Articles about "Best Practices: Leadership and Management"


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PoynterVision: @webjournalist on how he builds his personal brand

How has Robert Hernandez created a successful persona on Twitter as @webjournalist with over 11,500 followers? He says he decided to be just who he is.

Hernandez, digital journalism professor at USC Annenberg, adjunct faculty at Poynter and music fan, told me that he talks about the many projects he has started, including #wjchat for journalists to discuss media topics via Twitter or beta testing Google Glass, and he tells jokes and quotes song lyrics.

His parting advice: “Be genuine when you engage with others,” he wrote in a Twitter direct message to me. “Be genuine in who you follow and learn from.”


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Related: Tips for Storytellers: Your personal brand | How journalists can build their own powerful brands | As brands start building digital newsrooms, what do they need to succeed? Read more

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PoynterVision: New managers can reframe conversations for success

New managers need to know what their team expects of them when they step into their new roles, says Jill Geisler, Poynter’s senior faculty in leadership and management. Geisler asks a couple of questions to help new managers reframe the conversation for success.


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Related Training: Managing Change: Creating Strategies, Setting Priorities | Innovation at Work: Helping New Ideas Succeed Read more

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PoynterVision: Use Myers-Briggs to understand your coworkers

Poynter’s senior faculty in leadership and management Jill Geisler uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in her leadership seminars at Poynter. She introduces the test to new managers and experienced leaders to help them understand themselves better and better manage their staffs. Geisler, a certified practitioner of Myers-Briggs, says knowing your Myers-Briggs type can help you find harmony with your colleagues.


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Related NewsU training: What Great Bosses Know About Leadership Styles | Advice for the Newly Named News Director | Challenging Conversations: A Step-by-Step Guide for Great Bosses | Managing Change: Creating Strategies, Setting Priorities Read more

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When managers fumble, they need to work at repairing their reputations. (Depositphotos)

When managers fumble: 5 tips for repairing your reputation

We customarily think of managers as the men and women who pass judgment on the performance of others.

But managers are evaluated, too. It may come in the form of annual reviews, employee surveys or union grievances. They may get feedback from conversations with colleagues and staff. 

And from those interactions, even good managers learn that they have performance gaps. That’s a nice way of saying the boss has some flaws.

Because the managers in our Poynter programs get 360-degree feedback from colleagues, I get to see a lot of compliments, along with solid, constructive critiques of bosses. Among the more common concerns:

  • Delegate more, micromanage less
  • Listen more, interrupt less
  • Keep people better informed
  • Cool that temper
  • Disconnect from digital devices during conversations and meetings
  • Distribute work equitably
  • Set clear priorities
  • Follow up on conversations and emails
  • Provide better feedback
  • Post work schedules on time
  • Don’t let underperformers cause extra work for others

The real test of a manager’s character is how he or she responds to such feedback.

There’s often an immediate sense of defensiveness, the feeling that others don’t know how hard you work or how hard you try or how the complaints fail to take into account all the other good things you do.

That’s human.

But what really matters is your next step: how you move forward in the face of well-founded criticism.

The good news: you can make things right. I know this from the countless coaching sessions I’ve done with aspiring great bosses. Here’s my advice:

1. Take the critique to heart. It may sting. It may stink. But if people are asking you to change a behavior, do your best to see the world through their eyes, not yours. You may think that when you shout, you’re just letting off steam and mean no harm. To others, it’s a morale and confidence killer. You may think a delayed work schedule or email reply is merely a misdemeanor offense. To those who can’t plan their personal lives or get their work done because of your missing info, it may feel like a felony. You may think you’re being efficient by eyeballing your computer while talking with staffers. To them, it’s a signal of their unimportance. Give credence to their concerns.

2. Apologize to those affected by your bad habits. I’ve known managers who think apologies undermine their authority. Not so. When bosses express sincere regret for wrongs they’ve done, they can gain credibility. No need to grovel or blubber. Just take responsibility. If you say: “I’ve given a lot of thought to your feedback. I didn’t realize how often I shoot down your suggestions — with sarcasm. I thought it was just debate, just give-and-take. I was wrong. I apologize for humiliating you – and for stifling some creativity, too,” you are demonstrating strength.

