Articles about "journalism"


‘You learn it by doing it’: Readers weigh in on Berkeley’s proposed 10k fee

On Monday, I wrote about a proposed $10,250 supplemental fee at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. While I was compiling the (mostly unfavorable) responses, I asked Poynter’s readers whether they thought pricey graduate degrees were worthwhile. Here’s what they had to say:

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What writers can un-learn from ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

The release of a hot trailer for the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey has stirred up renewed attention to the book trilogy that spawned it, the work of a very lucky British woman named E.L. James.  I very much like the arc of her personal story: from self-publishing the first book to sales of more than 90 million copies worldwide, with translations into more than 50 languages.  So perhaps I should make this a very short essay with this advice to writers everywhere: Sex sells.

But just as there is good food writing and bad food writing; good sports writing and bad sports writing; there is also good sex writing and bad sex writing. To illustrate this, I have chosen a scene – almost at random – from one of James’s book to analyze.  As you will see, it turns out to be much less graphic than the bondage scenes for which the work has become famous and notorious, but the style of writing remains consistent:

Christian nods as he turns and leads me through the double doors into the grandiose foyer. I revel in the feel of his large hand and his long, skilled fingers curled around mine. I feel the familiar pull—I am drawn, Icarus to his sun. I have been burned already, and yet here I am again.

Reaching the elevators, he presses the call button. I peek up at him, and he’s wearing his enigmatic half smile. As the doors open, he releases my hand and ushers me in. The doors close and I risk a second peek. He glances down at me, gray eyes alive, and it’s there in the air between us, that electricity. It’s palpable. I can almost taste it, pulsing between us, drawing us together.

“Oh my,” I gasp as I bask briefly in the intensity of this visceral, primal attraction. “I feel it, too,” he says, his eyes clouded and intense.

Desire pools dark and deadly in my groin.  He clasps my hand and grazes my knuckles with his thumb, and all my muscles clench tightly, deliciously, deep inside me.

Holy cow. How can he still do this to me?

“Please don’t bite your lip, Anastasia,” he whispers.

I gaze up at him, releasing my lip. I want him. Here, now, in the elevator. How could I not?

“You know what it does to me,” he murmurs.

Oh, I still affect him. My inner goddess stirs from her five-day sulk.

Oy.  What I usually call X-ray reading, which I reserve for great works of journalism or literature must briefly descend to SEX-ray reading (and let’s see if I can get through it without revealing anything too weird about myself).

There is nothing original or interesting or even mildly erotic about this passage. We’ve seen or heard it all before:  Icarus flying too close to the sun.  (When I saw it, I blurted out:  Oh, not Icarus, again.  Can’t we find another less abused mythological figure?)  The encounter in the elevator is a staple from everything from porn movies to TV commercials. What follows are those suspiciously large hands and long fingers.  There are those coy glances, and electricity in the air between them.  Can you imagine that?  Electricity in the air between them – in an elevator?  There must be pulsing – don’t forget the pulsing. Add some gasping and basking, and let’s not forget a dash of visceral and primal.  There is clenching, grazing, and clenching.  No mommy porn can be complete without the appearance of the word “deep.”  The closest thing to original language is “Desire pools dark and deadly in my groin.”  But all that alliteration cannot muffle the screams in my head that protest against the collision of “pools” and “groin.” Is this passion, I wonder, or a urinary tract infection?

To neutralize the poison of this passage, I offer a counter-example, also written by a woman, Florida’s own Zora Neal Huston.  Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937 to mixed and controversial reviews but is now counted among the important novels of the 20th century.  A blurb on the 75th anniversary edition by Alice Walker reads: “There is no book more important to me than this one.”

There is a photo of a pear tree on the cover, and beneath the title, an image of a bee.  That artwork pays homage to the book’s most famous passage.  The main character Janie Crawford thinks back to when she was 16-years-old.  Her memories of a young lover, Johnny Taylor, turn into an erotic reverie.

