What I Learned About Being a General Manager
Editor’s Note: The views and opinions of this article do not necessarily reflect those of the MAB. Contact the MAB for information on the MAB’s official editorial policy.
By: Dick Taylor, CRMC/CDMC
Dick Taylor Blog
I loved being a general manager of radio stations. It wasn’t the job that first attracted me to radio however; it was to become a disc jockey. From as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a DJ on the radio. My first radio microphone was made out of tinker toys. Then I got a Caravelle (pictured below) transmitter for Christmas from Santa Claus and I took to the air waves.
I started in commercial radio when I was in the 10th grade in high school, getting my FCC 3rd Class Radio-Telephone Operator Permit. Due to my age at that time, I needed to get a work permit. The Massachusetts employment office that issued those types of permits for underage workers asked me what type of employment I would be doing. I told them, I’m going to be a DJ. They didn’t have a category for DJ in their book, so they wrote “Talent” on my work permit and sent me on my way. I never mentioned that I would also be taking transmitter readings every half hour standing next to a 1,000-watt broadcast transmitter. If I had, they would never have issued me a work permit, as that environment would have been considered to hazardous for a person who was only 16 years old.
As I look back on it, it almost seems ironic that I could have a license to operate a commercial radio station, but my mother would have to drive me to work and pick me up because I couldn’t get a driver’s license to operate an automobile.
In time, I would learn that what I really wanted to do in radio was not be the person who was the product, but the person who ran the whole enchilada; also known as the general manager. To get to that lofty office, I would need to leave the air and programming and go into sales.
Once in sales I quickly rose through the ranks to sales manager, station manager and finally general manager. Yes, at the ripe old age of 32, I was a general manager in Atlantic City, New Jersey; the world’s famous playground.
So what did I learn almost three decades later? A career is not a sprint, but a marathon. You never know everything you need to know. Every day is a learning experience. That your attitude becomes the attitude of your employees, so keep it positive.
Like making a baby, you can’t speed up the process of success in life. It takes time. Repetition is key. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers wrote it takes about 10,000 hours of repetition and practice to master anything.
While Radio Ink Magazine named me one of the best general managers in radio before I left the industry to become a broadcast professor at a university, I would find that I would learn even more about my craft trying to teach it to others. So today, I think I’d be a much better general manager than when I took a sabbatical to enter teaching.
They say if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. That was true for me about my radio career for over four decades and it’s been just as true for my teaching these past six years. But here’s the big take away: You can love your career, but it will never love you back. So you have to make time for the things that do love you back like your family. I may have been a hard working, successful radio general manager, but I never missed any of the special moments in my boys’ lives as they were growing up.
But the real credit goes to their mother. She made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom – the most important and difficult career choice on the planet – and the credit for the successful men both of my sons turned out to be, goes to her.
Sadly, while I tried to be a good dad and a good radio general manager, I probably was lacking in the husband department. The mother of my sons and I would divorce. My life was not in proper balance. Don’t let this happen to you.
When you’re starting out, you are very curious about how everything works. You’re like a sponge trying to soak it all in. Don’t lose that curiosity. Always pitch in and do whatever needs to be done. Always listen to the ideas of others; it might surprise you how much they know. Make every day a new day to learn and grow and be better than you were yesterday.
When you manage people, unlike things, know that each one is different. Each person is an individual and there’s no “one size fits all” approach. Celebrate your people’s victories, benchmarks and life events. Empower your people to not need you. Compliment in public, correct in private. Compliment in a note, correct face-to-face.
You were born with two ears and one mouth. Listening is what you should be doing twice as much as a general manager. Just because you’re the GM doesn’t mean you have all the answers. You don’t. Collaboration is the 21st Century Skill Set. It’s been my experience that often the answers to the problems confronting my radio stations were inside my own workforce. As manager, it was my job to get the answers out of them.
My Boss is a Bastard
This is a tough one. You never really want to work for a boss who’s an S.O.B. But sometimes family obligations put you in that uncomfortable position of just having to tough it out until you can make a change. I tell my students when we go over case studies of employees working for a bastard that unlike now – when they are students with no other people they are responsible for – it seems like it would be easy to just walk away from a terrible employment situation, but when you have a mortgage, car loan, kids, etc. you can’t. But what you can do is begin your job search and get out of there as soon as you can. Bad work relationships are toxic. Don’t stay in one.
It’s About More than Work
New managers sometimes have a hard time understanding why everyone isn’t as dedicated as they are to their job. But often, the reality is, your employees have lives outside of their workplace and those lives aren’t always smooth sailing. Each of us has a finite emotional capacity. So if their home life is stealing more than 50% of their emotional capacity, it leaves less capacity for the office. So if one of your best employees is suddenly under-performing, explore what’s going on in the rest of their life and how you, as their manager, can help them through this rough patch in their life. People will never forget how you made them feel when they needed your help and understanding the most. Even better, when that rough patch is over, you have one of the most empowered and dedicated employees now on your team.
Does Everyone Share the Same Mission?
Every company has a “Mission Statement.” Most are too long and rarely remembered, let alone embraced and understood by every employee. And that’s a BIG problem for you, the general manager.
There’s an old story about President Kennedy visiting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration complex when he stopped and asked a person cleaning the floor what his job was. The person said their job was to put a man on the moon. Now that’s a focused workforce. What would your people say they do in your radio station if someone were to ask?
Don’t wonder what the answer is, ask your people. Get everyone on the same page.
The world we live in today has blurred the lines between our work life and our home life. Our computers, tablets and smartphones now mean we are always available to our employer and always able to connect with our social networks. So should you ban Facebook? I was asked do to that once by one of my employees. My response was “no” I would not ban Facebook. And here’s why: First, that person got all their work done and done correctly. That person was available to me at any time 24/7 if I needed something fixed regarding our program logs. If I could invade their home life, if necessary, then their home life could invade my work place.
The good news is recent research has shown that employees who take social network breaks online are more productive than those that don’t. Everyone needs to take a break and refresh to continue to perform at the highest levels they are possible of achieving.
Sales people are known to take a break after a lot of “No’s” and hit some golf balls at the driving range to refresh and get back to closing sales.
You know right from wrong. Never let any work place or manager compromise your personal ethics or values. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. And if that “duck” doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Take a stand. Speak up, especially if you’re the manager because your people only have you standing between them and the top management of your company.
Failure is Learning
Want to learn more, fail more often and more quickly. Sounds counter-intuitive but research has proven that failure is all part of the way we learn. We only eliminate the unsuccessful paths by finding out if they lead us to success or not.
I had the opportunity to visit the Thomas Edison laboratory in New Jersey. A sign in the lab where Edison had invented the light bulb had this Edison quote: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Don’t fear failure. Learn to take risks.
Management vs. Leadership
In the end, what you really want to become is a leader. What’s the difference you ask? Peter Drucker says it best:
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
Reprinted by permission.
Dick Taylor has been “Radio Guy” all his life and is currently a professor of broadcasting at the School of Journalism & Broadcasting at Western Kentucky University (WKU) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Dick shares his thoughts on radio and media frequently at https://dicktaylorblog.com.