Working With Talented People

Working With Talented People

by Tracy Johnson

Working with talented people-truly talented people-is a different experience than just 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 face. Several years after working with them during their Hall of Fame run in San Diego, I shared with them how much I appreciated their brilliance. I went into detail about their expertise in both the art and science of telling stories, detailing the reasons why.

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

They were obviously flattered, as evidenced by complete silence.

When I finished, I simply 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 some jokes.

That’s what working with talented people is like.

Working With Talented People Is Different

Truly great talent are blessed with the ability to perform with unconscious competence. They don’t have to think about it. Their gift comes naturally.

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

That’s why people born with a superpower usually have difficulty teaching their talent. There are few great personalities that are able to train or coach others.

Innate talent is more than a collection of skills. You can acquire skills. It’s possible to train for excellence. That’s the process of capitalizing on talent. Acquiring skills is learned behavior through study and practice.

Their gifts are enhanced and perfected with experience and training, but the talent is almost part of their DNA.

Uniquely talented people are tricky to manage. 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.

In other words, radio need greatness, and exceptional entertainment comes from exceptionally talented people. And that requires unique management and coaching.

Don’t Try To Manage…Inspire

Greatness can be coached, but can’t taught. You can’t bottle and duplicate it.

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That’s what makes talent coaching such a unique and rewarding talent.

Talented personalities are frustrated with rules and lists of things you want them to do. 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.

How To Inspire A Talented Person

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

Adjust your approach. Instead of explaining what you want them to do, 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 60 miles an hour on a beautiful spring day with the wind blowing through their hair. They have just fallen in love, they got a big promotion at work and are on vacation for two weeks with no responsibilities They are carefree, full of hope, new beginnings and 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 likely not have an immediate response. But soon they will amaze you with something you never imagined.

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

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

Applying Inspiration

Finding a magic statement that captures the essence of what you want a station to sound like is where it starts, but you can apply the technique in small ways, too.

Before station promotions, I routinely brought Jeff and Jer into my inner circle, with a private meeting to talk about the idea, structure and goals of the campaign. I usually suggested some of the details I was thinking about.

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

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

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 – not to mention more fun – than sending a memo on how the new $1,000 Text to Win contest will be executed.


As talent coach or manager, your job is to find and cast the right people. Then inspire them.

Sometime later, you’ll be having drinks to celebrate unimaginable success.

Maybe you’ll ask how they did it. They won’t know. It’s impossible for them to describe. And if you try to detail how it happened, their eyes will glaze over as if you’re from another planet.

Everyone has a superpower. Each person on the team has a hidden talent. As a manager or talent coach, your job is to uncover and inspire that talent.

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