It was a spring afternoon in West Florida.  Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard.  She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days.  That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened.  It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery.  From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom.  It stirred her tremendously….

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her.  She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.  So this was marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation.  Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid….Through pollinated air she saw a glorious being coming up the road.  In her former blindness she had known him as shiftless Johnny Taylor, tall and lean.  That was before the golden dust of pollen had beglamored his rags and her eyes.

You don’t need your X-ray glasses to realize that this passage is a highly stylized description of a sexualized sensibility. I’m all for sex – in life and literature.  I’ve studied the ways in which human sexuality is portrayed in popular culture and in art.  You would think that decades of such contemplation would lead to wisdom, but I admit to being as confused as ever about the power that sex holds over us.  Only religion can compete.  Sex, beyond its biological imperatives, is a cultural force that fascinates us, dominates our thinking, and drives us to acts that help us, hurt us, and complicate our lives.

Descriptions and depictions of sex, I would argue, in media, advertising, literature, and drama are easy enough to create, but difficult to do well.

Let’s consider for a moment the difference between creative work that is erotic vs. pornographic.  My inclination is to identify pornography by what it says, and erotica by what it does not say.  Porn is, by practice if not definition, prone to exaggeration and overstatement; eros works by suggestion, imagery, and understatement.  Both porn and eros have the same desired effect:  to excite the body, to prepare it for sex.  Porn does this primarily through the eyes; eros through the imagination.

What interests me most about Hurston’s passage – beyond its erotic allure – is the way in which the most standard metaphors of language are transformed from something common and euphemistic into something astonishing and exciting.

To use the most old-fashioned language, a woman who lost her virginity was said to be “de-flowered.”  When young teens began to learn about sexuality, it was all about “the birds and the bees.”  The parts of the flower, we might have learned in high school biology, had their male and female equivalents.  We can find traces of all these comparisons in Hurston’s passage, and yet the power and originality of the language unveils the sex act in ways we haven’t seen before.

Sometimes a pear tree, Dr. Freud, is more than a pear tree.

There is a name for Hurston’s technique, and as an anthropologist and author, she would have known it:  Anthropomorphism.  Here’s the definition from the American Heritage Dictionary: “attributing of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomenon.”  This process is easy enough to recognize when the subject is a mammal or primate but becomes harder as we move down the chain of being.  When it’s a flower, Hurston gives its bloom a “snowy virginity.”  The breeze has a “breath” and even “pants” like an energetic lover.  There is a “love embrace” and even a “marriage” between the parts of the tree.

Then there is a cluster of words and images that in a different context or via expressions of connotation remind us of sexuality.  A tree blossoms and blooms, and so, in a sense, does a young woman. Janie is “stretched on her back beneath the pear tree” as if it were her lover.  A bee will  “sink into the sanctum of a bloom” bearing pollen, and carrying countless associations with sexual union, fertility, and procreation.  The “thousand sister-calyxes” describe the sepals of a group of flowers, but a “calyx” also describes the cup-like structure of a human organ, such as a pelvis.  It arches, as a lover would arch her back, and the result is a kind of sexual orgasm:  “the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.”  (In porn, that’s called the “money shot.”)  At the end of that passage, Janie is a spent lover, feeling “limp and languid,” alliterative words beginning with liquid consonants that offer their own kind of lubrication.

What a great move of perspective to look down a road through the glorious haze of “pollinated air,” to see the human object of her desire.  He is transformed now through the lens of her Sex-ray vision. “the golden dust of pollen had beglamored his rags and her eyes.”  There is magic at work here.  The pollen is a form of fairy dust.  To be “beglamored” means to be transformed as if in a spell or trance.

To understand how good this is – how artistic and controlled — all that is needed is to compare it to Fifty Shades of Grey.

The key to writing good sex (good anything) is original language.

