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What Leaders Can Learn from Howard Stern

Howard Stern

Photo by B Norton / BY CC

I first published this article on LinkedIn

Media star Howard Stern is known for putting his guests in the hot seat and for conducting the most interesting and entertaining interviews on the air. His style isn’t adversarial, yet it’s provocative enough to elicit never-before-told stories from the most guarded people: celebrities.

Your employees are also on-guard. They’re protecting their emotions, career prospects, and reputation, as well as their livelihood and their family who depends on their income. As a result, they are reluctant to share the truth with management because they fear what you will do with the information.

Yet, uncovering your employees’ stories is a worthwhile endeavor because their anecdotes will help you discover truths about your corporate culture, your team’s engagement level, and opportunities for improvement. Just keep in mind that gathering their revelations and failing to act on them is equally as bad as betraying their trust; good leaders do neither.

Guests on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show are not dissimilar to your employees. First-time guests on his show move through a series of three predictable stages:

  1. Apprehension: Howard’s guests invariably admit during the interview that they were “so afraid about coming here”.

    Take-away: Regardless of your open-door policy, many employees are threatened by your authority, worry about jeopardizing their future, or are fearful of embarrassing themselves.

  2. Disclosure: Howard is entertaining because the information divulged on his show is unlike what you will hear on any other talk show. He is able to coax people into sharing stories about themselves that they’ve never before told.

    Take-away: Encouraging your employees to tell you stories about their experiences will make you a better manager because you will obtain a deeper understanding of how your team actually operates and what motivates your people.

  3. Elation: At the end of the interview, usually as the guest is being dragged from the studio by a handler who has already allowed the interview to exceed its scheduled time by 20 or 30 minutes, the guest gushes about how much fun the interview was and asks to return. The guest and Howard have formed an unexpected bond.

    Take-away: Your employees will also feel closer to you after sharing their stories, which will increase their loyalty, job satisfaction, engagement, and performance.

During the intermediate step – disclosure – something magical happens. It’s where trust is built, stories are told, and the relationship deepens. Just like Howard does with his A-list celebrity guests, making your employees comfortable enough to share sensitive information is a hallmark of an exceptional leader, one who strives to improve the team’s – and perhaps the the entire company’s – effectiveness.

As a manager, it’s in everyone’s best interest if you know what is really happening in your organization. One way to discover these truths is to gain the trust of the skeptics. You too can learn from The King of All Media’s methods for putting guests at ease and transforming apprehension to elation. In business, that’s like turning disengagement to engagement.

Leaders can learn more from Howard Stern. In the second part of this series, I will share Howard’s techniques for building trust. In the third part, I’ll reveal his formula for asking questions that evoke stories.


Amanda Marko is president and chief connection officer of Connected Strategy Group, which helps leaders communicate their business strategy and engage stakeholders during times of change.

Storytelling is an effective change management tool that can be taught to leaders. The next public workshop is in Washington, DC; in-house training for teams or one-on-one executive coaching in leadership communications techniques are also available.

For more storytelling resources, download the free 30-minute audio training, Making the Business Case for Storytelling.

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