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So You Want To Be A GM


By Marc Morgan

When up-and-coming execs tell me they want to move up to the next level, like going from sales manager to GM or GM to market manager or moving to the hallowed corporate suite, I always look them straight in the eye and say, Are you crazy? Usually, they laugh until I spell out some simple truths. There are subtleties to being a highlevel manager that can take a while to learn. Unfortunately, these are also the things that arent talked about much in management books, probably because some of them arent very pretty.

Once you sign on, your life changes. When you declare to the people you work for, as well as to your peers, that you are ready to go for the brass ring, you will be treated, and judged, differently than you are now. Its like someone running for high political office, who is immediately expected to act presidential. The new scrutiny youll be under will feel unfair. But wait! It gets worse.

Its not as much fun as it looks. If you think the scrutiny youre under is unfair before you get the job, just wait until you see it when you have the job. Youll wonder why you walked away from that big, fat agency list or the job with so many fewer direct reports to be judged and analyzed by people you didnt know very well in your former job. Coming to terms with this, along with the rest of my list, will help things get better, eventually.

Get your priorities straight. You didnt get that great new title for power, glory, money, or to help save the industry. Youre there to help your people succeed. If they succeed, so do you. If you say that to yourself every morning before you come to work, until you really believe it, you will be a much better manager than you ever imagined you could be. And once your people sense that your priority is them, not you, they will go through walls for you. Then you wont be able to get out of the way of the money and the glory.

Find out what you dont know. You may have the experience, talent, and track record to get promoted, but you are never ready to do that next job until you sit in the chair. On your first day, you will fall into the proverbial he doesnt know what he doesnt know category, whether you like it or not. The only solution is to have the humility and guts to ask tons of questions, and to listen more than you talk, posture, and pontificate during your first few months in the job. This is also a great way to get to know your people in a collaborative, non-threatening environment.

Communicate until your head spins. When you get that big job, you need to communicate like youve never done it before. Big groups, small groups, one-on-ones talk to them often, whether the meeting is planned or ad hoc. Be visible, be accessible, and be honest. And no matter how difficult it is, always try to spin things in as positive a way as possible. That doesnt mean hiding bad news. Your people want to be treated like adults who deserve to know whats going on. After all, theyre the key to your success, right? Ive worked around people who didnt want to tell the staff certain things because they knew that disgruntled employees (more on them later) would call the competition and tell them. Heres my take on that: Unless its about your changing formats tomorrow, who cares? I love the competition to hear that were doing things right, that we treat our people well and talk to each other openly. If they emulate it, its good for the marketplace. If they badmouth it, they look like idiots to their people and that wont lead to a happy ending in the long run, believe me. One last thought on communication: You dont have to be an orator like Winston Churchill or Tony Robbins. Just stand up, be yourself, and shoot straight. Theyll love it.

Not everybody on your staff is on your team. Youre going to have disgruntled employees and bad actors. Its mathematically impossible not to. Everyone is wired differently, but some are just wired poorly. My advice on this has been not to overreact to these kinds of people but dont underreact, either. Allowing bad behavior destroys the value statement of your organization. Dont let it fester.

You dont need to walk around with blank severance checks, just in case. Frankly, if you have the kind of culture Ive been talking about, the bad apples will be voted off the island pretty quickly, and you wont even have to get involved.

While a little introspection is good when you have to move out a misfit, dont take it personally. An old mentor of mine said to me that no matter how brilliant the latest decision you made was or how wonderful your last staff meeting was, there will always be at least one person on your staff who thinks youre a jerk. Accept it, get used to it, and keep on moving.

All in all, its fun being in a big job, as long as you accept the rules. Just realize that, for the privilege of leading, you, personally, have to pay a little bigger price. The same mentor I mentioned above would always say something that is as hilarious as it is important, even after all these years: Just remember, you wanted this job!

Marc Morgan is the former SVP and chief revenue officer for Cox Media Group; he retired in 2011. He can be reached at

(3/11/2013 3:37:55 PM)
What wall? That wall? Sure, Marc. Where do you want the hole? :)

- Ronald T. Robinson

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