Leadership bites for changing times

March 18, 2020 01:30

by Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago; Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

This timely leadership advice from Jill Geisler is courtesy of the National Press Club Journalism Institute’s Covering Coronavirus newsletter. The free newsletter includes news and information that journalists need to serve the public and stay safe. Sign up here to get it in your inbox each weekday afternoon.

Work From Home Bingo   | 3/27/2020

You’ve mastered social distancing. Adapted your communication habits. Learned that most of your furniture isn’t especially ergonomically friendly. 
Your eyeballs are rarely off a screen. Your normal quest for perfection is dialed down to “good enough for now.” You miss the sounds and serendipity of the newsroom (the smells, not so much).
To remind you we’re all feeling that way, I present this as a public service: WFH Bingo. 
Distribute the cards to your team. Check off the items as you see, hear or experience them. Be creative about your inevitably inexpensive prizes.  

Click to randomize a set of bingo cards or to create your own.

You’re an “Instant Editor” - what now?  | 3/26/2020
In crisis coverage, we learn to wear new hats. Beats are shifting, roles are changing — all to meet the needs of the day. 
What if you’ve been asked to edit, and you’ve never been an editor before?
Trust your journalistic chops and Spidey-sense. If you know what makes a good story and have a strong ethical core, you’re already well armed.
To smooth the process for everyone, have a fast conversation with your reporters about these things: 
  • Their usual work process. Don’t assume their research, organization, writing and reviewing process is just like yours.
  • Their COVID-19 adaptive work process. What have they had to do differently these days. For example, are they sharing a home computer with a middle-schooler during certain hours? How will you work around any obstacles they’re facing, or better yet, help remove them?
  • Who’s the best editor they ever worked with and what did they do differently? This is a gold mine of information.
  • What you need as their editor, how you like to work and what successful writer/editor collaboration looks like to you.
  • Be sure to tell each other: “What’s the best way to communicate with you — and when?”
  • What’s negotiable and what’s not. (Deadlines, style, attribution, linking, corrections, ethics calls, etc.)
  • How to stay in touch and stay healthy.
Finally, remember a mantra I learned from the late editor and writing coach Foster Davis: Tie goes to the writer.

How can I show I’m a manager who ‘gets it’?  | 3/25/2020
Why is it that the same message, sent by two different leaders, can be received in different ways — one has impact, the other seems like platitudes? 
My grandmother knew. Granny always told us, “Consider the source.” 
Those three words tell an important story of credibility and trust. Those qualities are critical when leaders are trying to offer encouragement, mitigate fear, build collaboration, or accelerate needed change.
People have to believe that their leaders “get it.” How do you show that?
  • General statements aren’t enough. Be as specific as possible. Provide examples. If you’re saying, “Please know how much we value your sacrifices,” describe what that pain looks like in real world terms.
  • Go beyond the obvious. Share information that shows how closely you are paying attention. Many employees feel their bosses have little understanding of what it really takes to do their jobs on a good day, much less under duress. 
  • Ask for info. To give examples and to go beyond the obvious, you need good information. Be proactive; look, listen and ask. But also encourage your team members to keep you informed. Many people hesitate to tell their bosses about success stories because they don’t want to look like suckups, or to share serious problems because they don’t want to be seen as whiners. Make it safe for people to speak their truth to your power. Invite it. Insist on it.
  • Be visible. You’re busy, I know. But use every human means of communication (that is medically safe) to stay in touch. Let people see your face and hear your voice. 
  • It’s about THEM — unless it’s something meaningful about you. Your team needs to know they truly are your priority. Focus on their work and their lives in the vast majority of your communication. But when something in your life connects to their hopes, fears or challenges, consider sharing it. Are you working from home while a toddler is spilling cereal on your laptop? Is your granny in assisted living and you’re worried about her safety? It matters. When you are known for putting others first and then open a window into your humanity, you build credibility.
 And when people are considering the source, you are the manager who “gets it.”  

‘We are not doctors’: 16 top leaders share tips for supporting their newsrooms  |  3/24/2020

There’s a real hunger for tips, solutions and tribal connections among journalists right now. Why else would hundreds of them, busy as they are, take part in the Power Shift Project’s first “COVID-19: Taking Care of Journalists and Journalism” webinar this week? Sixteen top leaders from all platforms shared practical advice and fielded questions. 
We recorded the webinar, captured all the resources people shared, and produced a summary report. The tips fall under these topic areas:
  • Give People the Support They Need
  • Recognize Signs of Illness, Burnout and Trauma
  • Pick Up the Phone and Connect
  • Newsroom Leaders Need Support, Too
  • Keep Interns in the Loop
  • Be Flexible About Schedules and Time Off
  • Manage Your Work-from-Home Life
  • Remove Obstacles for Your Team
The topics may look general; the angels are in the details of HOW to do these things well. So read the report’s examples, insights and caveats — so you do the right thing, the right way. That’s what management is really about: matching your actions to the moment and to the good people you’re caring for and helping succeed.

