The saying “Leaders lead from the front” is a phrase that comes from the practices of military. The interpretation is that leaders are where the action is and that enables them to see firsthand what is happening in real time and react. The practice remains today, but where “the front” is has changed for the military and in business. We spoke to several well-known media executives about their approaches to leadership, their influences and their advice to others who aspire to be at the front of this industry.
Given these changing times, is leading from the front still applicable today? Beasley Broadcast Group CEO, Caroline Beasley offered that the approach “is more applicable than ever before. It’s hard to know what is happening on the front lines when you are not there. We make regular market visits throughout the company on a regular basis to hear directly from our team members about what is going well and what we can improve on. Otherwise, you are out of touch. It also provides us with an opportunity to hear from our sales teams and clients about the challenges and opportunities they are facing on “Main Street.” At the end of the day, you can’t lead from behind.”
David Kantor, CEO Radio Division and Reach Media shared that he strongly believes that “you have to understand every aspect of the business whether it be sales, programming, engineering or other areas.” He continued “That knowledge allows you to be empathetic with what your team is going through. They know that you understand the challenges and opportunities they face.”
"The phrase 'Leaders lead from the front' to me isn't about stepping into the first chair but more about being present and actively involved” said Phil Becker, EVP/Content at Alpha Media. “Today, leading from the front might means equipping your team with the right tools and resources, being an active listener, or stepping back and selecting a suggestion from the team as opposed to the leader's plan. Your time as a leader might be limited but your ability to impact others can last a lifetime.”
Be it acquiring new properties, welcoming new employees, making a strategic change, it requires messaging and sharing a vision. The approach in bringing together and motivating a team to accomplish the designated objectives starts with communication. CEO & President of the Radio Advertising Bureau Erica Farber offered “From the beginning, It is always important that everyone hears the same information and at the same time. Whether it be laying out a new plan, a strategic change, it doesn’t matter. Teams need the opportunity to hear the message. And then they must have the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas as to how they can help support and elevate the message. Everyone has to be on board and understand the direction and this has to constantly be reinforced in everything you do.”
Caroline Beasley offered “My father taught us from an early age that it “starts at the top” and it’s something that we do daily. Being thoughtful, clear, and intent in communicating your message so everyone is on the same page, is critical for an organization. During our executive team call each week, I begin the call by restating our vision and goals before we start the meeting. Everyone owns a piece of it. No one person can do it all. It truly is a team effort. We share the “wins” when things go well and collectively explore potential solutions to challenges when they don’t.
“In my view, taking a leadership role by setting an example is of utmost importance” added Benztown President Dave “Chachi” Denes. He said “Currently, I'm engrossed in reading "Elon Musk" by Walter Isaacson, the same author who penned "Steve Jobs," a book I highly recommend as well. Both Jobs and Musk are viewed as cultural industry icons, though they have been subject to controversy and criticism for their perceived lack of empathy, which can be seen as a tragic flaw. Nevertheless, their track records include the creation of tremendously successful companies, and they have consistently been at the forefront of technology, marketing and commerce. They are infamous for their grueling work hours, strict timelines, and high expectations of their employees. I'm not suggesting that we should emulate their behaviors, but there's much to be learned from their unwavering work ethic and commitment to producing the best possible products.
Kantor noted that at his company they “Spend a lot of time listening to the employees of both our company and the ones we’ve acquired. We emphasize that we love radio and are committed to its success as a business. We often incorporate other companies’ ideas or methods into our best practices.”
The tools and analytics that are available today are greater than ever and often more easily accessible to all … including competitors. There’s been a leveling of the playing field. Which leads me to question if management styles have changed as market transparency becomes so much clearer than in the past. There are many metrics to use in measuring performance.
The programming perspective presented from Phil Becker, a man who lives with analytics, cautioned that we remember that tools are truly tools. “While these tools provide valuable insights, they're just one piece of the puzzle. My management style emphasizes the balancing act between leveraging data-driven decisions and nurturing human intuition and creativity. Tools are there to build but as a leader, you have to be the architect.”
