When Less Really Is More

When my friend, Kevin Metheny, was programming a small-signal station in San Diego he chose the strategy of creating his own universe to compete in.  The world outside the signal didn’t exist.  He put all his effort, from music research to community involvement (called remotes in those days) into this smaller definition.  He wound up taking the station to the top of the ratings by focusing on where he was, instead of where he wasn’t.

I wonder if that’s the same thing as one of Seth Godin’s recent posts, called “In search of the minimum viable audience.”?  He points out that most people are focused on reach or the maximum possible audience.  I know in our business being at the top of the ratings gives bragging rights, but I wonder if the continual focus on reach hurts us in the ability to create raving fans?  Or as Godin says, “When you seek to engage with everyone, you rarely delight anyone. And if you’re not the irreplaceable, essential, one-of-a-kind changemaker, you never get a chance to engage with the market.”

Those who tried to lower the demo in 60’s oldies, make AC more hip or create a Christian CHR are all chasing the maximum reach.  Those who understand, and embrace, what some would call their limitations, but in fact are their realities, are the real leaders.

But Other Than That You Were Great!

To excel at the highest level – or any level, really – you need to believe in yourself, and hands down, one of the biggest contributors to my self-confidence has been private coaching. – Stephen Curry

Have you ever had one of those meetings with “the boss,” that when you walked away, all you remember is, “…but other than that, you were great?”

It’s how we feel like we have to balance our comments.  The fact is most of us feel awkward about just telling someone that they are either on the way and just need a little more effort, or maybe even that they suck.  So we wrap the comments in a “don’t worry about it” approach.  And we kill the self-confidence Stephen Curry is talking about.

I don’t know about you, but it’s never worked for me, whichever side of the comments I’ve been on.  Still having that on-air performer inside of me, I focus on what’s negative. You’d think I’ve learned by now.

When you have something good to say, just say it.  When you have coaching to do, just do it.  Equivocating might make you feel better, but not the person you’re coaching. It does nothing to help turn them into a 3 point MVP.

The Other Side Of Leadership 

The bad leaders are the ones that push hard so they can gain, who brow beat us so that they can receive the benefit of our hard work, not so we can enjoy the success. – Simon Sinek

I don’t usually express the negative, but one of the ways we learn how to be good leaders is knowing what not to do.  That’s why the following article from Fast Company got my attention. I know I’m imperfect, so I’m always looking to improve.

Read & Enjoy:

The old adage is often true: We don’t quit jobs, we quit bosses. Besides hurting your mental well-being and productivity, working for a bad boss can severely impact your health. Researchers from Harvard Business School and Stanford University found that the stress bad bosses cause can be as damaging as secondhand smoke. And those bad bosses may also be making you sad, lazy, and fat.

Of course, many of us don’t have the financial or logistical freedom to just quit a job without a new one lined up if we get stuck with a bad boss. So what is one to do? You can, of course, learn to deal with the bad boss as best you can. However, as with most maladies, the best medicine is prevention. If you can learn to identify the warning signs of a bad boss during the interview stage, you can avoid that job and its potentially toxic work environment altogether. Here are the biggest red flags to look out for, according to a recruiter and management professional we spoke to.

RED FLAG NO. 1: DO THEY LACK BASIC RESPECT AND MANNERS?

“Even with my experience of interviewing, I’ve sometimes slipped up on what looked like a well-planned schedule at the start of a day blocked out for interviews and ended up running over and being late for the next interviewee,” says Sarah Dowzell, the COO at Natural HR. “Unexpected events can happen to the most organized of people, but how they react will tell you a lot about the person.”

This is often the most easily discernible red flag, says Dowzell. “Acknowledging and apologizing for being late to the interviewee is basic manners, and if the hiring manager doesn’t do this, what does it tell you about how they treat people?”

That’s something with which Richard Hanwell, associate director at The Sterling Choice, a recruitment agency for global professionals, agrees:

Manners cost nothing. If an interviewing manager is checking their phone for emails or is taking phone calls, then they are unlikely to give the appropriate time in your prospective role if they can’t even do it when they are meeting you for the first time and should be looking to make a good impression. No matter how senior a manager is, they should respect the importance of recruitment and turn all technology off in order to make an engaging impression.

RED FLAG NO. 2: AN INFLATED EGO

“These are the hiring managers who are more interested in talking about themselves than interviewing you,” says Dowzell. She points out that it’s easy to spot a boss with an inflated ego: If you ask them any questions about the team you’ll potentially be joining, their answers will often focus on them and their personal achievements rather than the wider team.

“The best example of the inflated ego I’ve come across was a candidate being told by the hiring manager that he’d looked at his LinkedIn profile, and then he asked why this wasn’t reciprocated,” says Dowzell. “This person does not only have an inflated ego, but they’re also needy. Who wants to work for a needy boss?”

RED FLAG NO. 3: PRONOUNS MATTER

The best bosses are team players who realize the contribution and value of every single person in the group. But as many of us know, there are plenty of bad bosses who believe that successes are theirs alone, and failures are due to their subordinates. But how can you tell which camp your prospective boss falls into when meeting them for the first time? Hanwell says to pay attention to how they use pronouns in the context of the conversation.

