attention. Effective leaders walk the walk and never exercise the “do as I say, not as I do” game plan.

Caring about employees, knowing what’s going on in the day-to-day environment and being self-aware in terms of personal improvement — all can help any manager go from ordinary to extraordinary.

The author is president of Lapidus Media. Contact him at [email protected].