 3. Chart your course of change. Start by informing people of your intentions. Go on the record. “I heard the concerns about the late posting of work schedules. That’s my fault and I apologize. Effective immediately, I’ll make sure they’re posted two weeks in advance. I’m arranging to have a backup scheduler as well, so there are two of us on the case.” Look for quick wins – things you can do immediately to demonstrate good faith, while you work on long-term, lasting improvements. Determine how you’ll measure your success, so you have a plan, not a wish.

4. Invite observation and feedback. Let’s say you’re going to do a better job of responding to emails. Seek out not only those who’ve complained, but also other respected colleagues. Tell them about your plan to improve your response time. Be specific. Then ask them if they’ll keep an eye on your progress and let you know how you’re doing. Not only will they keep you honest, they’re likely to spread the word about your improvement. That’s a win all around.

5. Be authentic in the process. You may be an introvert who’s asked to spend more face time with people or an extrovert who’s asked to be less dominant in meetings. When you respond, don’t overreact. Step up or pipe down a bit more, not radically. If you’ve committed to being less of a micromanager, don’t simply withdraw. Define what it means to be less involved in the work of others, make sure others share that definition, then use it as your guide.

Remember, when you choose to change, you are modifying your behavior. You’re not becoming a different person, just a better version of you. 

And much better boss, too.

* * *

Whenever you’re working on improvement, it’s important to have allies in the organization. I’ll list the most important ones in this column’s podcast:

 

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How managers can lead newsrooms in a digital age

Digital First Media Editor-in-Chief Jim Brady doesn’t know who Olivia Pope is, but is more than willing to find out about the central character in the TV series “Scandal.”

That openness to the interests of diverse workers can be counted among the new skills required of leaders managing today’s digital staffs, the topic of a workshop Saturday at the Online News Association conference in Atlanta.

Brady said when he first became a manager, he modeled himself after Lou Grant, the grumpy, bombastic editor in the television series of the same name who ruled his newsroom with a top-down management style. By doing so, Brady admits, he probably alienated his reporters.

“Today, you have to listen to everyone else or you will fail,” he said.

Managers further need to empower workers and encourage experimentation. Callie Schweitzer, director of digital innovation at Time magazine, recalled that when the government shutdown caused the National Zoo’s panda cam to go dark, the magazine set up its own livestream with a stuffed animal, drawing a devoted audience.

In an earlier day, the fake panda cam might not have flown at the magazine, but there are no rules in the digital age, Schweitzer said.

“You have to try different things outside of your wheelhouse,” Brady agreed.

Time management may be among the most challenging issues for editors making daily choices about which tasks get their attention.

Schweitzer advised managers to concentrate on the things that matter the most. She said she regularly asks herself if she is doing the work that will get her closer to her goals.

Journalists can also get flustered by the apparent need to do everything. Brady advised managers not to overwhelm their reporters, but to allow them to pick the right tools — whether video, audio or photos — for their story, as opposed to all the tools.

“Let the journalist be the journalist,” he said.

Young journalists looking to move into management should raise their hands whenever an opportunity presents itself, Brady and Schweitzer said. Brady’s advice: Don’t wait, but step up as soon as a position opens.

Management is very hard today, Brady acknowledged. But the industry faces a dearth of good managers, he said, and newsrooms should be looking for those who can be coached and can grow into those important roles. Read more

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7 questions managers should ask before assuming someone is ‘lazy’

I wince when I hear managers describe an employee as “lazy.” They say it when discussing staffers who do the bare minimum (or less), require far more hand-holding than others, and rarely come up with new ideas.

That’s underperformance, to be sure, and managers need to address it. But declaring people “lazy” brands them with an innate character flaw rather than bad habits that can be turned around. Before I agree that someone has the selfish soul of a slacker, I need to know more.