“If your interviewer uses the term ‘you’ in communicating negative information—such as, ‘You will deal with a lot of ambiguity’—don’t expect the boss to be a mentor,” he says. “If the boss chooses the word ‘I’ to describe the department’s success, that’s a red flag. If the interviewer says ‘we’ in regards to a particular challenge the team or company faced, it may indicate that he or she deflects responsibility and places blame.”

RED FLAG NO. 4: THE BOSS ASKS INAPPROPRIATE QUESTIONS

One of the worst red flags to keep an eye out for is whether the prospective boss asks you any questions that may potentially violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act. “All of the legislations listed are designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace and mean that hiring managers should not be asking questions such as ‘Do you have children, or plan to have children?” says Dowzell.

She points out that despite legislation, 75% of senior women in tech have been asked about family life, marital status, and children during interviews. “Arguably, a hiring manager asking such questions hasn’t been sufficiently trained, but if they’re displaying unethical behavior at this stage, what does it tell you about how this manager operates?” she says.

RED FLAG NO. 5: SIGNS THE BOSS (AND COMPANY) SEE YOU AS A LACKEY

Dowzell says that there are still plenty of bosses and companies that see their employees as little more than servants. To demonstrate this point, she tells me about the experience of one of the first people she hired for her company. Before interviewing at Natural HR, James had interviewed at a nearby larger business that had bigger budgets.

“James told me that after a great interview with a nearby company, he was introduced to a director who just happened to be passing as he was leaving the building, and all he said to James was, ‘First thing you need to know about working here, James: milk and two sugars!” says Dowzell. “That was enough to tell James all he needed to know about what his life would be like working for this company.”

RED FLAG NO. 6: THE BOSS LACKS ENTHUSIASM

Hanwell says the final red flag to keep an eye out for is whether or not you sense enthusiasm and passion from the prospective boss while they are interviewing you. “Measure this by paying attention to your feelings,” he says. “You should feel a sense of excitement when you consider working for them. But if you feel like the boss hates his or her job and doesn’t care, leave immediately. Chances are, the office is full of disengaged employees who are plagued by low morale.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, freelance journalist, and former screenwriter represented worldwide by The Hanbury Literary Agency. His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books.

Seeing Beyond The Obvious

John Glenn: Let’s get the girl to check the numbers.

Al Harrison: The girl?

Yes, sir.

Al Harrison: You mean Katherine?

John Glenn: Yes, Sir, the smart one. And if she says they’re good, I’m ready to go.”

(Exchange from the movie Hidden Figures)


Hard not to be impressed by John Glen, an original astronaut, and the first American to orbit the earth.  But his role in the movie, Hidden Figures, took it to a new level with me. He didn’t see an African American female; he saw “the smart one.”  Think about it; we were second in the space race.  The Soviet Union had launched a satellite before us and put a man into space before us.  We needed every edge we could find just to keep up, but still bright people were overlooked because of how we saw them.

We’ve progressed since then, but in watching the movie, I thought about how much we in leadership ignore what we consider “lesser,” whether it’s age, another department, thinking of people from the perspective of their position, and so on.  I mean, all the smart, creative people come from programming, right?  Interesting, when we too need every edge we can get right now.  Wherever you are, there are probably smart people playing a role who can help you become more than you are.  Who knows, maybe they will be the people that lead you into a new era.  By the way, this isn’t about the people who feel entitled, but about the people who feel they have a contribution.

There’s no magic about it, just look around you, and see what could be instead of what is.  Listen to how involved individuals are instead of what title they have.  People who are driven to success instead of those who think they deserve success.

It’s your job to make the hidden obvious.

Want To Be An Ace?

“Explicit disagreement is better than implicit understanding.”  Douglas Stone, – Thanks  For The Feedback


I have so many books on my reading list that it’s almost overwhelming.  So I love it when we can bring someone into EMF to talk to us.  A recent person was Elaine Lin, an amazingly brilliant woman to talk about the book, “Thanks for the Feedback.”  Too long to encapsulate here, it’s a book about giving, and as important, receiving feedback.

A part of the presentation was about being an ACE.  Which means three kinds of the feedback you can give: appreciation, coaching, and evaluating.

Appreciation is showing that your teammate knows you notice them and that they matter.  Coaching is helping them improve, and Evaluation lets them know where they stand.

Two things struck me about this idea.

First, that we’re not exactly rock stars when it comes to appreciation.  Letting people know you notice and value them on an ongoing basis.  Mostly we’re so busy we forget, but also because we’re not intentional about giving appreciation.

Second is that the authors separate coaching and evaluation.  Typically I’ve seen them as linked.  “Here’s how you’re doing and here’s how to fix it.”  But it makes more sense to unlink them so they’re two different parts of the employee discussion.  I think it’s better to help them get better at one point, and then evaluate them at another.  Focus is always a good thing.  I know that I’d be more open if they were separated for me, in my performance conversations.

Elaine’s presentation moved the book up my priority list, and I expect it to help me both give and receive performance feedback.