Recall how Vladimir Nabokov describes Humbert Humbert’s first sighting of Delores Haze, who would become his beloved Lolita:

With awe and delight…I saw again her lovely indrawn abdomen where my southbound mouth had briefly paused; and those puerile hips on which I had kissed the crenulated imprint left by the band of her shorts….The twenty-five years I had lived since then, tapered to a palpitating point, and vanished.

At one point early in the novel Humbert laments, “Oh, my Lolita, I only have words to play with!”  Rather than a lament, Nabokov could adopt it as a boast for I know no other novelist who is as relentlessly playful with the English language. Enjoy some of the phrases above, from “indrawn abdomen” to “southbound mouth” to “crenulated imprint” to “palpitating point.”  Appreciate the balance, alliteration, assonance, repetition, variation – the wild and witty texture of the prose.

Now hold it up against “Holy cow. How can he still do this to me?” Read more

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Employment down, anchor salaries stagnant in local TV newsrooms

Pew Research Center

Despite increased budgets and an optimistic advertising market, anchor salaries and employment were down throughout local television newsrooms in 2013, Katerina Matsa reported for Pew Research Center Wednesday.

The Pew report was based on a survey of 1,300 local news directors published by RTDNA and Hofstra University.

A little more than half of local TV news directors nationwide reported that their budgets increased in 2013, but the number of full-time jobs fell to about 27,300, down 400 from 2012, according to the report. When news directors added new employees to the staff, they were most likely to hire producers and reporters, according to the study.

These budget increases weren’t reflected in anchor salaries, however. Median anchor salaries fell by $1,500 in 2013, going from $64,000 to $62,500. But reporters saw a slight pay increase, from 30,000 in 2012 to 31,000 in 2013. And employees in charge of producing graphics saw their pay increase during 2013.

The staffers who saw the largest increase in pay (10%) in 2013 were the stations’ graphic specialists, highlighting the growing value of those skilled at producing better storytelling TV visuals.”

These changes come at a time when stations are relying on newscasts to generate funds, according to the report. News brought in about half  of the average total revenue for local TV stations, 10 percent more than it did in 2002.

Despite decreases in employment, local television is still the leading news source for most Americans. A Pew study published earlier this year showed that three out of four U.S. adults watch local TV newscasts, which outpace both network news (65 percent) and cable news (38 percent).

 

 

 

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After journalism’s disruption, a reporter chooses medicine as a career

I was sitting in the lecture hall of my medical school as a first-year student when the attending physician, a gray-haired internal medicine doctor, asked a question which set off, for me, a maelstrom of emotions. He had just referenced a story in that day’s Chicago Tribune which was relevant to his lecture on physiology.

“Just curious,” he said. “How many of you even get the newspaper delivered?” Out of dozens of University of Illinois College of Medicine students in class that day — bright, eager, well-educated young people — my hand was the only one that went up.

I doubt anyone else gave it a second thought. It was a passing inquiry meant merely to highlight the changing times: pretty much every young person gets their news online these days, if they get the news at all.

But for me — a former reporter for the Tribune and The Associated Press – the moment encapsulated one of the big reasons I was even sitting there. The rise of the Internet. The shifting demographics. The plunging circulations. The contraction of newsrooms. Read more

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The 5 goals of teaching journalism tools (outside the classroom)

The future of journalism education has stirred some additional and passionate stories this week. Jeff Jarvis, paying honor to Eric Newton’s speech about journalism education’s “symphony of slowness” and my own article on Poynter Online which opined that “journalism education can’t teach its way to the future,” has weighed in on BuzzMachine.

Jarvis puts curriculum into three boxes: study, practice and tools. He argues that schools should change how they teach and what they teach.

