A highly successful program director whom I was working with in a large market a few years ago reluctantly confided in me that the real reason he had been avoiding critiquing a certain air talent on his staff was his desire to avoid confrontation.  He seemed to have an uneasy relationship with this individual who was a few years older and preceded him at the station.  His rationale was that if things were fine, why rock the boat and run the risk of getting anyone upset?  Only things weren’t fine, this talent was mediocre at best and he needed help.  With his permission and without using names, I can now tell this story to hopefully serve as a positive example to others.

The air talent had been quite successful over the years and had a positive track record in the market.  However, he had developed a few bad habits and was truly “going through the motions” at this stage of his career.  The first reason the PD gave for not air checking him was he didn’t have enough time in his day to get everything done that was expected of him.  This is the reason I hear most often, and I must admit it certainly has some validity.  There are definitely more demands than hours in the day for programmers today.  He was scheduling music on his own and was temporarily without a promotion director, so he was doing double duty.  However, even after the promotion director was in place, no air check reviews were occurring and the issues with this air talent were getting worse!  Finally, after several heart-to-heart discussions, he decided to come clean with me and tell me the truth.

Believe it or not, this is not an isolated incident, and it is unfortunately quite common, even in larger markets and with successful stations.  It is tough for most PDs to admit, but the desire to avoid confrontation is a real part of the coaching process.

I explained to him that no matter how much we do in a day, there will always be more items waiting for our attention.  It’s just the nature of the job.  However, air checking and working with your talent can and should hold a higher priority level for him since his air talent is one of the station’s most valuable on-air assets.  After spending literally hours a day massaging his station’s playlist and music rotations, shouldn’t at least a few hours a week at minimum be devoted to another critically important component of the air sound?  It was this line of thinking that seemed to have the most impact on him.

This PD explained that he tried sending memos to the talent, but nothing really changed.  (Please note:  Never attempt to critique through memos except maybe to praise!) My client said he came close to pulling the “boss card,” but didn’t want to risk the guy walking out.  Oh yes, they talked regularly, but just to exchange pleasantries and not about his on-air work.  I know it sounds unbelievable, but you can’t make this stuff up.

As I stated in a previous blog, virtually nobody in any competitive endeavor today truly reaches their full potential without some sort of teacher, mentor, or coach.  If this wasn’t the case, then people could excel to the highest levels merely by reading about it in books.  For a coach to truly be successful in helping talent improve, a bond of trust must be developed between the talent and the coach.  Simply being someone’s boss just isn’t enough to achieve the highest potential without this bond of trust.

So, what’s the most important factor in creating this bond?  It’s all about the mindset.  For the coach, they must accept the premise that everyone inherently wants to be better tomorrow than they are today!  To me, this is the secret!  You have to believe that the talent you are working with wants to improve and can be successful in achieving some measure of improvement.  Success can be measured on many levels, so be wiling to accept the small wins at first and look for the good!  In my entire 40+ year career in radio, I have never worked with a talent who I didn’t feel wanted to be better tomorrow than they were today.  If I had, I would’ve probably suggested a career change!

Part of your mindset modification must be how the coach views the interaction.  Rather than view it as confrontation, view it as the opportunity to help somebody grow and improve.  View it as a chance for you to help someone better themselves as well as the station.  When the talent succeeds, the station succeeds and you, as the coach, succeed.  It’s a win-win-win all around!

My client adopted this mindset and the results were amazing!  It turned out the talent thought the PD didn’t like him because he never gave him any feedback on his show.  He figured if the PD didn’t care, why should he?  Positive results were achieved almost immediately, and the station, talent, and program director went on a successful ratings run that lasted for years.  Yeah, I know.  It sounds too good to be true, but it is!

Coaching can be an art, but it is also a learnable skill.  There is nothing as rewarding as knowing that you as a coach have the power and the ability to help someone improve their career, and, ultimately, their life in the process.  Yes, it can take hard work sometimes and certainly a lot of patience, but the effort is well worth it.  I remember reading a quote back in the 1980s from the famous sales consultant Zig Ziegler who wrote, “People don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care…about them!”  Start caring!  Start coaching and begin changing people’s lives for the better!

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