When Stepping Down Is A Step Up

by Ed Thompson

I watched my son take his first steps on Mother’s Day. From his aunt to his mother, he walked! There was much applause and smiling. I smiled too. Then I hit the rewind button so I could see it again. Videotape was the only way I was able to see it. About a half-hour before, I got a call from work and I had to go in to fix a problem.

The baby woke up crying to the sound of the phone ringing at two o’clock in the morning. It’s the overnighter who called to tell me about a missing spot.

At 7:30 p.m. on our fifth anniversary, my wife waited patiently for me to take her to dinner while I was still at work assigning dubs because AEs continued to turn in orders three hours past the theoretical deadlines.

I have the best family in the world. I have a wife who loves me unconditionally. But she hates my job. Funny, so do I. I hate being constantly on the go. I hate cutting corners to save time. I hate not sleeping. I hate meetings that have no resolution. I hate working eleven to twelve hours a day, every day. I hate being tired. I hate being short-tempered. And I hate being too busy administrating that I can’t do what I love best, to write or produce.

With consolidation, budget cuts, lower ratings and more, agency business goes down, meaning fewer dubs. Direct business goes up meaning the creation of new spots and campaigns. However, the staff stays the same or decreases, meaning the workload increases geometrically. No matter how you add it up, it’s a formula for madness and bitterness. After nearly six months, I had reached a point where it had gotten so exasperating, that I went to lunch with my wife and almost didn’t come back. The only reason I did go back was because of her wise counsel. She reminded me that I carried the health insurance for the family. She’s smart like that.

Also, through the course of time as Production Director of an eight-station group, my emotions have caused some hard feelings with other members of the staff. With some folks, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not at the top of their Christmas card list. I’ve even had a meeting or two with the Ops Manager about it. But on one particular Friday morning, he asked me to come to his office. I figured this was it. I closed the door behind me and he began with, “Ed, you’re a talented guy but…” I steeled myself for the inevitable. However, the inevitable didn’t come. What he said was, “…I’d like you to step down as Production Director.”

Not resignation. Not termination. Demotion. It was a third option I hadn’t even considered, and it brought about a host of completely different emotions for which I was unprepared. With termination, there would be a clean break. It would hurt for a while, and I could always blame the company that fired me for being at fault. With resignation, there would also be a clean break, it would hurt a little less, and I could still blame the company for being at fault. I mean, come on; what’s a little rationalization between friends?

But a demotion? Wow! No rationalizations. No justifications. I was forced to step back and honestly take a close hard look at my performance, not to mention an article I wrote for this very magazine two years ago (“Very Good, Sir” September 2000). “Pride goeth before the fall.” That’s what I wrote then, and it would seem I’m still having big trouble. Damn! I hate it when my own words come and bite me in the ass. I have managed three production departments for three different radio groups, and I have had discontent at all three. Much as I would like, I can’t possibly blame all three.

So there’s something else at play here which I thought I had brought under control. But like the alcoholic, who experiments with controlled drinking, I was slowly losing control. I reveled in telling people that I’m the Production DIRECTOR for radio group A, B, or C. I delighted in being IN CHARGE. Pride, prestige, and prominence; they’re like drugs and I was addicted. And like a drug, it was slowly killing me with anger, worry, frustration, and depression. But no matter how hard I wanted it to stop, it never dawned on me that maybe, just maybe; I’m not cut out for management.

Now here is where my Ops Manager demonstrated the difference between his management style and the Attila the Hun style of administration I employed. He said, “I want this to be a positive thing because I don’t want to lose you. I want this to be good for you as well as the company.” It was not unlike an intervention. But instead of sending me to a treatment center, he compelled me to take inventory of my experience and shine the light of undeniable truth on the reality that I really am not cut out for management.

But if I’m not cut out for management, what am I cut out for? What I do best, baby? I write and I produce. Damn! I no longer have to assign dubs to people who bitch about how much production they have to do. I no longer have to yell at AEs. I no longer have to work ungodly hours. I no longer have to attend meetings to solve problems with solutions that will never be implemented.

A few weeks later, I went to my Ops Manager and I thanked him. I thanked him for seeing something, which I should have seen, and taking steps to save me from myself. Because of him I can now attend meetings with clients to develop successful radio marketing campaigns. I can now use the time necessary to create a killer commercial. And that’s all. He was right. It’s a good thing for the company and me. But best of all, I got to see my young son smile broadly; raise his arms, and say, “Dada!” and it wasn’t on videotape.

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