Jarvis argues that classroom time is not the best time to teach tools. Those who do teach tools — outside the classroom — should have a more practical focus:

“Schools try to express their goals in terms of outcomes for students. I chart tools against a set of outcomes rising from:
* Familiarity — Knowing what a tool can do so you can be inspired to use it when appropriate to meet a journalistic or community goal.
* Speccing — The ability to write a specification that will enable a coder to deliver what you need.
* Adaptation — The ability to take work that a developer has done and adapt it for a particular need (for example, modifying a WordPress template or a Google map).
* Making — The ability to make something from scratch using a tool — for example, a video using FinalCut or a slideshow using various tools.
* Expertise — Certification as an expert able even to teach the tool.”

Jarvis believes, as I do, that schools need to reach beyond students.

What I’m also trying to do is imagine scaling journalism education so that much, or most, of it could be taught to some — no, to many more — people online, including not just undergrad and graduate students but also professionals who obviously need to learn new skills as their industry convulses around them.

Jeremy Harris Lipschultz, writing at the Huffington Post, defends educators, who he says are responding reasonably to the changing media landscape:

Finberg represents part of the two conversations I mentioned in my last posting here on wayfinding.

His context is the disruption during the past 20 years to the media industry and its looming impact on media education. Finberg, however, is less focused on the perspective of the disrupters, whom embrace change and stand to benefit from it. I think online education represents more the technology of the shift than the fundamental differences.

Lipschultz, director of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s School of Communication, acknowledges that media education, which I read as journalism, is important:

“Media educators and their students need to embrace change, elevate enthusiasm and seize opportunities. Good jobs and a good life await those who learn how to write and communicate, become master storytellers and use state-of-the-art tools. Communication educators will remain relevant and vital by teaching the fundamentals.”

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greatbosses

To build the team, build the trust, with these 8 tips

Take a look at a photo I really admire. It’s a little soft-focus and the framing is a bit off. That’s what makes it perfect. After all, the photographer had only seconds to shoot and only one free camera hand. His other was in that stack.

It was a surprise moment at the end of recent seminar for new managers, one that meant a lot to them. For me, the image is a vivid reminder of how trust and teams grow — under the right conditions. I’ll share the photo’s back story, but first let’s focus on trust.

Great bosses know it’s important to build trust in organizations. But managers can’t simply mandate it, any more than Poynter faculty can command people in our programs to reach out to each other. It must be their own choice.

But leaders can create an atmosphere where the choosing comes easily.

That’s important work with a great payoff. So here are eight tips for building trust among a group of people, whether they’re in a workplace or a workshop:

1. Know each other as people, not just professionals. We’re all so much more than our job titles; we have stories that connect us.

2. Talk about values early and often, but don’t lecture from on high.  Just share yours, listen to others, and walk your talk.

3. When you create rules, connect them to values. When guidelines support beliefs that people share, they’re more likely to respect them.

4. Respond to disappointments, misunderstandings and honest mistakes constructively, not vindictively. Start with an assumption that the other person has positive intentions.

5. Recognize that teams are stronger when people bring diverse skills, experiences and viewpoints. A team of clones is a closed club with limited potential.

6. Respect and encourage thoughtful, civil debate. Give greater credence to those who “show their math” rather than just shooting off their mouths.

7. Provide ongoing and useful feedback so people never wonder where they stand with you or their co-workers. Uncertainty feeds fear. Fear erodes trust.

8. Work — and PLAY — well together. Play is an antidote to tension, a vitamin for creativity, and an opportunity to make a memory.

We try to practice what we teach when bringing people together for leadership training. Our “icebreaker” asks each person to display a photo of the “Real Me” and tell the story behind it. (Most choose images from outside their work lives.) We talk about the values of the best bosses they ever worked for.  We explain our philosophy that “the wisdom’s in the room” — already there among them to share and build upon.

We put a priority on building a seminar group that’s diverse in media, gender, ethnicity, age and geographic background. We change the seating each day so people make new connections. We infuse our teaching with interaction and even goofy play.

We encourage people to respectfully disagree, or, as a Poynter colleague put it, “challenge with passion, not poison.” And we simply suggest that people agree to look out for each other by asking permission before they quote a fellow participant outside the seminar. (Just as I did for this column.)

