Leading Change

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”-Socrates


Change is not easy.  It’s confusing, unclear and perplexing.  It’s hard to pursue something when it means what you know, and have become expert at, is becoming less and less relevant.  It’s natural to fight change, to deny it and ignore it.

However, every leader is a change agent, for better or worse.  They can move their organization forward, or keep it where it is.  Either one is change, because as the world morphs and grows, if you do nothing, you’re effecting change.  Just not in a positive way.

The most fundamental principle of change can be found in your mirror.  When we’re not looking into the mirror it’s easy to fool ourselves that we’re the same people we were 10 years ago.  But we’re not.  If change were’t a real factor, we’d still have 8 tracks and AM radio would be on top.  People wouldn’t be watching TV less to an alarming level (which they are), Netflix would have failed, and no one would “get” Pandora.

Real leadership is understanding change, and adapting to the opportunities it offers. Those who can do that will survive and thrive, those who can’t will be forever cemented to a past that doesn’t exist any more…and is being outdated everyday.

If You’re Seeing Enemies Within You Need To Get Out

“Employers have gone away from the idea that an employee is a long-term asset to the company, someone to be nurtured and developed, to a new notion that they are disposable.” – Barbara Ehrenreich


When you talk to a lot of people everyday, you can see things through different eyes.  Sometimes I wind up in conversations where someone is complaining…a lot…about distrust of the people they work for. It seems like there’s a return to the thinking of the past where employees are just cogs who are expected to unthinkingly follow directions. Remember the grey people from the Apple TV sport named “1984?”

But the new twist on this is that you must distrust them, and always make sure they aren’t taking advantage and are working hard enough. There’s even a business rationale for this – increased efficiency. The “do more with less” strategy.

Somewhere someone decided to write a business book about efficiency, taking the perspective people are lazy and could do more than they were. That concept was sufficiently simplistic and shallow enough that it became an instant “quick fix” success. Cutting the workforce by 40% became a badge of honor.

This has all but destroyed growth in radio. First PD’s were cut, and one was in charge of 3-4 stations. Then high paying talent that wouldn’t take a 50% cut. Then “unnecessary” executives, and finally, salespeople. So many of the top executives have replaced long-term concern for the industry with their own short-term financial goals. Leadership has been replaced with dictatorship, so naturally the answer to self-inflicted problems is to blame those shiftless employees. We’ve divided into three types of organizations, (1) those who really don’t care about people, (2) those who distrust people, and (3) those who see a time like this as one to build great, people-oriented organizations that produce crazy good return.  Think Zappos.

The people I work with are amazing, dedicated, hard-working and even fun to be around.  We ALL know that we are all working toward the same end.  I don’t have a good guy/bad guy mentality.  If someone isn’t hardworking or dedicated, then it calls for some tough conversations and action.  I won’t subject my people to a cancer of dissatisfaction.

If you really think about the future, like Jefferson did, while acting in the day, you understand the value of talent, good leaders, and hard workers as an asset of the organization.  Not a liability, not a line item expense, an asset.  Spreadsheets don’t make organizations strong or innovative or valuable…or even failures.  It’s your people.


Men are respectable only as they respect.”  –  Ralph Waldo Emerson


No, not the Aretha song, the other r-e-s-p-e-c-t you’ve heard about so much.

Some friends and I were talking the other day about respect at work, and about how so many people seem to think it comes with a title or position.  You can be a Director, a VP, a Chief or a CEO, but people don’t really respect the position, they respect the person. And their actions.

You earn respect by what you do , how you do it, and how you treat others.  The only way you earn true respect is by showing respect to others first.  Oh yeah, and when you’re promoted or go somewhere else, you have to earn that respect all over again.  It’s not about your reputation, what you did at your last job, your resume or your new promotion.

As I’m fond of telling people, “You can’t save people from themselves.  Some will always struggle with respect, thinking that others don’t give them enough of it.  They’ll never be happy, because they never learned to give respect before getting it in return.

As the dictionary says, Respect: 1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.


Leadership Is Not A Title


“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel.  If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” – Sam Walton


 Mel Cooper is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.  I was doing some work for one of his stations in the Vancouver, BC area, and flew up to meet him.  When he took me on a tour of the station he introduced me to everyone around, and had something good to say about each individual.  He passed along compliments, and gave credit to most of them.  Not only that, but he is just plain fun to be around.  When we finally got around to talking business, he quickly painted a vision of what he was looking for in a new station he hoped to launch.

Mel understood one of the unspoken laws of leadership: If you’re a leader, people follow you because they want to, not because they have to.

People throw the word “leader” around like it’s a title that comes with a certain job.  Every CEO or GM isn’t a leader.  It’s the ones that care about their people instead of looking at them as assets for improving shareholder value that are the true leaders.  The ones with a vision for the future and an understanding that being a leader is something you earn, not something you’re given.

I’m fortunate enough to have known several true leaders in my career.  Every one of them was someone I wanted to be around, and would have walked through fire for.  Every one of them inspired their people to do more than the others.  Every one of them was like a graduate degree for me.  Oddly enough, every one of them was different in style, unique to themselves.

Another unspoken secret of leadership is that you don’t have to have a title to be a leader.  There are often people at a station who don’t have a grand title, but are the ones people go to for advice, or gravitate to naturally.  They’re often as important to the success of an organization as the CEO.

I talk a lot about leadership because I believe it to be one of the key factors for success in the future.  It doesn’t matter how many stations you have or what kind of return you bring, it’s not going to help when media fragments more and more.  Leadership, however, especially visionary leadership, will.

Sam Walton has it right.  Mel Cooper has it right.  If you make the people around you believe they can do anything, and accomplish great things, they will.  I’ve never understood why more people who want to lead don’t understand that.  It’s free, and you just have to practice, practice, practice.  Start recognizing the contributions of those around you, and let them know you recognize it.  Just start with telling one person a day what their value is to your organization.  Soon you’ll be doing it naturally…and you’re down the road to becoming a leader.



A Love Letter To Your Team

“After my family, the people I love most are the one’s I work with.” – David Salyers, Author, Remarkable


“Wow, I thought, that’s an amazing point.” I was watching David Salyers, Vice President of marketing for Chic-Fil-A at the 2014 CMB Momentum conference. He was talking about the culture of his organization, which puts a huge emphasis on including living it every day. And that culture has everything to do with people.

He told us how Chic-Fil-A puts an emphasis on going beyond thinking about what we want from our people, to what we want for our people. I read the “love letter” he wrote to his employees, and again bells went off in my head. They let their people know, every day, by how they act, that they love and respect them.

“How do my people think about me?” I wondered.

Believe me, I’ll be making that line of thinking a part of my leadership.

I hear about “culture” from a lot of radio stations, but none of them have ever come this far in designing the organization around the culture. Culture means “how you will act,” not “how you will be.” It’s about behavior, not about a way of “being.”

Chic-Fil-A cultivates a culture that isn’t meant to be just for “Chikin'” but instead for any organization that wants to be…well, Remarkable!