Ken Rona: What It Means to Be a Leader Working in Management

In Chapter 12 of 15 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, digital media executive Ken Rona answers "What Does It Mean to Be a Leader in What You Do?"  As a leader of a team, Rona sees his role as less about thought leadership and more about helping his team solve problems, develop their own staff, and identify where and where not to decide what projects to pursue. 

Ken Rona is a Vice President at Turner Broadcasting, where he leads teams across advertising sales, big data software development and business strategy.  Rona earned a BA and MA in Political Science from Stony Brook University and a PhD in Behavioral Economics from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen: What does it mean to be a leader in what you do?

Ken Rona: There are leaders in multiple elements of my job, right? There’s the leader of the teams. It’s my job to help them figure out what to work on. But my job isn’t really to be a thought leader in advanced statistics or operations research; it’s not my gig. My gig is more to help them solve prioritization problems, to solve conflict, to help them better develop their staff, to identify areas of the business where they might have impact—places that they can take ownership. I’ve also encouraged them on places where we’ve identified areas where we could take ownership; there are things where I have said we are not going to. 

So part of kind of leadership in the job, the product side of what we do is a good understanding of what to say no to. There’s this thing called multivariate testing that lets you, let’s say swap out different headlines and see which headlines are more attractive, that’s how you get these crazy headlines from Huffington Post, you know? See who’s vacationing at the Riviera. They didn’t write that, what they did was they wrote four different headlines and then saw which one led to most traffic, and that’s the one you’re seeing. So there was an opportunity to be more of an advocate at Turner for it and I said to the person who wanted to do this, like, you know, I don’t think that that is—I think we are fully engaged in the things we’re working on. And this is something that I agree would be good for Turner but what are we gonna give up? 

So I think part of what—part of what you have to do as a leader, you know, within my job is to say, what are we not going to do. So one of the things I really help the team do, I think is keep focus. 

And the other thing I do is I hold them accountable. So that’s another piece, right, where people have made commitments, and I try like any good manager, not leader but say—I try to say what day is something due. And if the thing isn’t due that day, “what’s up?” I ask, “What’s up?” And there’s always a reason, right, there’s always a reason. My direct reports don’t get to have excuses. They have to deliver. And what I tell them is if you don’t deliver, I mean the way I perceive that is, you know, either you are not—you know, you didn’t do a good job forecasting which I think you get like some passes on but at some point you should know that like some things always take longer than you think and you should be able to make that mental adjustment. But so, either you’ve done a bad job at forecasting, you need to get better at that, or you’re a liar. And that I think--but that’s my point about learning, I try to make it a little shocking so that they can—that they grab onto it. 

So I think part of that is you know the holding people accountable, and I say like you asked before about what happens in a big company, it’s a little harder to hold people strictly accountable in a big company, because you have to operate in a particular HR environment. But I think that’s an area where—and truthfully it’s an area where I would probably be more aggressive if I were in a smaller company. I’d have more freedom on it. I’d probably hold people even more accountable.