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8 lessons for publishing leaders

What publishing leaders should do to foster inspiring and diverse working cultures

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said a leader is best when people barely know they exist. That sentiment contrasts starkly with the attitude of some publishing leaders, accused of creating ‘toxic’ work environments in some media organizations. So what should publishing leaders do to foster inspiring and diverse working cultures for their staff?

Context

  • For years, journalism has been seen to have a ‘huge management problem’. In news publishing particularly, this has been exacerbated by the pressures of a relentless news cycle, beginning with Brexit and rolling through the Trump presidency and the Pandemic into the Ukraine war and the cost of living crisis.
  • The problem, as outlined by several commentators, is that the qualities that make good journalists – urgency, skepticism, doggedness – aren’t generally seen in good managers. As long ago as 2014, Ray Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review was saying that, although bad bosses are a fact of life in all businesses, journalism seems to be particularly poor at developing and training managers. He says:

What makes for a great reporter doesn’t necessarily make for a great boss.

  • A recent round-up report from the Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobbit addresses the problem of poor leadership in some publishing organizations. The trade weekly has used the publication of two new books from former media bosses to compile a list of eight tips for publishing leaders.

Lessons for publishing leaders

1. Say thank you
Expanding on the title of his book, Say Thank You For Everything: The Secrets Of Being A Good Manager, the former editor-in-chief of Insider’s news division Jim Edwards says showing some appreciation for employees’ work makes a big difference. He said:

If you’re working on a team and your boss appears to genuinely appreciate the effort you’re putting in, that takes away a huge level of workplace anxiety.

2. Promote ‘rock stars’ differently
Edwards also believes that people should be promoted for what they are good at. He uses the example of a star football striker who, however many goals they score, should not be promoted to team manager in the hope that they can pass on their goal scoring talents. They should instead be rewarded for what they are good at.

3. Don’t be busy being busy
In Passion To Lead: Advice For Inspirational Leaders, former  chief executive of Time Out Group Julio Bruno warns publishing leaders against being busy without managing to accomplish anything. Instead he says managers need to stop and think about what they are doing.

Internalise your goals so that you know you are not just spinning plates and there is a method in your approach.

4. Adapt to societal change
COVID brought big changes to the workplace and to people’s attitudes to work. Bruno says companies should support workers in adapting to new ways of thinking about work. That could involve training in remote leadership, and the overuse of email or Zoom meetings. Businesses should also change their approach to hiring, away from location-based models and with a renewed focus on ‘creating a sense of belonging and purpose’.

5. Good data vs good judgement
Tobbit notes that both Edwards and Bruno write about the importance of leaders knowing when to follow data and when to follow their own intuition. The secret is to apply good judgement to the data, using ‘knowledge’ to interpret information.

6. Support diversity
Graduation from one of the best universities is no guarantee of talent in a specific employment context. Managers should recruit from variety of sources, including actively approaching people with more diverse backgrounds; Edwards says some people may not see themselves at your organization.

Arguing that a more diverse company is a better company, Bruno says:

Representation matters, and this is a crucial reason to spend time finding the best candidates everywhere.

7. Help staff prioritize
Not realizing that staff feel they have to say yes to every task you give them is a common mistake among managers. Edwards says the default position of most people is to say yes to their boss. Managers can avoid overloading staff by helping people prioritize and by pulling the plug on projects that aren’t working.

8. Leadership qualities
Believing in yourself is high on Bruno’s list. He also highlights strength, honesty and transparency.  He says publishing leaders must also be very good at communicating, persuading and bringing people along. He says:

One thing I have learnt is that you need to listen much more than you ever thought you might.

This piece was originally published in Spiny Trends and is re-published with permission. Spiny Trends delivers updates and analysis on the industry news you need to stay on top of if you’re running a media and publishing business. Subscribe to a weekly email roundup here.