I want to know what it is they do, or choose not to do. What do they do well? What are their best skills? I want to learn what’s expected of them — and of everyone else on the team — and how it’s been communicated. I ask about what’s been going on in the workplace recently — what changes and challenges.

Most of all, I want to know more about how they’ve been managed. This isn’t about blame or shame. It’s about checking for underlying reasons in the everyday dynamics of organizations and supervisor/employee relationships, where misunderstandings and miscommunication can interfere with success.

Let me offer some questions that can help managers diagnose why a staffer may be hanging back. Fair warning: they require a look in the mirror, a potential change in your approach, and probably some tough conversations.

Here goes:

1. As a manager, are you a fixer instead of a coach?

If you routinely re-do peoples’ work to meet your standards, they may come to think this is the norm: they do the first pass, you polish things up. Without knowing it, you are training people to be dependent on you. They see themselves as part of an assembly line, not responsible for the finished product. Meanwhile, you, the unhappy (and overworked) boss believe they choose mediocrity because it’s easier. You have to break this pattern by coaching people rather than fixing products.

2. Do you exercise tight control over decision-making?

When people aren’t sure how much freedom they have to make their own decisions, they default to your judgment. Employees are reluctant to take initiative if they feel routinely overruled or criticized, especially in front of others. They shrink from being entrepreneurial or enterprising. To stay safe, (or maybe to punish the boss) they simply wait to be told what to do. Supervisors who micromanage often get compliance from employees, but less creativity and collaboration.

3. Have you talked about priorities lately? 

It’s hard to find an organization where people haven’t had additional duties added to their plates. They need to do more than ever before just to be considered productive. Without a clear sense of your priorities, people may do too much of what doesn’t matter or too little of what does. They may become overwhelmed and shut down. As my Poynter colleague Butch Ward teaches, they need a manager who helps them plan, prioritize and juggle, so you are working from the same play book.

4. Are new responsibilities or technologies making people feel dumb?

Here’s where I share my favorite thought from MIT’s Edgar Schein: Learning something new makes us temporarily incompetent. When people, especially those who once were high performers, are given challenging new tasks they didn’t ask for, some simply drag their feet. Without guidance to reduce their anxiety about ineptitude, they may simply duck and dodge their new responsibilities and cling to things they do well. This is particularly the case for veteran employees whose hard-earned reputations are jeopardized by updated assignments outside their comfort zone. Managers can help them overcome that sometimes paralyzing anxiety with customized training, candid conversations about fear, and earnest encouragement.

5. Is “change fatigue” making people feel numb?

When I wrote my book “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know,” I knew it had to contain a chapter on leading change, because change is now a constant in organizations. Managers must understand the emotions people go through in the midst of change, including the primal reactions to major stress and perceived threats: fight, freeze or flee. They need to know how to read people and respond appropriately; listening, empathy, inspiration, and yes, some blunt conversations about new realities, responsibilities and the consequences of failing to adapt.

6. As a manager, do you use yourself as the benchmark by which you measure the commitment and productivity of others?

This one can be tricky. It’s easy to use ourselves as the definition of hard work.  Managers often start early, stay late, make themselves available at all hours for consultation and solutions. They conform their schedules to fit their own bosses’ needs (and whims) along with the organization’s strategic goals. They can become so accustomed to being on-call and always-on, that they judge others accordingly. I worked for a boss who would drag himself to work with a miserable cold or the flu (probably infecting the rest of us), and then complain when staffers called in sick. It’s important to remember that you chose to be a manager, with the attendant privileges, joys and perks (such as they are these days!) Your employees should be judged by what’s expected of their peers, not their bosses.

One final question:

7. Are you avoiding this employee?

I often ask managers of “lazy” employees how often they talk with that staffer about performance — or anything!  When we’re frustrated with people, we sometimes take the path of least resistance and simply steer clear of them. It’s hard emotional labor to dig into the issues behind a person’s lack of enthusiasm or enterprise. Sometimes we struggle for the right words to describe the gaps in their performance, or hate conflict, or believe we’ll just make things worse. That leaves us simmering in the status quo, doesn’t it?

