What Great Bosses Know about Leaving a Legacy

I usually find ideas for this column in the everyday lives of leaders and organizations — their joys and challenges. Today, the inspiration comes from sorrow, from the passing of a newswoman with a remarkable understanding of leadership.

Cancer took Kira Lisa Warren on July 23rd. Not without a real fight from her, mind you. She was only 54, with a wonderful family and an abundance of friends. Many of those friends were people whose careers she helped shape during the years she led a number of newsrooms in Ohio.

Reading their tributes to her in several obituaries inspired this leadership column and its simple question: Whatever your role, whatever your field, what will your legacy be as a leader?

I got to know Lisa a few years ago. The award-winning editor applied for a Poynter program that focused on helping innovative leaders teach others how to succeed in managing change. As I read over the applications for this competitive fellowship, Lisa’s stood out. So much so, that we rejected her as a participant. She was overqualified to be a student. We invited her to be guest faculty for the project instead.

She loved the idea and mentioned, almost in passing, that she was undergoing cancer treatment. During her week of Poynter teaching in March 2009, only the wig or scarves she wore, and some medically-induced puffiness, betrayed her health challenge. She was a tireless coach and mentor. She inspired us then, just her loss inspires this column.

Lisa would be both embarrassed and pleased to know I’m challenging managers in any field to aspire to a track record like hers. Take any one of her leadership qualities and ask yourself, could this be my legacy as well?

Innovation: Will you be known for breaking new ground in your industry, just as Lisa pioneered daily webcasts and Spanish-language Web coverage of local news in Southwest Ohio? She told me she did it all in spite of a shoestring budget, just as she developed training opportunities in new media for her teams.

Respect from staff: When asked about the best boss they ever worked for, will people think of you immediately? Will they say what a former employee of Lisa’s did in this obit on Cincinnati.com:

“Former Cincinnati Post journalist Barry Horstman, now an Enquirer reporter, called Mrs. Warren the editor of choice for every reporter at the Post.

” ‘She was so highly respected that, when I was in management at the Post, I actually saw reporters time the release of their stories to the city desk so that they were sure Lisa would get it, as opposed to another editor,’ Horstman said.”

Effectiveness: When asked about managers who get results, will other leaders say what a colleague of hers did in the middletownjournal.com’s tribute:

” ‘In my 30 years of experience with newspapers large and small, Lisa’s ability to drive initiatives was virtually unequalled,’ said former Cox Southwest Group publisher Ann Hoffman. ‘She had an eye for talent and talent gravitated to her. Lisa’s creativity, work ethic, passion for news and commitment to community service earned her the admiration and respect of her staff, her peers and the communities her papers serve.’ “

Courage: Faced with a horrific challenge, would you think of turning your experience into help for others? Lisa used her writing skills and the power of the press to share advice to other cancer patients, even though it meant revealing details of her own painful odyssey in the newspaper. Her words were gritty and real, her advice practical and personal. Leader that she was, Lisa Warren also made certain they were inspirational.

“Never give up, never give up, never give up. At 2 a.m., when the chemo is killing everything inside you and you are in a hot fog of pain, resignation can be very seductive. You are tired, scared and sick, and the chemicals coursing through your veins also affect your emotions. But you must push through. Like soldiers facing a major battle, like Sully looking at the Hudson River from the window of his descending plane, like millions of people daily facing major illness, you can’t run away. Hold onto your faith, your friends, your will to live. Never give up.”

Now that you know a little of Lisa Warren’s legacy of leadership, let me ask you on her behalf: What will yours be?

We’ll talk more about making a mark that matters in today’s podcast: “What Great Bosses Know about Leaving a Legacy.”

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. You can download a complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

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