No doubt about it. This guy was a complete jerk. I wish I knew where he was now so I could find him, and thank him.
One of the most interesting things about Evolutionary leaders is that they can be extremely direct and occasionally unpleasant. Simply put, how someone feels about things is less relevant than the goal of the work being done; the mission is what is most important. If you have to step on toes to get the job done, so be it. Not every evolutionary leader is this way; but real change is always tough.
Let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane to one of my previous jobs—as a hot-shot radio DJ in the mid 80’s (oh yeah, I’m talking disco…)—and learn some lessons about tough love.
“It is 94 degrees today inDurham, under partly cloudy skies. Now it is time for a little Journey! A little “Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’…” I turned off the microphone and “potted up” the music. I confirmed that the song was a “blue, star, first rotation” as assigned by the log. The new music system was complicated—and it took all of the art and fun out of being a DJ. The days of “play what you want” were gone. A new program manager was in charge at WDCG—a top forty radio station in Durham, North Carolina—and he was tough as a sack of nails. His name was Michael (not Mike he informed me at our first meeting) and he was committed to making WDCG the number one station in our region in “two (ratings) books”.
Journey was just getting started and a phone line lit up. It was Michael’s line directly into the control booth. It was a Sunday morning. The DJ on before me said he was called five times during his shift for infractions of all sorts. Even the guy working overnight was getting called—and he was just playing a satellite feed. I answered the phone.
“Mr. Harrington, what have we said about the weather in Durham?”
“We have determined that it is never, ever partly cloudy in Durham, it is always partly sunny.”
He continued his press. “You may also need a new prescription for your eye-glasses. I show Journey to be “blue, star, first rotation.” The log calls for even numbered rotations on Sundays? Did you read your log?”
“Then you may need help with fundamental mathematics. One is an odd number. Please start reading more closely. This is sloppy work Mr. Harrington.”
He rang off. I gestured at the phone in a way that confirmed that he was number one in my book.
For weeks after that he called all of us again and again at all hours of day and night. He was exacting, nit-picky, condescending, and apparently he never slept. Morale was at an all-time low but Michael would not let up. We began torturing effigies of Michael at our meetings in a local pub. We planned to write letters to the station owner and threaten…something…unless this tyrant was controlled.
Then there was “the meeting”. He called all of us in and said, “The ratings are in, we moved to 2nd place from 6th. We are going to double our promotions and I suggest you all clear your weekend schedules.” By the next book, we were in first place. We stopped our voodoo curses, our letter writing campaign, and began to see Michael as a much needed blessing.
The moral of this story is never work in radio.
Actually that is just one of the morals. The other moral is that sometimes the only way to really make a difference is to embrace exacting standards for performance.
Here are some of Michael’s tidbits for success (you may notice a theme):
- Sweat the small stuff. “In every job that matters, the small stuff matters. If you don’t think this job matters, you’re fired.”
- Follow directions. “Most of your screw-ups happen because you are not reading the directions. If you don’t follow directions you are lost. If you are lost, you’re fired.”
- Be consistent. “Being good one day and bad the next doesn’t balance out. It just means you are unreliable. If you are unreliable, you’re fired.”
- Don’t be surprised. “If you are prepared, you won’t be surprised when you see something new come up. Review your whole shift before you start. If you’re surprised it means you are unprepared. If you are unprepared, you’re fired.”
- It’s not about you. “We are trying to do something here that is bigger than all of us. So that makes it bigger than you. If not, we can help you be successful on your own, somewhere else.”
- Dress nicely. “I can hear how you are dressed on the radio. Dress nice, sound nice; sound bad, get fired.”
- No Whining. “Whiners think things are unfair. Things are unfair. If you want fair, get a whistle, and a striped shirt, and resign before I fire you.”
- Take criticism. “If you can’t take it, I won’t dish it. If I can’t dish it to you, I will find somebody else.”
- Numbers count. “We are only as good or bad as our last book of numbers. They better be good.”
- Eat Outside. “Most people eat at work because they’re bored. If you are bored, we will help you find work elsewhere that is more exciting.”
- Make it count. “Everyday you are either building or tearing down your reputation. Work like you mean to accomplish something.”
- I’m not your friend. “Nuff said.”
As much as I hated to admit it, Michael was one of the best managers I ever worked for. He turned around our station and our morale—not because he was a jack-ass—but because he got results.
At the end of the day we all want to be on the winning team and Michael knew that. This is not an article advocating a rigid “fire everybody” mentality. It is simply a testimony to those people with the guts to truly design a strategy and lead people. I found out later that Michael had bet his entire salary on the plan to bring the station up to a number one rating. There is another lesson in there as well.