* * *

Think about it: I ran the risk of making you uncomfortable by asking these tough questions. You might be frustrated with me for suggesting that you use the term “lazy” too casually.  But it was a risk worth taking if it helps you succeed.

That’s why I urge you to take a risk. Look at your performance first, then have some candid conversations with staff. Together, you might be able to remove “lazy” from everyone’s vocabulary — and performance.

* * *

Here’s the companion podcast for today’s column — along with a reminder that we focus on performance management in the upcoming Poynter Leadership Academy, October 20-15, 2013. Learn more and apply here by September 22.

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Question Wall Puzzle Piece Answer Complete Understanding

One simple question that can change a manager’s relationship with staff

When I was a little boy, I remember grown-ups had a favorite question:

“And what do you want to be when you grow up?”

With each year, my answers changed: Cowboy, firefighter, priest, Perry Mason. (Not sure I ever wanted to be an astronaut, probably because I didn’t like roller coasters.)

In college, people kept asking me the same question, and with more urgency; after all, I needed to get a job someday. And over four years, my answer still kept changing: lawyer, teacher, writer.

I finally settled on the writer idea, and the search for a paycheck led me to the rewrite desk of the News American in Baltimore, my hometown. There I faced a new challenge: figuring out how my daily output of crime briefs, obituaries, dictated staff stories and occasional news features would get me to the cover of the Rolling Stone.

In a way, almost 40 years later, I still have that same question:

What do I want to be when I grow up?

Answering that question is my responsibility. But someone else has the great opportunity to help me answer it:

My boss.

Even as a child, people whom I trusted — parents, teachers, coaches — helped me recognize my strengths and urged me to develop them. They also pointed out my shortcomings, and the best of my mentors helped me discover how to grow in those areas.

Good managers understand that dreams and ambitions don’t die once we land in the workplace. In fact, they know that taking an interest in their staff’s future can help build  strong working relationships with them. Once I believe that you really care what I want to be someday, I’m much more likely to trust your advice, respond to your suggestions and take an interest in your needs.

It’s really a no-brainer. Then why do so many managers run as fast as they can from asking their staff about their aspirations? They think:

  • “Their ambitions are completely unrealistic.”
  • “The conversation will just encourage expectations I have no control over.”
  • “Chances are, they want jobs they’re not good enough for. Why should I be the one who breaks the news?”

Responses like these are understandable, but they result in two unfortunate and unnecessary situations:

First, managers who never ask staff about their aspirations make assumptions about what they’d like to become. The cop reporter, it is assumed, would like to be promoted to courts or maybe City Hall. Truth is, the cop reporter has a passion for the arts, and wants to be a critic someday. And the day inevitably comes when the manager, having just named a new arts critic, receives a visit from a visibly upset cop reporter, who asks: “Why didn’t I have a chance to apply?”

Second, managers who show no interest in the staff’s future create relationships that, like so many in today’s newsrooms, revolve around production: Bosses give out assignments. The staff completes them. Other staff fix them up the best they can. And the whole process is repeated tomorrow.

Am I oversimplifying? I don’t think so. And it’s not that way everywhere. Find a journalist who works for a manager who has taken a genuine interest in that person’s development, and you’ll hear statements like:

  • “My writing was clunky. He helped me simplify it.”
  • “I had a terrible habit of missing deadlines, and it was holding me back. She helped me organize my day differently, and everything changed.”
  • “He saw something in me I didn’t even see in myself.”

During my career in newsrooms, I watched good editors offer the people around me jobs that took the staffers by surprise. Since coming to Poynter, I’ve met journalists who can’t wait to tell me about the boss who took a risk on them — and how it paid off.

Here’s my bottom line: Whether you’re a new manager or a seasoned pro, if you want your staff to believe that you are dedicated to helping them do the best work they can do,  start building their trust by asking:

“What do you want to be someday?”

