by Tracy Johnson
In all cases, the goal of managing talent is to create a relationship that builds confidence with support for personal and professional growth. Wow. That’s a mouthful. You’re probably thinking, “Great, but what do I need to know to coach air talent?”.
Glad you asked. You’ve come to the right place.
It really is hard to critique someone, but if you’re going to lead your team, it’s the most important thing you can do. You have to praise them for the positives and correct them when they could be doing better. That means telling them that something they’re doing isn’t a good idea, or why a break was a dead end.
Coaching is not about pounding talent into a mold that fits a predetermined image, but a partnership based on the principles of any healthy relationship.
And here’s the most important element: It’s up to you, the program director or talent coach to take the lead in building that relationship.
Talent needs coaching, and they must have someone they can count on to be in their corner. Here are the 8 skills managers need to be effective:
Both parties must commit to an honest, open relationship. Success is shared, as is responsibility for falling short of goals.
Phil Jackson had this type of rapport with his superstar basketball players like Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) and Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers). The result is two of the greatest runs of championships in NBA history. Phil could never perform to Michael’s level on the court (he played for New York in the 60s and 70s), yet he brought out the best in his athletes.
Jackson, like great programmers, learned to establish a relationship with talent before offering feedback. It’s important to get to know them personally and creatively. This establishes trust, establishing a safe place to perform, experiment…and even fail.
Once a relationship based on respect is established, creative people will know that you are their biggest fan and they will want to win for you:
Talent and their coaches must know what to expect from one another, and what is considered acceptable. This makes it possible to identify when something is off. Set realistic expectations and you won’t be disappointed.
Establish ground rules in advance to avoid problems later. Commit to these expectations by designing a mission statement and character profile as a reference to guide development over time.
Part of this is setting goals. You probably have ratings goals in place, but how about performance goals? When talent and coach are both working toward the same outcome, a nurturing, trusting relationship is possible.
As an actor and director combine to make motion picture magic, the PD and talent form a codependent bond. The actor makes the movie sparkle, but the director defines the outcome.
They win and lose together, enabling individual roles to achieve common goals. This may lead to conflict. Embrace healthy conflict by being open to talent challenging your feedback and recommendations if they don’t agree. Often, this is because they don’t understand or it hasn’t been communicated clearly.
This requires a different coaching style. Talent doesn’t like to be told what to do. She even if you have the answer, allow them to discover it by asking questions. It takes longer, but leads to a spirit of collaboration and working together.
There’s no room for internal politics or jealousy, which leads to fear and mistrust. Be clear, honest, straightforward and direct in communication.
Morning personality Sam Malone always expected the truth from his coach:
I can’t see everything. It’s like I’m driving a school bus with 36 screaming kids. Somebody needs to tell me if I’m backing up too close and about to hit a car.
Coaching the show is important, and critical for their success (and yours). Many stations have failed because the program director is consciously or unconsciously working against the air talent.
Winning coaches are facilitators, not dictators. The coach may not have all the answers, but must be willing to help find the answers, then remove barriers to facilitate performance.
Dictators bark orders, telling talent what to do without their involvement. That leads to resentment and resistance.
Coaches should constantly ask themselves, “How can I help you make this show even better? What do they need from me to reach the next level?.” Then they should collaborate to arrive at action points for success.
Great coaches are great listeners. Listening to talent (on and off air) shows that their coach is invested in the relationship.
Many times, asking one question or making a specific comment about something that happened on the show is all it takes!
Make it a priority to be a listener and fan, as well as supervisor. In fact, being a fan is a primary responsibility for every coach. Talent has to know you’re on their side. This helps build trust.
Telling or dictating instructions to talent sends the message that the coach believes they are in control.
Coaches who promote learning show talent how to grow and allow them to experience progress. When talent is told, shown and allowed to experience it is the most successful learning environment.
All coaching sessions should be filled with positive praise, but should also clearly outline steps for improvement and growth. Be careful to divide the feedback between what the show is doing well and what they need to work on. Mixing praise with criticism can be confusing.
Criticism goes both ways. It’s a good idea to allow talent to review their own performance first, and coaches should be open to accepting comments from talent rather than just dishing it out.
You may be wondering why there’s nothing in the 8 skills that are actionable. If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide for how to coach talent, check out another article on the site.
Every personality is different, and should be treated as an individual. This is about management skills you can apply to every relationship on your team. It’s a process. Apply these skills consistently and a relationship will develop that can lead to great success.
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