(By Eric Rhoads) I cringe when I think about my management style when I was a young new manager. I was arrogant and full of myself, and didn’t understand how lucky I was to have the people who worked in my various radio stations.
Most of us probably go through that. We don’t know what management is until we become managers ourselves. And if we’re not trained by great managers and made ready for the position, we can easily think management is about control, or “bossing people around.”
I was blessed with a lot at a young age. I ended up owning and running three stations before I was 30. And I can remember the very day I closed on the purchase of my first station, sitting in my nice, newly remodeled office, putting my feet up on my desk and thinking, “I’ve arrived.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. In reality, I had no clue how to manage, or even what a manager did.
Observation can be a great way to learn about managing, but when you don’t see the whole picture, you miss a lot of the nuances. You tend to see only a manager’s most obvious actions, which are often about being tough or demanding or insistent or even obstinate.
One day, a station promotion went terribly wrong. A bright young woman barely out of college worked in our sales department, and discovered right before a public giveaway that one of the major prizes hadn’t shown up. When she phoned the client, she learned he had backed out. Her sales manager screamed, “Go collect that prize, and don’t come back without it!” She rushed out to get the client to fulfill his promise.
Angry and upset, she screeched out of the parking lot in her classic ’65 Mustang convertible. She ran a light and got T-boned by a jacked-up monster truck. It took her about three days to die, but she was brain dead instantly. It was a nightmare.
And the tragedy did not end there. The night before, she had become engaged to our program director.
Within 12 hours of her death, the guilt of the sales manager and the devastation of the program director resulted in a walkout of all the air personalities and all the salespeople. The whole incident had somehow become the station’s fault, and my fault. Everyone was hurting so badly that they needed someone to blame.
I’m not sure anyone could have recovered from that situation. Though I managed to fill every vacant slot rapidly, it took me decades to realize that my management style was to blame for the staff’s response. There was no loyalty. I think if I had been a better manager, that might not have happened.
Though our job as managers is to help our teams stretch beyond their limitations, we need to pull them, not push them. That was a hard lesson to learn. Though an occasional push may be called for, if you’re all push, all the time, you’re just a jerk. That style may have worked years ago, but it doesn’t anymore.
The best managers earn loyalty. They not only accomplish difficult goals, they do it by getting people to want to do great things and not let them down. I never understood that as a young manager.
In this issue we highlight the Best Managers in Radio. Being the best in management does not come easy. I applaud these people for accomplishing something that takes a rare breed of patience and a deep level of caring, and a willingness to listen while leading.
Eric Rhoads is the chairman and publisher of Radio Ink.