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Community radio leaders can build walls or make breakthroughs. How do you find success?

NFCB CEO Sally Kane is one of the people I’d call the conscience of public media. She’s a person who comes to this space with a story and a mission, just as many of us do. What makes a person like this effective, when other leaders in community radio falter, struggle to find consensus or don’t have the performance they want?

There are many examples of leaders who spend more time surfing the web than living up to the potential of their organizations. Some call this simply a matter of burnout — too many years, too many hours, not staying engaged. But whatever it may be, the more salient question is this: how do community radio leaders change themselves?

The importance of recommitment is clear. At NFCB, we’ve seen so many stations wracked by governance/staff conflicts. Many clashes are rooted in communication problems. Others have basis in perceptions of what’s happening, and what’s not.

An old friend reminded me of the Turkish proverb, ‘a fish rots from the head.’ Indeed, organizational problems start with leadership. Fortunately, there are some key ways for station leaders to reverse burnout and get back to championing stations that need them.

  • Valuing people and the opportunity. It’s easy to take what you’re used to for granted. Take a moment to remember why we’re here in the first place. Centering appreciation of staff, volunteers and the community sets an infectious tone.
  • Make fresh goals and challenges. Many leaders aren’t optimizing their efforts because they’re just not challenging themselves more, and are not communicating results they’re seeking.
  • Find new words. How we communicate to others has a ripple effect on how they feel about the organization and its future. Courtesy, framing ideas in a respectful and caring way, and focusing on the meaning of community radio all sound simple, but mean more than we realize.
  • Mind oneself. Leaders need to manage home stress well, take vacations, exercise and practice self-care to do good work. Just as work is a responsibility, so is being a functional person tasked with doing challenging work.

Inevitably, a lot of the issues I mentioned eat at general managers, program directors and other staff. Tensions can make people feel helpless, unappreciated or unhappy. Positive mindsets give way to intransigence, and stations stall. That can change, but leaders must be accountable for setting the tone.

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