Their answer might be a specific job. It might be more vague (as years went by, my answer became, “I want a job in which I have influence. I want to be at the table.” Any number of jobs gave me chances to do that.)

Once you as a manager know what your staffers aspire to do, you have a choice — and how you choose will determine how honest your relationship with your staffers can become. You can invest in their ambitions. Or you can say, “That’s great. I hope you get there.”

If you choose to make that investment, I’d suggest these next steps:

  • Candidly assess the staffer’s strengths and weaknesses. And don’t minimize the strengths. Look for opportunities for the staffer to do more work that builds on them. Your efforts to help them grow will be enhanced if they learn to do what they do well even better.
  • Give them specific ideas for addressing their weaknesses. If the issue involves  writing, identify a specific habit (too many adverbs, backing into too many sentences) and offer to work on that one specific problem together before moving on to the next one.
  • Help staffers see how improving the problems you’ve identified will help them be  better candidates for the jobs they aspire to. The clearer that connection, the harder they will work to improve in that area.
  • Be clear, especially in these uncertain times, that your journalists might have to go elsewhere to find the jobs they want. But don’t let that change your willingness to help them become better qualified to get that job. Every day they improve in your employ will benefit your newsroom’s audience.
  • Look for opportunities for them to test their ambitions. If a member of the staff aspires to a job in another department, you might be able to send them there as a vacation replacement and let that editor get to know their work. Or maybe you can help them get a freelance assignment with that department.
  • As time goes on, if there is improvement, say so. If not, remind the journalist that progress has to occur if their ambition has any chance to come true. The good news is that once they believe that you’re invested in their future, your staff will hear your feedback through that filter. They might not like everything you tell them, but they will know why it matters. You’re trying to help them him get better.
  • Finally, don’t assume that aspirations stay the same. Ask your staffers from time to time how they’re looking at the future. And be willing to suggest other assignments that you think they’d be better qualified to do. Maybe you see potential in them that even they don’t see.

Think about this: On many a day in today’s newsroom, your staff — and maybe, you — are struggling mightily to see how your ever-expanding workload can lead you to the future you aspire to. Maybe you’re even finding it hard to identify the future you want.

We all could use some help on this journey. As a leader, you have the opportunity to offer that help, and maybe, just maybe, affect the direction of someone’s career.

Or maybe, someone’s life.

Just ask that question. Don’t miss your chance. Read more

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Leadership8

To change your leadership style, rewrite your leadership story

Have you ever been at a funeral and, as the clergy or relatives or friends offer tribute to the deceased, found yourself wondering:

What will they say about me?

While the Irish Catholic in me winces at thinking about myself during another’s tribute, I must admit the moment of introspection can get me thinking, both personally and professionally.

Now I’ll stop short of recommending that managers attend more funerals. But I’m thinking that those of us who take responsibility for leading others would do well to pause on a regular basis and ask, “What will they say about me?” Especially when we’re still in a position to influence the answer — and we are, every day.

Think about it. Leaders are the authors of their own leadership stories. We write them with every decision we make, every conversation we have, every promotion we award, every meeting we lead. We’ve been writing our story since the day we accepted the job. And those we lead have been reading our story—and writing their own reviews.

Unfortunately, too many leaders settle for what amounts to their story’s first draft, and ride it until everyone around them knows each chapter by heart. Some never ask what others would say about them; others ask, but don’t respond to the answer.

Why not rewrite your leadership story?

You can, you know. And the good news is, rewriting doesn’t require that you change who you are. It requires that you change what you do. And that’s totally under our control, each and every day.

Let me repeat that. What I do is totally under my control. No, we cannot control what will happen to us; we cannot determine whether we have a lousy boss or impossible goals or even a dictate to lay off staff. But we absolutely control our response to those situations. And if I have been responding in one way to a situation, I can decide — beginning today — to respond differently.

If I choose to.

