July 19, 2017

This is part of a series of Q and As with leaders at news organizations. I asked leaders to think about the challenges they face in their news organizations and to share guidance and advice. Whether your news organization is small or large, a start-up or more than 100 years old, the issues are often the same. This series on managing change in a newsroom was funded by Democracy Fund and is being co-published by Poynter. Subscribe to Democracy Fund’s Local Fix newsletter for more of the best writing, ideas, and tips for those working in local news in your inbox every Friday.

Kathleen Kingsbury is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and will join The New York Times as deputy editorial page editor this August.

At the time of this interview, she was The Boston Globe’s managing editor for digital. She previously edited the Ideas section, an influential Sunday offering at the Globe charged with tackling the new thinking, intellectual trends, and big ideas that shape our world. She was also a deputy managing editor and deputy editorial page editor at the Globe.

Kingsbury joined the editorial board in 2013 and two years later won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing for an investigative series examining working conditions in the restaurant industry. She also edited the Globe’s 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning commentary on race and education.

Prior to the Globe, Kingsbury was a New York-based staff writer and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent for Time magazine. She has also contributed to The New York Times, Reuters, the Daily Beast, BusinessWeek, and Fortune. She received her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

How do you deal with people who don’t have the skills necessary for today’s news organizations?

I believe that everyone has the skills necessary but they aren’t all the same skills. It is incumbent on managers to identify what those skills are and how they can be applied in a transformational context, then, put that person in the right position to succeed. There are no bad employees, there are just unmotivated employees in the wrong roles.

Even if you aren’t the newsroom leader what can you do to drive the change needed to meet the goals of the news organization?

Leadership is not the same thing as authority. You don’t need authority to be a motivating and inspiring leader. To influence change, you need be really good at 360-degree leadership: Managing up to your bosses, sideways to your internal and external stakeholders, and down to those who report to you. That formula doesn’t change whether you’re the publisher or front-line editor.

What advice do you have for leaders facing a tough decision?

Don’t rush the decision. Spend time with your family. Make sure that whatever path you choose that it’s congruent with your true north and the values that you aspire to have. 

Be a better leader. See Poynter’s leadership training lineup.

How do you get support or advance your ideas with people who don’t report to you?

You explain why it is in their self-interest to go along. Every conversation in change management is a negotiation — you also have to be flexible and listen to the other side so that you can come up with a fair compromise if that is what is needed to advance the idea further. One of the best compliments I have received as a leader is that my staff has the confidence that I would never ask anything of them that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do myself. Empathy goes a long way.

When someone is given a role supervising people for the first time, what is one piece of advice you would provide?

Don’t let imposter syndrome change who you are as a person. Treat people the way you would want to be treated but with the understanding that your job isn’t to be liked, it is to be respected.

Readings that helped Kingsbury as a leader: “Leadership Without Easy Answers” by Ronald Heifetz. “Russell Rules: 11 Lessons On Leadership” by Bill Russell. “The Lean Start-up” by Eric Ries. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

Are there other leaders we should highlight in this and future series? Tweet your suggestions to @TheLocalNewsLab and @Poynter.

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