When you decide to go into radio, you start imagining what level of stardom you wish to reach. It doesn't necessarily work out that way, of course, but you have to dream.
Maybe Al Roker originally saw himself as having the Matt Lauer role (hopefully, not!) – running The Today Show, not being a co-star or “the weather guy.”
But he's made a career of being the affable sidekick. Like Gary Dell'Abate, George Costanza, or Robin, not everyone is destined to run the show, be the anchor, or start at quarterback.
Roker “gets” that, and it's part of the reason why he's not just survived on Today, he's thrived. Roker replaced an icon – Willard Scott – and did it with flair, grace, and panache. In fact, he considers the venerable Scott as his main mentor.
Roker doesn't try to be something he's not. He lets his warmth, charm, and affability lead the way. And unlike so many personalities who thrive on being polarizing or controversial, Roker is simply fun to be around and likable. After all, who doesn't love Al Roker?
And over the years, Roker's used those traits to his advantage, carving out an impressive career full of fascinating roles. He's covered hurricanes and other weather phenomena, led his eponymous “Roker-Thon” (a 34-hour weather marathon for charity), hosted the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade since the mid-'90s, as well as numerous game shows.
Roker has also spent his time behind the mic, providing celebrity weather for several New York City radio stations. In many ways, he thinks more like a radio guy than someone who's spent most of his adult life in front of a camera.
True to form, Roker is a man of many hats – literally. He's sported berets, fedoras, panamas, trilbys, you name it. He was named the Headwear Association's “Hat Person of the Year” back in 2015. There's even a fan-fueled Instagram account – Al Roker Wearing Hats – full of photos of his many-splendored head gear.
Appropriately, when it comes to his many roles, Al Roker is very much a Renaissance man. He's an author, a TV producer, an official supporter of the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and he's even appeared in several Sharknado films – playing himself. (It's hard to say which is most impressive.)
Earlier this month, he was highlighted in The Drum's “3 Actionable Insights” feature. His career takeaways are the lessons you'd hope they'd teach fledgling radio professionals while they're still in school.
So, here's great advice from a guy who's perfectly happy not being Jimmy Fallon, Bobby Bones, or Mick Jagger. As he's learned – or better yet, elevated to an art form – you can make a very nice living being a supporting actor.
His career observations come at an important intersection for many of us, given the unstable economic climate and other uncertainties. In an environment filled with layoffs, furloughs, and career pivots, Roker provides important tools for navigating what's next:
1. Just say “yes” – This is Roker's way of echoing Seth Godin's famous nugget of advice: be a linchpin. That's the person in the organization always willing to make a contribution, who never turns down a chance to shine, and consistently wants to learn something new.
A look at Roker's resume is proof positive he eats his own dog food. When presented with a new role, a new path, or a new opportunity, he has always said “yes” – especially if these new roles are “tangentially associated with what you (already) do.”
In this environment, this insight is especially resonant. You never know the doors that will open, the new connections you'll make, the people you'll meet, or the new skills you'll learn.
As he points out, “You don't know what that ‘yes' will lead to.”
2. Embrace the “second banana” role – Roker points to the greatest sidekick of all time, Ed McMahon as his inspiration – as evidence this strategy can work.
And he notes “You can have a really good career without being the top dog.” In fact, being a great utility player gives you the chance to do lots of fun things, with less pressure than the big star endures.
For Roker, that's been more than his lot in show business, it's his schematic, his master plan, his go-to strategy. And it's worked perfectly.
3. What's your superpower? Roker cites The A-Team TV series as a unit that featured an elite group, each of whom had a key strength – or superpower.
What's yours? And how can you surround yourself with your own team of diversified contributors who can collectively help you win big?
Roker says that too many people take on the entire burden of being successful, mistakenly thinking they can do it all.
As he points out, “Whether they realize it or not, they do have a team, they're just too egotistical to realize it.”
The top dogs are always the ones that get the spotlight – the President, the CEO, the team captain.
But there's a lot to be said for building a career plan on best melding your strengths with others to create a true team effort –especially in today's rough and tumble environment.
Better yet, you might want to grab a hat.
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