Once I accept that I can, in fact, rewrite my leadership story, I can change my entire approach to managing. I can see growth as a real possibility. I can stop seeing my shortcomings as character flaws and begin identifying behavior changes that can  transform them into strengths.

But let’s be frank; this can be hard work, and I’m already too busy. If I’m going to really follow through, I need a process.

Since I’m writing a story, how about using the writer’s process?

As you’ve read on this website many times before, every writer follows these six steps (whether consciously or not):

  • Develop an idea
  • Report the story
  • Focus the story
  • Organize the material
  • Draft
  • Revise

Let’s see how the writing process can work for our leadership story.

Develop an idea: Every leader needs to have an answer to the question, “What kind of leader would I like to be?” Sometimes the answer is based on your experiences with past bosses; sometimes it’s the product of your successes and failures in trying to lead others. Remember that at this point in the process, you haven’t done any reporting yet, so the idea is untested. Maybe you think you’re too easy on people. Or you need to be a more vocal advocate. Or manage your time more efficiently. What does your leadership need?

Report the story. While your take on your leadership style is important, it needs to be tested against the perspective of others — those you lead. These are your leadership story’s “sources,” whose feedback can help you identify the gap between your assessment of your leadership style and the reality of its impact.

To be most valuable, make sure your sources have different perspectives: your boss, members of your staff and peers in other departments. Find one source who no matter what their job, can be trusted to give you straight talk — even if you didn’t ask for it. Not only will your sources help you identify the gap between the impact you aspire to have and the one you are having, they also will help you identify the behaviors you could adopt — or abandon — in order to achieve that desired impact.

Focus your story. The most important question a reporter can ask before beginning to write is: “What is this story really about?” For the leader, the answer can help organize the information you’ve gathered from your sources and prioritize how you’ll use it. For example, let’s say your boss and members of your staff talked about your tendencies to be distracted during one-on-one conversations; to write curt emails, to cut people off during meetings. This story, you decide, is about communication.

Organize the story. Now that you know what the story is about, you can identify the areas you most want to work on. Yes, you also heard from the sources that you play favorites in making assignments and sometimes let mediocre performers slide, but those areas will have to wait for another day.

This rewrite of your leadership story will emphasize behaviors that could improve your effectiveness as a communicator: more attention to listening, fewer memos and more spoken messages, a determination to treat people’s ideas with more respect. Remember, you’ll have opportunities to address other aspects of your leadership. For today, it’s communication.

Draft the story. In all likelihood, making changes to your leadership style will take time. The distractions that occur during one-on-one conversations will not go away, and you’ll occasionally succumb to them. That’s why it’s important to see your first attempts at changing a behavior as a draft — a work in progress. Look for progress and try to identify what helps you; similarly, be conscious of what causes you to fall into old habits. And most importantly, check back with your sources to see if they notice any changes.

Revise the story. Over time, based on your own evaluation and what your sources tell you, you can adjust your tactics. For example, you might have set a goal of meeting individually with each member of your staff every two weeks. A recent downsizing has made that impractical, however, and you need to reduce the frequency of those meetings. In another circumstance, you might decide your bi-monthly meetings are insufficient, so you increase the frequency. The key is to keep sight of the goal — in this case, become a better communicator — and the fact that achieving it requires you to do something.

One last thought: rewriting your leadership story requires a healthy dose of humility. Asking others to honestly assess the effectiveness of your leadership can be sobering. But looking back and realizing you passed up the opportunity to become a better leader also can be sobering.

Don’t let someone else write your leadership story. Slap your own byline on it and start rewriting.

You can become the leader you want to be — one choice at a time. Read more

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Success

How managers can put themselves in a position to succeed

Anyone out there recognize my conundrum?

With each passing year I became more aware that I wasn’t getting enough exercise. Sure, I walked a lot: to and from work, to the supermarket, pretty much everywhere. But nothing that broke much of a sweat.

I even knew what exercise I wanted to do. While I’ve never been a runner, I enjoy fast-walking. The problem was finding the time to do it.