Caroline Beasley said “While I don’t believe my personal management style has significantly changed over the years, I do believe more than ever before that it is important to focus forward. The media landscape and technology are evolving rapidly. You must be open to exploring new ideas and solutions- otherwise you will be left behind. Our listeners, advertisers, and shareholders depend on us to provide the very best entertaining content, results, and platforms available.”
Chachi noted “I believe data holds immense significance and should undergo careful analysis. However, it should never replace the essential qualities of leadership, such as charisma, authenticity, and conviction, which are challenging to quantify. People aspire to be part of something meaningful that adds value to their lives and the lives of others. With that in mind, I will utilize data, both good and bad, as sources of motivation and drivers for instigating change.”
Ms. Farber expanded on the subject. “This is an incredible time to be in leadership and we have to be open to everything and anything. I like to believe that over the years I have continued to grow and change and most importantly continue to be open to change. This is not easy for everyone, but it is part of our job to help those around us deal with change.”
I know that I’ve learned leadership from those I’ve worked with or for in the past. Many, not one, have taught me much. The same is true for most if not all current day leaders. Caroline noted that her late father, George Beasley, was her mentor in business. “He taught me early in my career that when negotiating a deal, to always make everyone feel like they’ve won at the end of the day. George also taught us the importance of treating everyone with dignity, decency, and respect.”
Kantor honored one of his early mentors, Dan Burke from Capital Cities Communications. “He recognized that people could handle a lot of responsibility and independence.” He shared that there are items in the mantra for managers that I still live by 40 years later. They are “Control the controllables … don’t let the uncontrollables control you. Don’t embarrass the company professionally or personally. No one bats 1000. You won’t be right all the time. You just need to be right more of the time. Manage and run the business like you own it. Don’t get bogged down in all the noise. Keep it simple. The best bottom lines come from driving revenue, controlling cost, or both.
“I've been fortunate to have had several great mentors in my life, including Roy Laughlin” Denes said. “From Roy, I learned that it's a natural inclination for people to fear change and become increasingly risk-averse, which ultimately leads to stagnation. As a thought exercise, Roy used to encourage me, especially during budget planning time, to "zero base" the budget and envision reconstructing the station from the ground up. This effectively asked if, given the opportunity to start anew, how would I choose to build it? More often than not, I made no or few changes, but there were instances when I did opt for significant alterations.”
Becker added "One valuable lesson I've gleaned is the importance of humility in leadership. I believe that leaders don't worry about their follower count, they worry about giving their followers something that counts.”
The first important lesson in leadership, according to Erica Faber, came from her very first boss in radio. “Basically, he taught me what not to do if I was ever in a position of leadership. He was mean to people. He yelled a lot and definitely didn’t care what anyone had to say. He truly believed he was smarter than anyone. I made a pact with myself then, that if I was ever in a position to manage anyone, I would do the complete opposite of him.” The other side of that experience is what she learned from The former President of RKO Radio, the legendary Dwight Case. She said “he taught me the importance of looking someone directly in the eye when speaking with them. Think about that. How many people do you talk with who are always looking over their shoulder to see if there is someone more important, they should be speaking with? The most important person at any specific time is the person you are speaking with.”
What’s the one attribute you look for when hiring a leader for your team? Caroline looks for “individuals who not only bring experience but also speak truth to power. It is important to look at all sides of a situation before reaching a decision.” Chachi said that he’s “looking for someone that will compliment my style of leadership and counterbalance my weaknesses.” Erica Farber said “There are many attributes I look for in leaders but if I had to narrow it down to one truth, it would be curiosity. There is a big difference between being interesting and being interested. It is the person that is interested who can ask the hard questions, make informed decisions, and motivate others.”
Becker said "When hiring a leader for our team, the attribute I value most is emotional intelligence. Technical skills can be taught, but the ability to understand, empathize, and connect with others is foundational for effective leadership. You can't put in what God left out of someone so don't overlook who they truly are."
David Kantor put the cherry on top of the sundae by answering the question regarding “what one attribute do you look for when hiring a leader” by saying “I don’t think there is just one.”