BLG Leadership Insights Managerial Competence

Pragmatism Over Personality: NBC’s New Head Honcho Isn’t Exactly The Hollywood “Love You, Babe” Type

The entertainment business has long been filled with larger-than-life charismatic figures, both on-camera and behind the scenes. There’s a commonly-held belief that the players calling the shots are as charismatic as the characters portrayed on-screen (a belief perpetuated by entertainments like the long-running HBO series, Entourage.)  However, even in show business, effective leadership is not the result of some sort of intangible, other-worldy , mystical charismatic quality but rather on a set of real-world, nuts-and-bolts pragmatic skills of execution.

New NBC Universal chief executive Stephen B. Burke is of the school of thought that one need not be showy to effectively lead in the business we call show. According to an article by Tim Arango and Bill Carter published in The New York Times entitled “A Little Less Drama at NBC,” Burke isn’t exactly known as your typical Hollywood, “Love ya’, babe” schmoozer.  In an industry known for double talk and lip service, Burke is known for his direct, no-nonsense approach. Former employee at Disney, Michael Lynton told the Times, “He’s very direct. There’s very little beating around the bush.”  Tellingly, Burke was uninterested in being interviewed for the piece.

Burke’s record at Comcast, where since 1998, he has held the number two position behind Brian L. Roberts (the son of Comcast founder, Ralph J. Roberts) speaks for itself. Under Burke, Comcast’s revenues jumped from $6 billion in 1999 to $36 billion in 2009. Stocks went from $8.19 a share in ’99 to $15 in 2009.

Burke’s early dealings at NBC already suggest a push away from a culture of personality, characterized by politics and internal struggle, and into a more open culture. Rather than holding meetings with executives in his lush office in Rockefeller Center, he’s been holding them at a chain coffee shop in Midtown Manhattan. In a year in which the company suffered brand depreciation in the midst of the Jay Leno-Conan O’ Brien fiasco, perhaps a more pragmatic, less personality based brand of leadership is essential to put NBC Universal back on top.

BLG Leadership Insights Managerial Competence Proactive Leaders

Failing Upwards: Jeff Zucker & NBC

The New York Times reported today that embattled NBC Chief Jeffery Zucker has stepped down.  Zucker was instrumental in Jay Leno’s questionable move to primetime last season as well as several other high profile calamities (Ben Silverman anyone?) in the network’s core programming. In a scathing opinion piece by Maureen Dowd earlier this winter, she summarizes the structural problems plaguing NBC. Zucker, an able manager of numbers, main critical failing was that he lacked a basic understanding of what Americans like to watch and political competence required to keep creative principles content in their work environment.

Jeffery Zucker tenure raises important questions for those in the realm of organizations. Too often management becomes seduced by the information produced by “hard data” and fails to pay proper attention to the more central question: are our core businesses serving their consumer bases? Anyone with a television in their home could tell you that NBC’s nightly programming wasn’t up to snuff, yet executives continually rolled out shows that would succeed on the basis of “cost per hour.”  This neglect for the viewer has come back to bite NBC in the form of depressed advertisement revenues, which has reduced NBC’s operating budget to fund scripted shows. This self perpetuating cycle leads organizations to employ a Hail Mary strategy- this explains moving Jay Leno to ten.

Mr. Zucker is sadly not the most significant case of someone constantly failing upwards; shareholders and managers continue to be wooed by the promise of success through the magic of numbers. For further evidence of this culture look no further than shamans of Wall Street peddling mortgages with dubious payment schedules.  To be clear, I am not advocating a management approach that does not use statistical analysis to make informed business decisions.  However, it is important to note that number-crunching can never substitute for enterprise and adventure. Leaders should focus upon staying true to their core constituents. Execute and the numerical indicators will follow suit.

Photo Credit: Arnisto

BLG Leadership Insights

Juggling Three Balloons: NBC & Decision Theory

3 balloonsSo here’s the problem: How do leaders juggle three balls at one time?

You have three options in front of you–three distinct variables, but you’re not quite sure what the calculated value of each one is. You know what the costs are, but you don’t know how to maximize your return. What complicates the situation even further is that if you drop one of these options your opponent will pick it up and use the very same option against you. Now, you’re starting to worry that you might make a mistake and drop one of the options.

Let’s complicate the situation even further. You only have so much room in the closet and these options are really just big balloons. You got to squeeze some of the air out of the balloons to get them into your closet. What do you do? Which balloon do you deflate the most? Do you deflate them all?