On the air

In general I’m not so enthusiastic about soccer metaphors on good leadership, nor am I crazy about the idea of paint-balling or kart racing with the whole team. But as of recently, I would advise every prospective manager to go take a look in a radio studio.

One Friday afternoon in Copenhagen, I pick up my Danish friend Monica at her job there. It is the day after the elections and, as hostess, she is the link between that day’s interviews, music, traffic reports, major and minor news items. Short interviews with the candidates and party chairmen are done at a pub in town, while Monica is monitoring the broadcast from the studio.

I discover her amidst huge computer screens and panels with all kinds of dials. She slips her headphones off one ear so she can say hello to me and still keep listening to what the folks at home are hearing, an extreme form of multi-tasking that I get to witness a lot more of in the next half hour.

There is no script, no planning, no predictability today. Her colleagues come in one after another, wait until Monica has a second, and let her know who is going to be interviewed next, who cancelled because the results were disappointing, who is stuck in traffic and so forth. Their communication is surprisingly non-tech, direct. A colleague who reports traffic jams phones her that he needs to go live to announce about a vehicle on fire; during a music track she dashes over to the news desk to tell them they will have an extra fifteen seconds. In the meantime, a technician strolls in to replace one of the microphones, chatting all the while about the limited budget for new equipment.

Just looking at all this chaos is driving me bonkers, but Monica stays focused, making her announcements in a voice that is clear and cheerful, bridging the various items in flowing words, has appropriate anecdotes at hand, and contributing some good one-liners. And it seems to be contagious: no one is sighing or complaining, including the people who have been working for hours on end without even a short break. They each concentrate on their own roles in the broadcast.

How do you trigger this kind of dedication if you are in charge? Can you influence it? Okay, you can make sure you hire a couple of very optimistic souls who like to improvise under stress and who can continue to communicate clearly. The latest technology, the salary, a dinner now and then, all of that will help. But I think the essence lies in the inescapable need to get the job done together, the sense that “I have got to do this now, otherwise …” The feeling is there automatically in a police or ambulance team, or among officials supporting their Minister during a Parliamentary debate. But for the kind of work that is not immediately quite as urgent, you will have to find out exactly what the interest is and where the necessity lies. As soon as people agree on what has to be done and everyone understands what broadcast they are in, the concentration and dedication follow automatically.