The Blank Page

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(By Deborah Parenti) As I sit here pondering a blank page, trying to decide what to write about this month, I am struck by the similarities between a blank page and a manager’s first day in the office. Both usually come with a mandate and a set of expectations. A manager customarily receives a list of marching orders. She or he is charged with executing a plan and achieving certain set goals.

In the case of a blank page, the mandate is to fill it with words that will connect with readers and hopefully inspire, remind, goad, or otherwise provide them with some food for thought.

In both cases, there is always that first seed of doubt. Can I do this? Am I ready and able to keep this ship on course and bring it into harbor?

I remember my first day as a manager. I walked into the GM office, slipped my purse into an empty desk drawer, and sat as straight and tall as I could, waiting for someone to enter in search of the great wisdom I must now possess. After all, I was a manager! When five minutes of solitude went by, I decided to check out the other desk drawers. Obviously, the staff hadn’t yet received word of my newly minted powers. Right.

I had just started to open a drawer when I caught the eye of the engineer coming toward the office. Instinctively, like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar, I slammed the drawer shut, my index finger connecting with a sharp piece of protruding metal. I tried to suppress a yelp as I squeezed my now slightly bleeding finger. Assessing the situation, the engineer bolted down the hall for the first aid kit.

Lesson 1: If you want the staff’s attention, do something different. While I would not suggest a bleeding finger — pizzas work as well and are tasty, too — it did succeed in bringing many people to my office, and it certainly broke the ice. It also led to another lesson.

Lesson 2: Listen to your staff. I got plenty of advice that day about how to treat my little injury, but also about the station and the visions of others for it. As one might expect, some were self-serving, but even among those were interesting perspectives. The important point here is that they, not you, are usually a fountain of wisdom. Your best decision might be to cultivate and nourish that collective think tank.

For all the challenges and sometimes tough choices a manager makes, the 24/7 hours (or so it seems some days), and the constant distractions that call for an acrobatic balancing act, being a manager has its rewards, far beyond a paycheck. And it’s the intangible ones that are usually the most rewarding, because it’s the blank pages on which you write the chapters that make the job not just a job, but a life-changing experience for you and those who work with you.

Today’s radio managers do not have an easy, organized set of papers on which to write. Our hats are off to them in this issue, and we are proud to salute some of the best in the industry. These managers are juggling not only multiple stations, but a variety of platforms every day. They are doing it with less staff and tighter budget constraints. And to top it off, they are dealing more and more with a new generation of staffers who do not think, act, or respond like any with which they have previously dealt. What motivates them can be far different from what motivated their predecessors.

Even seasoned managers need to look within once in a while to see how they are filling the blank pages — beyond the goals and budget strategies, and even regarding staff. Stepping away from the desk to take the pulse of what’s going on down the hallway is one way. Having a fun, upbeat, and relaxed environment can be a game-changer in terms of results and employee satisfaction. But that means you really have to know your people — not as functionaries of a department but as individuals. And you have to create that environment against a backdrop of headlines that scream,

“Proceed with caution.” It’s important today that every word be all but impossible to misinterpret.

Bottom line, the best stations usually have the best managers. That’s probably because rather than preconceived notions, they start every day with a blank page.

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at parenti@aol.com

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