Overriding a decision as the boss – When do you do it?
One of the hardest things about being the General Manager is knowing when to step in to override a decision or correct a course of action. None of us want to be a micromanager. It’s inefficient and really not good stewardship. A GM can make photocopies of something – it’s not we are above doing “menial” tasks – it’s just not a good use of why we are “paid the big bucks!” General managers need to spend their time on the big issues – leading the ministry, working with the board on vision and strategy and interacting with major donors.
So how do you know when to get involved and go “into the weeds?” I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area. I have learned a lot and still am, but here are a few things I have learned from my experience I hope can help you.
Hire broadcasters for key senior level positions. While there are many great people from outside the broadcasting world, there is just a different perspective between a broadcaster and one who does not have that background. When I work with broadcasters they just get it. That means less training I have to do and less time for me having to explain how to apply their knowledge to the broadcasting world. Translated that means I am not involved as much because trust is higher and they keep projects on course. I remember one time where a station had a person with a strong technology background overseeing engineering. At that point internet reliability was about 98%. He said that was really good and he made it the station’s primary broadcast delivery system. Well, it was good for computers, but not for broadcast delivery. The station was off the air regularly. A station needs to be on the air 100% of the time. A broadcaster know that!
Clarity up front. Communication in the middle. The more clear we are up front on expectations the less opportunity for problems down the road. I like to have those things written down so it is very, very clear what I am expecting. Just as important as clarity is the communication along the way. The best way to get a General Manager involved is to make a change and not tell him/her about it until months and months later. My preference is to have at least bi-weekly communication on projects. Things can change and this is a great opportunity to let the GM know about possible changes. Sometimes people don’t want to bother the GM with a problem or they want to demonstrate their leadership to handle problems without the GM’s help. More often than not, my experience is this type of response normally creates more problems. Instead, communicate along the way. No one likes surprises. As the GM, you establish how much communication you want. And – and this is a big AND – if you tell them that you don’t need to worry about something because you trust them, then don’t go back later and start getting involved in that area because you didn’t like that decision. You need to honor what you said (or don’t make that promise). If you make that promise and break it, you kill trust not just for that project but for future projects!
Rate the level of impact of their action – High Medium Low. Before you decide to get involved in correcting a course of action by your staff, ask yourself this question – “What is the impact of the staff decision on the ministry – High Medium or Low?” If it’s High – meaning it breaks a law, hurts funding in a significant way, severely damages the culture, or is outside the mission and vision – step in! If it’s Medium or Low, let it go! When it’s High, let them know why you are stepping in. Those times should be rare so only step in when it’s necessary. Also, if you are person who likes to react quickly, slow down, breathe and give it time before you take action. The worst time to step is when you are emotional. As a GM, whispers are shouts. When you step and are emotional, the damaging impact can be far greater to your staff than the benefit. No one ever said your job was easy!
Tim McDermott was the President of KSBJ in Houston for 27 years. He is currently is the COO of PraiseLive in Minneapolis and has a passion to see Christian radio leaders and their ministries thrive. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org