Managing To Lead


(By Deborah Parenti) Congratulations, you’ve been promoted to manager. You’ve been handed the keys. You’re in charge.

While once the title may have carried a more autonomous ring, a manager is still a manager. Implicit with the role is an expectation that you have all the answers.

Translation: You have been blessed with superpowers mere mortals can only dream of possessing.

I know. I’ve been a radio manager. I know what it’s like to walk cold into that office for the first time and sit behind that desk wondering “What in the hell do I do now?” How the faces of people you’ve worked with for years take on a look of bemusement. Or you scan the room, watching furrowed brows telegraph a “Did I ever do anything to offend this person in whose hands now rests my career?” message.

The truth is, while there are a number of training programs for sellers, there really isn’t much in the line of “manager training” — we simply promote. We tap those who do well in their jobs, appear to have leadership or strong organizational skills, and usually have expressed the desire to advance. Sometimes, it’s a matter of being around long enough to have outlasted all other comers.

Nonetheless, we jump head-first into the job and settle into the chair behind the “big” desk in the corner office.

While not always armed with a “Book of Answers,” most come to the position with idealistic vision, enthusiastic anticipation, and a set of goals and aspirations they have dreamed about over the years spent building their careers.

Go with your gut. It’s served you well on the climb to the top. It will continue to serve as your best navigation tool. Instincts coupled with common sense and informed insight usually lead to smart decision-making.

One of the first challenges I faced as a manager was a personality who decided to leave. The big problem: She was going to another station in the market and competing head-on with us. The easy part was enforcing the non-compete. More difficult was deciding how to explain that to a staff torn by loyalty to a friend and former co-worker while dealing with a new, managerial side of someone else they had known for years.

I relied on the simple premise that if you speak honestly and frankly, most people will understand, and convened a meeting. I began by sharing my respect and admiration for the departed employee and my regret that she was leaving. But that my first responsibility was to our station, and to them. I could not expect others to pour their talent and efforts into “playing to win” if I, as leader, didn’t lead in defending their work and our turf.

Not a peep — lots of thanks — and an opportunity that helped focus and build our team. It was also the moment I realized there is a difference between “managing” and “leading.” “Manager” in the title fails to convey the importance of leadership in successful management.

Never underestimate the power of a smile as you walk the hallways. Depending on your corporate structure, your control in some areas of decision-making may be limited, but control of the mood at your station rests with you. Check the frown at the front door. Bad mood vibes are catching.

Don’t hide in the office. One of the biggest complaints I hear is from staff saying they never see the manager. No one knows what issues you deal with on a daily basis, but they do know what they see: your door closed, or you, always on the phone. Get out and mix it up with those with whom your success rests. I made a weekly habit of delivering doughnuts to six radio stations’ staffs. It was a chance to say hi and share a bit of camaraderie, and even today, I continue to get positive comments about “doughnut day.”

Avoid “hallway decisions.” We’ve all seen the movie — kids distracting parents while asking for a signature on a bad report card. Staff often operates in similar fashion. Odds favor a “yes” if the question is timed when the boss is in a hurry! If it’s important, it needs more than a snap decision.

Finally, encourage talent, foster growth, and ask team members about their dreams. Think beyond managing. Systems and processes are managed. Think instead about leading people – because those following your lead are the ones who, in turn, will lead you to winning. Be a dream weaver!

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected]


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