What does tomorrow’s winning CD look like?

I had the fortune of talking to a group of aspiring leaders, coaches and content creators while on a recent trip in Europe. I had been given a brief that was equal parts simple and refreshing. The executive team had made the observation that we (‘we’ being the radio industry) seem to only recognize great programmers by their level of technical knowledge and experience and they felt that was a significant short coming. The executive team felt that their content creators were putting far too much emphasis on practical know how. They simply no longer believed that technical knowledge and experience was enough to propel their business forward. I thought it was an astute observation. On reflection I am sure it seems somewhat obvious too but, how many times have we simply promoted someone to be a CD because they have experience of radio programming? During a conversation, one of the executives said “If we keep emphasizing technical knowledge as the prerequisite for our managers we can kåiss goodbye to innovation”. That is a powerful statement.

Take a moment to let the true magnitude of that statement hit you. When that statement lands with you it will feel like a slap in the face. The executive was trying to convey in a direct – and not to mention blunt way – that if we prioritize technical knowledge as the fundamental requirement for our managers then they too will prioritize technical knowledge in how they manage. The implications of that is that we will manage with prior technical know-how being our beacon for success. It will lead us to ‘that’s the way it has always been done’ or ‘we know that by doing this we have an optimal opportunity for success’. Maybe this Executive was onto something. Technical knowledge is important – most of us can’t become a senior investment banker if we don’t know the first thing about investment banking – but being the best investment banker doesn’t make us the optimal candidate to manager others and foster creativity. Technical knowledge is a requirement but maybe it’s a lot further down the totem pole than our hiring practices would have us believe.

Now that we know that being tomorrow’s winning CD is not about technical excellence and expertise alone what should we be looking for in the next wave of content creators?

It all starts with leadership. Tomorrow’s winning CD will not be the best at creating music clocks, responding to RFPs or dissecting research, but they will be superb leaders.

  • They will have the ability to lead and influence others. If tomorrows CD’s don’t have the ability to use their interpersonal skills to influence and inspire others then they will simply fail. They will build trust and respect amongst their peers through encouragement and support not control and directives. They will be focused on energy; both their own and that of others. They will make it their focus to keep the energy high and the optimism alive. They will champion new ideas, and give others the freedom to experiment and fail. They will stand behind those they lead as they challenge the status quo. They will handle the tactical side of leadership by establishing goals, providing guidance and feedback but that will be more focused on creating an environment where the team can collaborate and co-create.
  • They will have the ability to connect to others. A mentor once said to me “the way a leader interacts with others sets the tone for the whole team” – isn’t that a truth that is so easy to forget. Tomorrow’s great CD will be human; they will act with genuine care, compassion and conviction. They will spend time with their team and be willing to listen to suggestions and new ideas; they won’t be rigid in their views and they won’t hold onto the past. They are never too busy to make time for those they are there to serve. They are visible and approachable. People want to feel their ideas are heard and their contributions matter – it is the job of tomorrow’s winning CD to ensure that they create an atmosphere that allows for that. The ability to connect to others means turning your viewpoint around; to become observant to the behaviours and needs of others rather than ourselves.
  •  They love to innovate. Doing things the same way over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Is not only repetitive it’s incredibly boring. The world and our consumers are moving at warp speed. What worked yesterday – no an hour ago – may not work tomorrow. Our winning CDs love challenging what has come before. They despise the statement, “that’s how it’s always been done”. Tomorrow’s winning CD loves experimentation and champions the new. They are willing to try and fail; they see setbacks as part of the journey – and welcome them (after all if there are no setbacks then there is no new thinking!). Tomorrow’s winning CD knows that they can’t possibly generate the best ideas in isolation. The collective is better than the individual. They bring people together and facilitate brainstorms. They chat with individuals about ideas constantly (even if they are never realized). They ask questions, and encourage others to dream. They say ‘yes’ more than they say ‘no’. Most importantly they are confident and secure enough in their position and in themselves to release the reigns. Creativity never comes when there is too much control.
  •  They have the ability to execute. Tomorrows winning CD simply can’t be effective if they can’t deliver. They have to be able to demonstrate that they can follow-through. Cultivating a positive environment, making people feel valued and appreciated, challenging the status quo and dreaming up new ideas isn’t enough. Tomorrows winning CD knows that movement is essential – if you’re not moving forward you’re moving backward. They understand that results matter.
  • They hire great people. Period. Tomorrow’s winning CD knows that success is a team effort. No one person can be responsible for the organization’s success. The true measure of a team’s success is how great the team functions when you’re not around. Tomorrow’s winning CD will put their ego and insecurities aside to hire the very best they can find. Even if that means hiring someone smarter, more experienced and more ambitious than themselves. They will spend time finding the right people to fill vacancies; never rushing to fill the void. Tomorrows winning CD will understand that they should have less of the spotlight and give more to their team. They think of their radio station just like a film; the cast get the most attention, accolades and acclaim than the director – and certainly more than the support staff. Tomorrows winning CD will cast great people to their production, and then let them shine.

Great radio programmers need to be great leaders. In the competitive landscape we now live and work in our leadership skills have never been more important. Tomorrow’s winning CDs don’t need to be the best at ‘radio’ but they do need to be excellent with people. They need to understand how to articulate a compelling vision, foster collaboration, give autonomy and freedom and then take the blame when it goes wrong. They need to inspire others. They need to create an environment that generates ideas and then tests them quicker than anyone else.

Tomorrows winning CD will need to understand – and appreciate – the technical side of the business. They’ll need to have a grasp on how things work and why.  But they must have the people skills.  As an industry we need to prioritize leadership skills over technical expertise. Why?  Because otherwise nothing will change, and things must change. Always.

About: Paul Kaye

Originally from England, Paul spent nearly a decade programming radio stations in the UK before moving to Canada in 2012. 

While working for Newcap Radio, Paul programmed Classic Hits, Hot-AC and CHR formats in Vancouver & Calgary. Paul was also Newcap’s National Talent Development Director, tasked with improving performance across all content teams, overseeing syndication and leading talent acquisition. In 2016, he joined Rogers Media, as National Talent Coach and National Format Director (CHR). 

Paul was somehow named International PD of the year in 2016 (vote re-count pending) and is a certified coach.  Paul lives in Toronto and can be reached at kaye.paul@mail.com

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