On many a night, I’d go to bed planning to get up early and start the day by walking several miles. Then come morning, I’d wake up and check my email. Or decide to get to the office a little early to get organized. Or just sleep an extra half hour.

So much for good intentions.

One afternoon I was sharing my frustration over this with my colleague, Kelly McBride.

“As soon as you wake up,” Kelly said, “put on your running shoes.”

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. “If you put your running shoes on, chances are, you’ll use them. If you don’t, you’ll probably keep finding excuses not to.”

Bingo! In the past 18 months, I’ve done a combination of walking and running about three miles on more than 300 mornings.

I just had to put on my running shoes.

Put another way, I just had to put myself in a position to succeed — something more of us journalists need to do.

Think about how many mornings you arrive at work determined to tackle something important: a brainstorming meeting about the upcoming campaign; a feedback session with your best reporter; a half-dozen check-ins with new sources; a difficult conversation with a chronically-late staffer.

Now think about how many nights your ride home is spent lamenting the fact you never got around to doing any of those things.

The road to deadline is paved with good intentions.

How can we put ourselves in a better position to succeed, to do more of the “important things” on our agendas?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Use your calendar. If it’s important enough to do, it’s important enough to put on your calendar. Think how often you’ve run into someone in the hallway and said, “Hey, we should talk – stop by my office later.” And then what happens? You both get busy and the meeting never happens. But suppose you scheduled a meeting with that same person at your desk at 9:30 a.m. Chances are, you meet. And you drive home tonight knowing you crossed an important item off your list.
  • Make a list. You cannot comprehend how difficult it is for me to even write those three words. I am so not a list person. I made my first To Do list on the day I became a managing editor in Baltimore (figured it was time to be a grownup.) At the end of the day, I looked with frustration at the list and realized that despite being busy all day, I had not crossed off one item. So I wrote down the things I had done — and immediately crossed them off. I felt better, and I didn’t make another list for months. But today, as the rust collects around my memory lobes, I’m finding that making a list — at least once in a while — can help me keep my most important priorities at the front of my brain. And let’s face it, with the variety of tasks you are responsible for in today’s newsroom, age isn’t the only contributor to a leaking memory. There’s just a lot to remember. Why not write it down?
  • But … make entry to your list difficult. Remember, the purpose of this exercise is to turn more of those good intentions into completed tasks. If your list includes every phone call, meeting and routine responsibility you have, the important stuff will continue to get lost. Your list should facilitate quality of work, not quantity. Be selective.
  • Share your good intentions. Tell your assistant. Tell a fellow reporter or photographer. Tell your spouse. Tell someone who will ask you if you had that feedback conversation, that meeting with a source, that planning session. (You can tell your boss, but make sure you’re ready to do the work; your boss almost certainly will ask about your progress.) The purpose of telling someone is to enlist support, even a friendly nudge.
  • Find five minutes of quiet to evaluate your day. Whether it means leaving the music off in the car or taking a more circuitous route to the bus stop, give yourself a chance to be alone and think: What did I accomplish in the past 10 hours that had impact beyond today? How did I get it done? Or, why didn’t I get something important done? How can I make tomorrow different?

These tools help me, and you undoubtedly can come up with others that can help you. After all, we wear different shoe sizes. But we all have the same goal:

We want to succeed. And we need to take some concrete steps toward putting ourselves in a position for that to happen.

What are yours? Read more

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Jeff Bezos

How Bezos, in his first memo to Washington Post staff, achieved believable optimism

Imagine this:

You’re a reporter at The Washington Post and you’ve just heard your company has been bought by, of all people, the guy who created Amazon.

Graham. Bradlee. Woodward. Bernstein.

Bezos?

Think you’re nervous?

Now imagine this:

You’re Jeff Bezos and you know that you’re about to own a building filled with thousands of employees as nervous as that reporter. And you also know that the first thing you say to them will be remembered as vividly as their first kiss, first car or, maybe, the first time they bought a CD on Amazon.

If you’re really good, you’ll say something that leaves them as optimistic about the future of their company as you are.

