How Leaders Broadcast

It’s almost time for another Super Bowl! I recently heard an interview on NPR with Al Michaels, an acclaimed and accomplished veteran sportscaster who will be calling Sunday’s Super Bowl for his ninth time. As I listened to this interview, my executive coaching receptor picked up on why Al has been such a successful leader in sports broadcasting. It occurred to me that all leaders, for better or worse, “broadcast” their style, and we could all learn something from Al’s literal broadcasting style. Al was asked about the way he broadcasts and how he makes decisions about the pace, punctuation and point, or information, that he chooses. He was very clear in his response and shared a few thoughts:

  • Create clear messages and orchestrate. He broadcasts mostly on television, not radio, so he doesn’t have to say as much. Since the viewer is watching the game, all he needs to do is emphasize and underscore what’s going on with his words. He often defers to a technical expert, like Cris Collinsworth (former quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals and a fellow broadcaster), to fill in specific details where needed, but he’s more of the conductor rather than the musician in the orchestration of a good broadcast. Think about a good leader who focuses and delivers the right words at the right time without creating confusion or distraction: a leader who allows others to be the experts, while he or she takes on a broader view and position. Clear and consistent communication is a gift when you are in the swirl of whatever “game” you are playing.
  • Create space and allow others to excel. He creates space in his broadcast to allow viewers to have their own experiences. He literally pauses after an exciting play, then punctuates it as the play ends to allow the viewer to savor and stay with the moment. A good leader allows team members the space to have their own experiences in their work and celebrates the win with them without owning their experience. In complex and complicated environments where teams are often confronted with competing priorities and unrealistic deadlines, encounters with frenzied leaders only add to the stress and overwhelm. Leaders who are able to create space and allow learning to happen will be much more successful in developing and leading a team.
  • Be a fan and encourage collaboration. Al also loves the game. He’s a fan and a continuous learner, a lover of the people who play sports and those who support and partner with him in sports broadcasting. He spoke openly about his admiration for Collinsworth, photo journalists and others who know their craft much better than he does, and expressed the reality that without these folks he would not be able to focus on his role and contribute in the way that he does. I think that speaks directly to good leadership: recognizing the skills of others and letting them do their jobs.

One other note. Al has a passion for being on the field of play. Leaders who really love to lead, are passionate about developing people and willing to be comfortable being uncomfortable as they learn about what it is to be a fully invested leader, are those who have the energy to be in the “game” of leading every day.