November 27, 2015

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11/19/01 What Hat Will You Wear Today?

On the wall in the office of a station general manager was a fantastic collection of hats. There must have been 20 or 30 — military hats, top hats, derbies, straw hats, hats with big plumes, helmets in different shapes and forms. It was one of the most interesting collections I’ve ever seen. “How long you have been collecting hats?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t collect hats,” said the GM. “These are here to remind me of my job.”

Intrigued, I asked him to explain. “The biggest mistake managers make is trying to wear one hat,” he said. “In the Radio business, most managers come from sales, so they typically wear a sales hat. That derby over there is what I call my sales hat.” He said that most one-hat GMs were destined to fail, especially if they always wear the sales hat. An effective manager must wear a lot of hats, each for the need of the moment.

What do the different hats represent? “The military hat with the big plume feather is my promotion and marketing hat,” he said. “It’s loud and boisterous — how we need to be to expose the stations. The green eyeshade is my accountant’s hat, because I have to keep a handle on the money. The green helmet is a reminder that Radio is war and that sometimes I have to be tough as Patton. The Carmen Miranda fruit-filled hat represents programming’s need to be colorful, entertaining and lively. The Sam Spade fedora with the sloping nose is a reminder to play detective and listen to my employees and clients. The French beret represents times when one needs to be more loving. The straw hat reminds me that sometimes I have to be a regular guy and relate to my people.

“The Indiana Jones hat signifies that work is an adventure and always challenging, while the cowboy hat keeps me focused on building a larger herd (audience). My Gilligan hat is a reminder that a GM occasionally needs to get lost on a desert isle — that effectiveness is about balance and relaxation. The baseball cap is all about team leadership, but the Dr. Seuss hat makes me want to be silly and have fun, an important element of a successful business. The duck-hunter’s cap with the pull-down ears is about hunting new business, and the butcher’s hat is about always trimming the fat.

“The police hat represents the importance of community; the fireman’s helmet reminds me to prevent fires, instead of spending my life putting them out; and the boat captain’s hat signifies the importance of planning — navigating the course of the company. And finally, the red hat is a reminder to be innovative and willing to take on anyone, as Linux took on Microsoft.”

This manager’s collection illustrates our ever-changing role as managers; the role rarely concerns only sales. The best managers know a lot about each department, but they don’t wear all the hats at once — they hire great people to manage those areas. An orchestra conductor doesn’t play the flute and then the viola, followed by a rush to the tympani or the Steinway. Good managers, like the conductor, may know how to play the parts, but they don’t. As with the conductor’s simple nod or wave of the hand to adjust tempo, intensity or the volume, good managers make it look easy. The performance appears flawless.

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