If you’re really good, you’ll say something they really believe.

Well, I don’t work for the Post, and so I won’t speak for the staff there. But I think the memo that Jeff Bezos released shortly after the purchase was announced is one fine piece of work.

It’s conversational. It acknowledges the tough realities of the news business. It points to the need for change.

And it makes promises. Bezos promises to honor the values of the Washington Post, to own up to mistakes, to “slow down” in order to get it right, to be courageous in the pursuit of truth.

He does not say everyone will keep their jobs. But then, no one has promised that at the Post for a long time. What Bezos demonstrates is that an empty promise of continued employment does not create optimism — but a genuine promise to commit to important journalism can.

Yes, this memo communicates optimism. In the face of tough realities, Bezos says to that building filled with apprehensive employees, we can “invent” what we want to be, and we can succeed.

I don’t know what lies in store for The Washington Post. Maybe one day journalists will be quoting this memo for stories about failed strategies. But for today, it stands as an example of what to say when you want a room filled with nervous employees to believe.

***

I was about halfway through this piece on Jeff Bezos’ memo when my colleague, Jill Geisler, rushed into my office and said she also was writing about how much she liked his message to Post employees. So as we have done a whole lot of times over the past decade, we teamed up. Here’s Jill’s take on why Bezos’ memo worked so well. She writes:

When I’m teaching about leadership and change, one of the key change “accelerators” I invoke is communication. It’s a skill that many managers — even those in media — take for granted. At a time when emotions and uncertainty are high, when people are learning new things and letting go of the old, when people on the outside are questioning and the people on the inside want to believe they know the right answers — they turn to their leaders.

Too often, they get management-speak that’s aimed at boardrooms, not boiler rooms, and certainly not to newsrooms filled with people who write for a living and know fluff when they read it.

That’s why I really liked the message Jeff Bezos sent to the staff of the Washington Post.  Here it is, with my comments:

To the employees of The Washington Post:

You’ll have heard the news, and many of you will greet it with a degree of apprehension. When a single family owns a company for many decades, and when that family acts for all those decades in good faith, in a principled manner, in good times and in rough times, as stewards of important values – when that family has done such a good job – it is only natural to worry about change.

Bezos starts by acknowledging their shock and fear. He invokes the best of the past and connects it to their worry about the future.

So, let me start with something critical. The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.

Values matter to journalists, so Bezos makes certain he is speaking their language. He uses language he’s no doubt heard his friend Don Graham use when talking about the role of journalism in a democracy.

I won’t be leading The Washington Post day-to-day. I am happily living in ‘the other Washington’ where I have a day job that I love. Besides that, The Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.

It’s now the third paragraph, and only now does he write about himself. He does so with humor and even here, he puts the focus back on the newsroom and its strengths.

There will of course be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.

This is the “let’s get real” part of the memo. He acknowledges challenges without flinching, then makes a call to action. It’s forthright and gutsy – and human. He lays out a plan in the simplest terms and invites people to sign on.

Journalism plays a critical role in a free society, and The Washington Post — as the hometown paper of the capital city of the United States — is especially important. I would highlight two kinds of courage the Grahams have shown as owners that I hope to channel. The first is the courage to say wait, be sure, slow down, get another source. Real people and their reputations, livelihoods and families are at stake. The second is the courage to say follow the story, no matter the cost. While I hope no one ever threatens to put one of my body parts through a wringer, if they do, thanks to Mrs. Graham’s example, I’ll be ready.

This paragraph hits a home run. It’s got civics, history, values – and humor. It’s written like an insider in the building already.

I want to say one last thing that’s really not about the paper or this change in ownership. I have had the great pleasure of getting to know Don very well over the last ten plus years. I do not know a finer man.

Sincerely,

Jeff Bezos

And in the end, he pays tribute to a person whom he knows must be deeply, personally affected by this business move. After all, it’s not just business to Don Graham, any more than it is for the Post employees. Bezos is wise enough to know that in honoring Graham the leader, he also salutes his team.

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