Without trust in the room, people won’t open up about fears, frustrations, failures, challenges, half-baked ideas or personal ambitions. Fear of criticism or gossip is a candor-killer. I’m happy to report that candor was alive and well among the people in the photo I like so much.

So, what was that picture all about?

Those 20 new managers came to the seminar from across the globe.They spent a little less than a week together. But in those days, in the right environment, they discovered the kind of trust that builds and binds a team. They learned that it’s their role as leaders to cultivate that atmosphere at work for those they supervise, and to make it last for more than one magical week.

The seminar had ended. It was time for people to dash off to airports, back to work and to families. But the affable Ernest Hooper of Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times stopped people in their tracks.

“Huddle up, huddle up, everybody,” he called out with a strong voice and a serious smile. He herded them toward his outstretched hand, toward one more connection.

Scott Simmie of the Toronto Star decided two things: he wanted in on that gesture and he’d capture it, too. In this shot by Kristin Gazlay of the Associated Press, you see Scott, cell phone cam hovering over Ernest, grabbing the image that inspired this column.

Kelly Brown of Denver’s KCNC-TV, described the scene this way:

At first, I thought he meant a group hug – like the classic last scene from Mary Tyler Moore…not being able to let go. But then I realized it was a cheer leading us forward and a promise to remember what we learned together… The perfect ending to an inspiring week.

And that’s the lesson for leaders. People will assemble, at your request. They’ll smile at the camera for an official “group photo.” That’s nice:

But in the right environment, when trust transforms individuals into a team, then they’ll decide what their team photo should look like. I predict it will be better than any you envisioned:

And if you aspire to be a great boss, they just might invite you into the frame, too.

* * *

Here is the companion podcast to today’s column, with a reminder of three key building blocks of trust in any situation:

Note: Jill Geisler’s new book, Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know,” will be released on June 5. Read more

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10 tips for preventing staff burnout in spite of more work, fewer resources

Motivation. It’s a popular topic in leadership teaching. Keeping staff members engaged, positive and productive has always been a management responsibility.

But today, the questions about motivation are often more blunt, even raw. How do we handle the human impact of an shrinking workforce tasked with increasing workload? How much is too much to ask of people before they break faith with management, or just plain break down?

Look at the word cloud of Digital First editors’ recent responses to the question “What obstacles do you face in getting things done?”

Nearly half of the people who responded to our Twitter poll said “staff” is the biggest obstacle to getting things done.

The big fat images are a shout out for support: staff, equipment, time — positioned near that most telling word, “lack.” It’s a billboard display of what most newsroom managers think, talk about, and struggle with today.

Look at the headline for a recent Poynter.org chat: “How to Tell When It’s Time to Get Out of Journalism.” In the conversation, chat host Joe Grimm, who’s coached countless careers, brought up the B-word:

The out-and-out “let’s get out” decision often follows a series of disappointments or a period of burnout. That indicates the craft has changed too much to be fun anymore, or we have changed and are looking for new things…

Joe’s right, but there’s another cause of disappointment and burnout I need to address: flawed management.

Leading in times of change and challenge takes skills far beyond helping people to get over it and get back to work. Bosses whose approach to employee engagement begins and ends with “you should be happy to have a job” can’t help but contribute to burnout. They inspire people — to look for better bosses.

Since you read this column, I’m betting you’re among the better ones.  As you do your best to meet your business objectives, you also want to fight against destructive disappointment and burnout.

That’s why I’ve developed a checklist for you: 10 things that bosses can examine and perhaps improve in these demanding times. In the process, you can remove obstacles to your staff’s success instead of adding to their stress.

