Motivating the Troops

Name: Michael Smith

Title: General Manager, Cooking Channel, Scripps Networks Interactive

Location: New York

Age: 47

Power Play: Named one of the “Top 50 Most Influential Minorities in Cable” in 2007, 2008, and 2009, this Stanford University science and technology graduate held a variety of media positions at Disney/ABC Cable Networks and CBS Corp. before joining Scripps Networks in 2000, where he eventually became senior vice president of marketing. He was promoted to general manager in 2009.

Launching a new network speaks to audience demand, but how do you motivate your team to adjust to changes in your business model?
I’ve always believed that leadership is getting someone else to do something because they want to do it. It’s helping people to be the best they can be and helping them realize their potential–giving people a vision of what their future can be and then giving them the resources to actualize that. Sometimes it’s potential they may not even see in themselves. A big part of it is first pulling the right group of people, then figuring out strategically what those people should be doing, communicating clearly to everybody, making sure you have the right people in the right roles to be able to execute, and then finally making sure that everybody has the resources they need to execute. That’s my job regardless of the business situation we’re tackling or industry we’re in; those principles are timeless.

So leadership is really about coaching?
One of my role models is Mike Krzyzewski, the coach of Duke’s [University] basketball team. In an interview he said his role is to make the spotlight shine as brightly as possible on his players. And as the spotlight grows on the team, it automatically spills over onto him as the coach. It’s really not as much about you as it is the people that you’re coaching. If the people you coach are successful, of course you’ll get that credit. There’s also the theory of servant leadership, where the role of the leader is to serve the people you lead. It’s like you have a caretaker role. [Coach] John Wooden [he died earlier this year] is one of those people whom I also admire. Whenever you listen to him talk about coaching and his role, he would say, “the players I was entrusted to lead.” He wouldn’t say “my players, my team.” It was almost as if it was a privilege to work with these young men. Leadership is about getting things done through other people. So the people part is such an important piece of it.

How do you determine the right people?
I think if you match a person’s passion with what they’re assigned to do for a job, that’s the magic nexus. Then the person doesn’t feel like they’re doing a job; they feel like they’re doing what they were born to do. I always ask people if they were to win the lottery tomorrow and didn’t have to work for a living what they would do with their lives. And that’s probably their true passion. If you can get people who when they come here really believe that their passion is to do what we do, which is to inform and entertain people about food, we’re off to a good start. So a good part of my job is figuring out who those people are and naturally bring them into the organization. Once they’re in the organization, you look at what their particular skill set is and their particular area of interest is and then you try to match and align that with the specific roles within the company. Then you have to give them a future. You have to help them see where they can be in two years, where can they be in five years. Hopefully your vision of where you see the company going aligns with their vision and where they want their lives to go.