Jewish Journal

Gary Dellabate’s Lesson in Non-Leadership

by Rob Eshman

March 16, 2011 | 4:47 pm

Sometimes I listen to Howard to learn what to do—these are what I call the Stern Rules.  (By the way, a business writer not long ago enumerated some of his own, well worth reading here).

And sometimes I listen to Howard to learn what NOT to do.

Yes, Gary, I’m talking about you.

Over the past few weeks the show has focused on producer Gary Dellabate’s inability to get his candidacy for a volunteer position on his town’s Parks and Recreation commission approved.  Gary has played the hapless victim while some local yenta organized baseless opposition to him— either because she finds the Stern show distasteful, or because she’s a publicity hound.

Then, today, Howard asked Gary to deal with a personnel dispute live on the radio, and Gary fumbled.  Later on the Wrap Up show he complained about not getting the respect for his leadership he deserves.  Thanks, Gary, for a lesson in How Not to Manage 101.

Before I turn to the expert, I do need to say Gary is arguably the most successful radio producer of his generation.  The show is great—people devote whole blogs to it!—and he deserves credit for helping it be great.  Who knows how many fires he has to put out, personalities he has to referee, decisions he has to instantly make— all the while putting out a fast paced show. And he’s been doing it for 20 years, and every year gets better.  Gary Dellabate is a superb radio producer. 

But he does has a weakness as a manager, and though it makes for good radio, it’s clearly bothering him.

I loved Howard’s rant on this really hit home with me.  “I got into this business to do great radio, not to manage poeople’s problems!”: he ranted (I’m paraphrasing).  “I don’t want to deal with this bullshit!  You take care of it!”  Oy, could I relate.  How many of us who go into a profession for creative reasons end up getting sucked into all the administrative and interpersonal decisions that inevitably come up?  Suffice it to say, I feel Howard’s pain.

As for Gary, I’m no expert, but I did what he should do: I consulted an expert.

Drew Kugler gets paid big bucks to fly around the country consulting with CEOs and other executives on how to be more effective at their jobs.  He spoke on management at the TED conference, and he has changed the lives of some big people in town I respect.  Our paths crossed because he’s a Jewish Journal reader (I WISH I could use him—can’t afford him) and he was kind enough to write a piece for us about the management lessons in The Kings Speech.  During our lunch, he started talking about Howard Stern—and what can I say, he had me at Baba Booey.

Drew, it turns out, is a Howard Stern fan.  (I’ll say it again: the Howard Stern demo is not butt scratching beer guzzling sexually frustrated losers; it is mostly successful professional men and women like Drew AND butt scratching beer guzzling sexually frustrated losers.)

I asked Drew what he would tell Gary, and Drew nailed it: Think of the stutter that kept King George from believing in himself, from finding his true voice and potential.  Howard Stern, said Drew, is Gary Dellabate’s stutter.  Read on to see what Drew means:

“If Gary REALLY wants things to change (the skeptic would say it’s all part of creating great radio to denigrate him), he must look in the mirror and accept that the way he’s acting is at the heart of the disrespect,” Drew e-mailed me. 

“What is he doing that is worthy of following, that is worthy of being called Leadership?  Not much at all. He could change that, but not with the choices he’s making now.  It’s only going to get worse.”

“Gary must pay attention to the things that he’s doing and not doing that kill his influence.  And then he must try new ways to get at this very old problem.”

“He seemingly is constantly belittling how he’s treated.  Repeatedly, he literally whines that no one respects him (Fails to Communicate, says Jon Hein), and then in the next breath throws up his hands when asked why.  He blames everyone for the problem, and refuses to verbally accept that he has the responsibility to work on it and get better.  Thus, people continue to assume he has no ability or willingness to lead a solution.”

“He then and repeatedly blames Howard, which by the way, makes him look even more impotent.  Complaining is the Opposite of Leadership, Baba!  Bring ideas and invite people to work to make things better.”

“Stop telling yourself and the world around you that you can’t Lead.  Would you follow you?  I doubt it.”

“He’s worse off today after the Lisa/TV incident, and I am confident it will show in people’s future treatment of him.”

“He’s focusing on feeling sorry for himself and why he can’t change anything.  It’s the same as King George in The King’s Speech, except that Gary doesn’t have a stutter.  No, scratch that:  Howard is the Stutter!  The King blamed his plight in life and his inability to change on his stutter.  At the heart of it, Gary blames Howard for all of his management weakness.  That neuters him.  He can’t change Howard. When the King decided to change, it was by taking the emphasis away from his limitation and practicing new thinking and actions.”

Lesson: don’t blame others, and don’t blame Howard, and don’t blame “what makes good radio.”  Work on changing your actions and reactions in a given situation… and before you know it, look who’s the boss.

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Rob Eshman created the blog Serious Stern on June 17, 2009.  Serious Stern is devoted to a serious (hence the name) exploration of the cultural impact of Howard Stern.

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