Your Checklist of Ten Antidotes to Burnout

  1. Strategy check: When you’re clear on your business strategy, you can establish priorities. You can tell that employee who’s head is swimming (or nearly exploding) because of multiple demands, which tasks they should tackle first, or with more resources, and which should take a back burner. If you’re not clear on your organization’s strategic vision, make it your business to get as much clarity as possible from your bosses. And yes, strategy may change on a dime these days. Businesses are being advised to innovate and “fail fast” or “fail forward” -- which means today’s hot initiative may be tomorrow’s cold corpse. It’s your job to keep informed on the status of your strategy.
  2. Systems check: Smart managers constantly review workflow and systems for inefficiencies and opportunities. Where do things get bogged down? Why do we still hand off the work from department to department or person to person in this pattern? Where are the choke points or areas of frustration? It’s easy to focus on small fixes in daily work instead of re-evaluating the why and how of old — or even new — systems. Enlist your staff to help you. You may find that what you’ve been writing off as their “whining” about roadblocks are actual pressure points that may provide insights for improvement. Let people know you are open to hearing about problems, especially from those people who also offer pragmatic, realistic solutions.
  3. Resource check: Even when capital and operating budgets are anemic, make a “wish list” of hardware, software, and yes, people you would add right now if you could. Managers often lower their expectations in tough times, censoring themselves so they don’t look greedy, grumbling or goofy to their bosses.  But every manager should be prepared to make a business case for resources, especially when the argument can be tied to strategy, innovation, or any result that rings of return-on-investment. Even with no budget, be a “window shopper,” who knows exactly what you’d buy or whom you’d hire with your next real spending money.
  4. Training check: Somebody on your staff, right now, is less effective than he could be because of lack of training. Somebody on your staff is less engaged than she could be because she doesn’t feel like she’s learned something new in a while. Training is the first casualty of tough economic times, but smart managers persevere — finding everything from peer coaching to scholarships to bake sales to offset training costs. And don’t tell me you don’t have time to release someone for training. Just pretend. Pretend that the person who is away today getting smarter is home sick. The business wouldn’t shut down because of that sick day, right?
  5. Hiring check: Become a hiring genius. On the rare occasion you have an opening, “hire up” — don’t settle. Look for someone who takes your team to the next level. Set your standards high for skills related to your strategy, values for which you won’t compromise, and people smarter than you. You’re not just filling a hole when you hire, you are staking your reputation on the person’s ability to improve your work and your workplace.  Scout for that talent, even when you have no openings. You never know when opportunity may present itself and you’ll be ready.
  6. Accountability check: Here’s how to drive already hard-working employees to Burnout City: Ask them to pick up the slack for others on the team who can’t or won’t do work to that’s up to standard. To avoid this, make certain you don’t have blind spots about underperformers, especially if they are people you hired or frankly, you simply like. You don’t have to be a jerk to hold people accountable. You can be both kind and clear about expectations. Care enough to have tough conversations about performance issues. You owe it to your staff.
  7. Bad boss habit check: This could be (and probably will become) a column all its own. What bad habits of yours are making work harder for your team? Are you late to your own meetings? Do you delay decisions? Do you micromanage? Are you disorganized? Do you fail to follow up on conversations, emails, agreements? Do you resort to silence, sarcasm or screaming when you’re under stress? Recognize that your emotions are contagious and your bad habits may be the one burden you could immediately lighten for your team. I hope you have the courage to ask people about this, because I know there are employees who pray their bosses would ask for such input  and then act on it.
  8. Communication check: Even if you’re not silent, sarcastic or a screamer, that doesn’t mean you’re a good communicator. In times of change, people crave information. Are you keeping people informed, and feeling included? Are you listening to them? When they feel they aren’t in the loop, employees can fill in the blanks with their worst fears. That creates constant anxiety, a key ingredient in the recipe for burnout.
  9. Feedback check: The most important communication is feedback. Let people know where they stand, how they are doing, what they can be doing better and what’s expected of them. Never, ever miss an opportunity to provide feedback. One of my favorite recent management books, “The Progress Principle,” talks about the surprising power of small wins to keep people energized. The authors’ research also shows that small losses overpower small wins in employees’ minds, which is why consistent, constructive feedback can be so powerful.
  10. Agent check: I’ve written about this before and teach it constantly. Today’s managers can’t promise people jobs for life or a smooth, fast path to their dream job in the company. The economy can too easily make liars of them. But what bosses can promise is to be an employee’s good agent. If you hired an agent to represent you, that agent would make certain you are building a portfolio of noteworthy work, a record that could serve you well in your current job or wherever the changing business world takes you. The agent would candidly tell you what skills you need to sharpen in order to succeed, what things you’ve produced are worth saving and showing off, what next steps are within your reach and which would be too big a stretch. The agent would even tell you when you’ve outgrown your current role, and when a better opportunity might lie elsewhere. A good agent would protect you from burnout.  Bosses, are you that kind of agent?

