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Managing Up and Down

I’ve been lucky enough to do just about everything there is to do around radio. Including being at a Corporate Programming Level, Station Owner, General Manager, Operations Manager, Program Director and On-Air. I’ve carried a list and sold because I wanted to learn that part of the business. I’ve been a boss and mostly I’ve had bosses. As a consultant I have a lot of bosses as every one of my clients is one of my bosses. That requires a lot of managing upwards and downwards.


This message is really directed at Market Managers and Program Directors, but could just as easily be applicable to the Director of Sales and Sellers or the Program Director and On-Air Personalities. If you’re a leader or a follower you can benefit from thinking about managing in multiple directions. We’re all leaders and we’re all followers. The question is who are you following and who are you leading?


My approach has always been to get along with people … period. That doesn’t mean that you should be a “yes” person, a pushover, or quiet and unengaged. In my case it means that I start by assuming that whoever I am working with, or interfacing with, doesn’t awake each day with a plan to ruin my day. My belief is that people are good at their core … until they prove otherwise. Perhaps that’s a Polyana approach, but it’s worked well for me.


It starts with respect. If you don’t respect the person, then at least respect the position. If you don’t respect your market manager, and they don’t respect you, then you will never be able to satisfy them. They will never be satisfied with you. You will surely fail. I’ve seen situations where a PD had no respect for their Market Manager, often it’s not the one that hired them, and it often ends with them being terminated as the Program Director. I’ve counseled some that have found themselves in this situation, and the decision they have to make is to find common ground where they can find respect for one another or start planning their departure.


Be clear on what the objective is that your team is to accomplish. If you’re an employee, be sure what your boss’ objective is for you to accomplish. What is their goal for your performance short-term and long-term? Share with them your personal and professional objectives. You and your market manager have to have clarity as to the objective. What is it you want to accomplish? You have to know what success looks like to get there.


The way in which you will accomplish your objective is driven by a strategy. Because most programmers come from the on-air side of the business and most managers come from the sales side of the business, it will sometimes put you at cross purposes. You will want to work with the Market Manager, and whatever outside resources you have, in helping to develop the stations content strategy. The same for a Market Manager who is managing downward. Know the limits of your experience when it comes to content creation. It may be great … and it may not be great.


Communication is very important. First and foremost; No Surprises. Having been in the role of PD, I always wanted to make sure that my Market Manager was aware of what my team was doing. Having been a General Manager, I hated surprises, because I never wanted to surprise my superior be that a corporate leader or radio station owner. My style, as a PD, was to copy my manager on all important memos. We also met weekly in a formal setting, but saw each other daily. In managing downward, I used that same style and system.


It is important to be culture conscious. Every company has a culture and every radio station has a culture. Sometimes they aren’t the same, even though they should be. The stations culture is set by the Market Manager. The culture of a company starts with the CEO and is magnified by the Leadership team. Be conscious of the positive aspects of your stations culture and magnify them by your performance.


Regardless of your approach, and short of needing a personality transplant, be likeable. I worked hard at becoming friends with every manager I reported to and worked with because it made work more fun and gave me insight into how to sell my boss on what I wanted to accomplish. Whenever I gave my boss what they wanted, I got what I wanted. Amiability should not be discounted as being a valuable personality trait.


If you want to impress the team that you lead, never ask them to do something that you wouldn’t do. If you want to impress your manager, make sure that they know that you’re willing to put in the time and energy to accomplish the objectives for the stations. We don’t have jobs. We have careers. Careers don’t have timeclocks. They have goals and destinations.


Work to improve the weaknesses of your team. We all have them. What’s your blind spot? What’s your market managers or team members blind spot? Without overstepping, and providing you have a strength where they have a weakness, offer to provide strength where needed. Be collaborative.


To that point …. Collaborate. The PD has to work well with the other department heads within a station cluster. The frustration that many programmers (creatives) have, and it’s one that I still wrestle with, is that almost everyone has an opinion on what you (the PD) should do. Collaborate with your manager. Don’t hesitate to ask for their opinion, advice, direction. Collaborate with other department heads within your cluster. Your collaboration makes the managers job easier, and that makes your job easier.


Collaboration doesn’t mean that you rubberstamp something that could lead to failure. Speak up when you see disaster on the horizon. Explain what you’re seeing, the possible outcome, a curative, and suggest an alternate plan of action. If you’re overruled, at least you’ve been heard, and it’s now up to you to execute the plan to the best of your ability. Being passive aggressive is unacceptable.


Perhaps the most important tip of all when it comes to managing your manager and managing your team is to build trust in them and with them. If they can’t trust you, they won’t. That’s a dead end for everyone. Never lie. Never allow the manager to be surprised. Be open and honest with them and your team about everything. Everything. Never give your senior manager a reason to not trust you. Never. If you cannot tell your team something because it’s confidential … then saying it’s confidential is your answer.


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