Working With Talented People

Working With Talented People

by Tracy Johnson

Working with talented people-truly talented people-is a different experience than managing a staff. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of programming stations with great air personalities.

And it demands unique management and coaching skills.

I’ll never forget the look on Jeff and Jer’s faces. Several years after working with them during their Hall of Fame run in San Diego, I shared how much I appreciated their brilliance. I went into detail about their expertise in the art and science of telling stories, detailing the reasons they were so successful.

I talked about the artistry of break construction and how they were a perfect example of principles I use to coach talent.

They were flattered, but had no response.

I said,

Thank you for the opportunity to work with you and learn from you.

And they looked at me like I was speaking Japanese.

Jeff said,

Well, thanks, I guess, but we have no idea what you’re talking about. We just went on the air and told jokes.

That’s what working with talented people is like.

Working With Talented People Is Different

Truly great talent are blessed with an ability to perform with unconscious competence. 

In a way, it’s a superpower they are born with. They can’t explain it and may not understand it. It comes naturally.

That’s why people with a superpower have difficulty teaching it. 

Innate talent is more than a collection of skills. You can acquire skills and train for excellence. Acquiring skills is learned behavior through study and practice.

True talent is part of their DNA. And that’s what listeners seek.

My friend Hyman Childs, owner of Service Broadcasting (K104 and KRNB/Dallas) says:

The marketplace is not looking for average. They’re looking for exceptional. And talent that can deliver that is usually kind of a train wreck.

Radio need greatness, and exceptional entertainment comes from exceptionally talented people. And that requires unique management and coaching.

Don’t Try To Manage

Greatness can be coached, but not managed.

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Talented personalities are frustrated with rules and lists of expectations. But they don’t resist direction that helps them grow. They just don’t like being told what to do or how to do it.

If you tell truly talented people what to do, they may do it to the best of their ability. But the outcome won’t be as brilliant as if you simply inspired them.

This is a key coaching skill for programmers wishing to remain viable.

Instead of explaining what you want, learn to describe the impact you wish to have. Then ask for help in achieving the goal.

Fill the description with how you want the audience to feel, not what you want personalities to do.

For example:

I want our audience to feel like they’re driving a convertible at 80 miles an hour on a beautiful spring day with wind blowing through their hair. They have just fallen in love, got a big promotion at work and are on vacation for two weeks with no responsibilities They are carefree, full of hope. And they can’t wait to find out what today will bring.

Then ask how the talent can deliver a show, segment, feature or break that delivers that feeling.

A talented person will not have an immediate response. But soon they will deliver something you never imagined.

It won’t be a collection of things, but be infused in all they do. When they feel it, understand it and embrace it, superpowers are unleashed.

Think of it as an Inspiration Statement, rather than a Mission Statement.

Applying Inspiration

Before station promotions, I routinely brought Jeff and Jer into the inner circle, with a private meeting to talk about the idea, structure and goals of the campaign. 

Then I sat back, and asked how it could be great. And how it could fit their show.

They always came through with contributions that made it even better. They injected it with excitement and energy. The creative exchange drove the idea to new heights.

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And best of all, they left the meeting feeling a part of the promotion. It was their idea. They were inspired. And they made it come alive on the air.

It’s so much more effective – and a lot more fun – than sending a memo on how the new $1,000 Text to Win contest will be executed.


A talent coach’s job is to find and cast the right people. Then inspire them.

Everyone has a superpower. Each person on the team has a talent to make the organization better. Find it. Uncover it. Inspire that talent.


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