Every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet new situations by reorganizing…and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

Attributed to Petronius Arbiter, d. A.D. 65, Roman governor and advisor (arbiter) to Nero

Reorganizing your people or your ideas is seductive, giving you “the illusion of progress”.  Don’t get me wrong.  We’re all new leaders all the time.  And sometimes reorganizing is exactly the right thing to do.  But often, sticking with the same thing for a while gives you and your team the chance to build momentum.  Neal Shapiro gives us a good example of that during his tenure as CEO of WNET.

From his very first day in January, 2008, Shapiro has been driving a message of innovation and re-invention.  As he puts it,

It’s the only way to stay relevant; it’s the only way to stay in business…and that has had its challenges since many people have worked here for more than 20 years.

Shapiro’s first effort to communicate his message was to create new programs centered around WNET’s core strength of arts and culture: two weekly local arts programs–one called Sunday Arts, which features the great museum exhibits, films, galleries and performances going on in New York City, and the other called Reel 13, which airs on Saturday nights and pairs a classic movie with an indie film and a short film created by our viewers.  WNET had not truly taken advantage of creating programming to reflect the rich cultural offerings in the city—nor the artistic talent of its viewers.

Other ways he drove his message of innovation and reinvention included:

  • Tapping into the trend of user generated content and launched a documentary in which viewers sent in video and interviews.
  • Taking down the existing website, which had limited video, and replacing it with a content rich, video centric site that PBS used as a model to create its own web video player;
  • Launching an international news program called World Focus, where Shapiro encouraged laptop editing, which saved considerable amounts of money, and more efficient use of partnerships (Associated Press, Al Jazeera and others) to cut down on field reporting expenses;
  • Building a two-story studio within Lincoln Center with cost-efficient robotic cameras and a set which can be used for many different purposes.

The impact has been meaningful.  In March of this year, in response to an RFP from the Governor of New Jersey, Shapiro spearheaded WNET’s proposal to take over NJN, the New Jersey state-run television network. Last month, their proposal was accepted and on July 1st, they debuted “NJTV”—their rename of the network—to the citizens of New Jersey.

There have been many changes at WNET during the past 3 years—but Shapiro’s core message has remained the same: innovate, reinvent, or go out of business.

The point is not that leaders should say the same thing over and over again.  The point is that consistency of core message over time has a multiplier effect.  Shapiro brought his message to life with what he did and what he encouraged others to do.

This is a good example of step 5 of The New Leader’s PlaybookDrive Action by Activating and Directing an Ongoing Communication Network (Including Social Media)

Everything communicates. You can either make choices in advance about what and how you’re going to communicate or react to what others do. It is important to discover your own message and be clear on your platform for change, vision, and call to action before you start trying to inspire others. It will evolve as you learn, but you can’t lead unless you have a starting point to help focus those learning plans.  Identify your target audiences.  Craft and leverage your core message and master narrative.  Monitor and adjust as appropriate on an ongoing basis.

Click here to read about each step in the playbook

Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step


The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, third edition to be released fall 2011). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.