Becoming a two-track leader and the power of relationships

By Emily Kohlman, Penn State University

“I really think those of us asked to managed the work and the careers of other people have been given a gift,” Butch Ward told a room of more than 40 news editors. “We only realize the true fruits of that gift when our approach to leadership includes those people who count on us.”

Ward, senior faculty and former managing director at The Poynter Institute, talked to 2017 News Leadership Conference attendees about the power of relationships at a leadership development session on Tuesday morning.

Ward invited audience members to reflect on relationships with staff in their own newsrooms and suggested three truths about these connections.

  1. Your most important job is helping your staff succeed.
    • When the work improves, the audience benefits.
  2. You must work two tracks of leadership.
    • Focus on the people who do the work.
  3. You have a relationship with everyone you manage.
    • Work to build a relationship with each person on the staff designed specifically to help them do the best work possible.

Relationships are created with mutual trust, belief that you want the best for someone, effective communication, hope in the newsroom’s future, and honesty, said Ward.

The balance that Ward referred to as “radical candor” between honesty and wanting the best for someone helps people succeed. Trust first needs to be established through relationships, he said, so staff see advice as an opportunity for growth rather than as criticism.

Ward said that there are two different strategies for leading a newsroom: “Are we a fixer, or are we a coach?”

While fixers focus on the work and discourage risk-taking, coaches put the emphasis on the individual and offer meaningful feedback, he said. Rather than “handling” reporters, he said, editors should work with them.

Ward introduced “the coach’s credo” — “The more I know about you, the more I can help you succeed” — for building relationships. He said it involves asking staff five basic questions:

  1. What motivates you?
    • Extrinsic motivators (pay raises, promotions and praise)
    • Intrinsic motivators (autonomy, mastery and purpose)
  2. How do you do your job?
    • Learn how each person does their work so it can be improved.
  3. How can I help you to learn?
  4. What’s your dream?
    • Work toward something together and build trust.
  5. How can I give you hope?
    • Find the balance between aspiration and reality and make it credible.

“We all want to be inspirational,” Ward said. All each staffer is looking for is a reason to believe, he said, which starts with creating individual relationships.

“You have the credibility to do it. You can be inspirational. You can give people hope,” he said. “The more you know about the people who work for you, the more you can help them.”

Emily Kohlman is a senior at Penn State University.

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