I’m certain there are more than ten checks to be done. In fact, I know one more that’s an antidote to burnout. Call it a “culture check, which I explore in the companion podcast to this column:

If you enjoy these columns and podcasts, just a reminder that my book, “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know”, will be released on June 5. Read the early reviews. Read more

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greatbosses

What Great Bosses Know about 7 coaching questions and answers

Most managers I know share similar goals. They want to:

  • Grow and maintain quality staff and products
  • Do less “fixing” of unsatisfactory work
  • Delegate decision-making to others, with confidence
  • Be attentive, accessible and involved, without micromanaging

You’ll improve your chances of reaching these goals by building a key skill: Coaching.

It’s such an important skill that I regularly include it in my leadership teaching — and it’s often among the most highly rated topics in our seminar evaluations.

Here are 7 questions and answers about coaching.

1. What exactly is coaching?

I think of coaching as guided discovery.

2. How does it work?

Acting in partnership, a coach helps an individual make a decision, solve a problem, or improve a skill.

3. Why is coaching effective?

Coaches don’t simply tell people what to do – or do it for them. They help them realize how to bridge the gap between where they are and where they want — or need — to be.

4. Who can be a coach?

Any person who takes the time to learn and practice can be a coach. While it is a useful skill for anyone, it is a critical competence for managers who want to become great bosses.

5. What’s a coach’s most important tool?

The question.

6. You mean a coach never gives direct advice?

It’s an option, but usually not the first option. Skilled coaches know exactly when direct advice is needed, usually when a situation is urgent or speed is essential, or the other person clearly desires and would benefit from an opinion, recommendation, or absolute direction.

7. So, exactly what does a coach do?

  • Asks questions throughout the process
  • Listens actively — which means repeating or reflecting — as in “Here’s what I’m hearing you say … Is that correct?”
  • Thinks analytically, mentally examining the subject at hand to identify missing information and broaden the perspective: “I’ve heard you say this is a resource issue. Might there be other options, like work flow or timing? What do we know about that?”
  • Clarifies: “Is it possible there’s another way of seeing this?”
  • Focuses: “Would the key issues be…?”
  • Identifies steps toward solutions: “What have we uncovered here? What actions can you begin to take? How can I help?”
  • Establishes coaching language — shared descriptions (nicknames or metaphors), for issues or solutions that become common shorthand for the coach, employee and other staffers: “The compound, complex sentences in your writing become ‘speed bumps’ to the reader — slowing down the pace of the story. How could you re-craft that sentence to smooth out the ‘speed bump’?”
  • Tracks the next steps the other person takes
  • Provides constructive feedback

At first blush, coaching can seem challenging. It’s a new skill set and you have to practice to get good at it. As a manager who once routinely “fixed” work rather than coached employees to improve it themselves, I can tell you it is worth the effort to learn.

You’ll improve quality, turn more responsibility over to your staff, reclaim time for other important managerial duties and take a big step toward becoming a great boss.

Let me add, though, that to become a really good coach, you have to overcome four dangerous desires. I’ll reveal them in today’s podcast:

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

You can download the complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U. Read more

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