A Leadership Podcast That Leads by Example

Case Study 3 min
Learn how AFN Radio and DMA found a successful interview-style format with their podcast, The Leadership List.

The Leadership List podcast features interviews with book authors from Defense Department professional reading lists as well as other leadership sources.
Cover art for the podcast The Leadership List produced by the American Forces Network (AFN) Radio.

In this podcast, Episode 12 - Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring, George Maurer interviews Lisa Fain, co-author of “Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring: Lean Forward, Learn, and Leverage." Fain's book provides the definitive guide for overcoming cultural differences for more effective mentoring.

Points To Emulate

Establish a brand and stick to it.
The number one way to build a brand is to identify your audience and gear your content towards them. Niche podcasts like The Leadership List focus on a core group (leaders) and create episodes that leaders can relate to and identify with. One of the more powerful things you can do to reinforce your brand with your specific audience is work in memorable details like consistent introductory music. All of the podcast episodes in The Leadership List, including this one, Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring, use the same music for the introduction and breaks. Having a familiar and consistent naming convention and identical music for every episode helps create a sense of community for podcast listeners.

Select a format that fits.
This podcast is conducted using the interview-style format and, in this case, it's kept to the host and a single guest. Maurer introduces his guest, Lisa Fain, and asks a couple of leading questions, but for the most part, he sits back and lets her do the bulk of the talking. Under a minute into the podcast, Maurer has already turned the floor over to Fain, who takes her time to answer a question in detail. The entire podcast sticks to concepts discussed in the book without sounding like a sales pitch. Fain is presented as a subject matter expert versus an author promoting a book.

Use preparation to let the topics shine.
Maurer and Fain appear to have rehearsed questions beforehand. Their rapport is easy and comfortable. Around the 1:30 mark, Maurer asks a lengthy, two-part question, "how do you define a bridge, and what value do you think it brings to a mentoring relationship?" Fain repeats the entire question before answering. In doing so, she not only gives herself time to reflect on the answer before speaking (a wonderful interview skill), but it ensures the audience hears, understands and is fully aware of the question about to be answered. If you've ever been in an auditorium where a largely inaudible question is taken from the audience and you're left trying to parse the answer without context, you know how important repeating is for listeners.

Lean into production value.
The investment in the podcast is evident. The sound quality is top tier—indicating quality equipment. The words are crisp, and there is no background noise nor the slightest hint of echo. Maurer takes several breaks and uses the music from the intro to take listeners out and bring them back in, a technique that takes good tools and practice to execute smoothly. Care was taken to distribute the podcast across multiple platforms such as DVIDS, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Google, Tunein and Amazon.

Points To Improve

Don't leave your audience in the cold.
There hasn't been any new content since 2020, and no notice as to why it stopped. When you work to build an audience, it's a good idea to try and save them if at all possible. If you still have funding and time but have trouble sticking to your format, it's okay to try something new. If you must stop podcasting, record a short update, so your listeners know if you're on break or permanently stopped. Point your audience to a fellow podcaster if they're covering similar content.

Consider expanding your reach.
While this podcast appears to be tailored to military leadership, the subject matter had the potential to be successful with a civilian audience interested in leadership topics. Perhaps this podcast could have been quite popular with more well-known interviewees and a better publication/promotion plan. When guests are less-known, there is a risk of low engagement. To help counter this, give readers additional reasons to tune in by sharing more about the topic and expanding your audience or promoting in realms where the topic or guest may be more likely known.

Choose the right length.
Coming in at 40 minutes, this podcast is on the long side. While it is possible to keep an audience engaged for up to 90 minutes, those podcasts are typically in-depth explanations of complex subjects or narrative storytelling. Interviews typically wrap up around 15 minutes. If an interview is particularly good or features a hard-to-get guest, consider splitting the podcast up over more than one episode.

Lessons Learned

Overall, this podcast episode of The Leadership List is well put together and features a host who is knowledgeable and engaged with his interviewee. Care was taken to highlight the main points from the interviewee’s book and let her be the biggest and most constant voice throughout the podcast. It was helpful to show how leaders can learn from her book and apply the lessons to their role as mentors, which aligns with the podcast's purpose and objective.

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