How Do I Find the Right Words to Encourage the Team?   |  3/23/2020
Managing journalists is especially challenging. We hire them for their ability to question authority and resist spin. And then they apply those same skills when dealing with — us. They challenge managers, look skeptically at our decisions, and even mock our memos. 
And yet, we love them, largely because we behaved the same way when we were front line staffers. 
Now, during this unprecedented time in history — and in journalism — leaders must show the love in ways big and small. That requires messages of appreciation, encouragement, support, concern — and yes, inspiration. 
So let’s look at some effective short and long form messages from supervisors — NPR’s Mary Glendinning and The Dallas Morning News’ Mike Wilson. Their most important quality is authenticity. No management-speak, b.s., or blather. Their purpose is clear and tailored for the moment. Recipients think: “That’s just the kind of thing she’d say. And I like it.” 
Find the examples — and more from Jill — here.
We’re getting on each other’s nerves. How do we resolve real conflict in a virtual newsroom?   |  3/20/2020
Here’s a real challenge for virtual teams: distance can reduce empathy. It’s harder to see the world through someone else’s eyes when you don’t often see their face. Here are some truths and tips to reduce conflict and misunderstanding.
The more important a message is, the more it benefits from what scholars call the “richest” form of communication — one that lets people see and hear each other, listen for tone, read body language and gestures, provide immediate responses and question what they doubt or don’t understand. Use Zoom or Skype on a regular basis to avoid misunderstandings.

Because we need to text and Slack and email, and do it often, make certain your brief messages don’t come across as terse or your delayed response doesn’t seem like a diss. If you write “mhm” in response to a message, and for you it’s, “I agree” — for someone else, it might be “whatever.” Spell out your interest. And Make it safe for people to ask “What do you mean?” as an earnest question and be prepared to explain your communication intentions, preferences and quirks.

If you weren’t fond of someone before, you’re unlikely to give them the benefit of the doubt now. But give it a try. Promise yourself you’ll first try viewing their words or actions through a neutral to positive lens. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, it’s time to set up a difficult conversation to resolve what’s at the bottom of your anger.

Remember that we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. That leaves lots of room for bad calls. Be explicit about your intentions. “What’s your story status?” may sound like “I don’t trust you.” But “I’m checking on your story status because they’re pushing me for graphics” keeps me from misreading your intent.

If you’re ticked off about something — step away from the keyboard. Use a call to work things out rather than escalating things online.

These are stressful times. How do leaders help us stay resilient?  |  3/19/2020
Resilience isn’t a quality, it’s a journey. It’s measured by the time, effort and energy it takes to move from anxiety to calm, sadness to smiling, self-doubt to confidence and from hurting to healing. It’s important for newsroom leaders to know that this journey varies for each of us — and that can be a challenge for tough-as-nails bosses.
Managers are often promoted for their journalistic skills, their ability to fight for good stories and develop great coverage strategies. But emotional intelligence may not have been automatically bundled along with that package. In fact, because we tend to like people who remind us of ourselves, strong, tough leaders may not be able to easily empathize with team members who show fear or concern. 
Even if you prefer the company of stoic folks who keep their feelings to themselves, you need to adapt your leadership approach during this crisis. People are carrying heavy loads you might not know about. Anxiety or depression — often hidden disabilities — may grow. People may be feeling guilt about their distance from elderly family members. Your staff members or those close to them may have medical histories that make them more susceptible to COVID-19 and they’re on edge. They may be lonely. We know they’re tired.
So, assume your team is a symphony of needs. Some may be laughing in the face of overwork and uncertainty, while others are losing sleep. Now’s the time to ramp up your emotional intelligence and rely on others on your team to alert you when they sense someone needs support.
More here.

How do I stay focused when I can see the laundry/dishes piling up, the dog has his leash in his mouth, and the kids are on extended spring break?  | 3/18/2020
Here’s the dirty little secret — no, make that clean and virus-free little secret — of working from home: You will work as much and probably more than before, but you have greater control of your time. As long as you make your deadlines and respond in reasonable time to important inquiries, it doesn’t matter if you walk the dog or toss a frisbee with your kids right in the middle of the darn day. Trust me, I learned this when I made the transition from 25 years in a newsroom to my home-based and in-person teaching for Poynter and now Loyola Chicago and the Freedom Forum’s Power Shift Project. You’ll discover these imperatives:
  • You should over-communicate about the important things. That includes your availability, your health and the status of your assignments. When you’ve established trust with your partners, they expect the best and you never let them down.
  • You will work at crazy hours because it works for you. A late-night writing binge may be the tradeoff for afternoon calls to elderly relatives who are alone, frightened and need prescriptions filled. As long as you make deadlines, you are just fine.

Leadership tips for sending messages   |  3/17/2020
  • Be user-friendly in this TL;DR world — lengthy, gray copy loses eyeballs.
  • Tell recipients right at the top what the message contains. A bullet point index is a good option. It lets the reader know what to look for and keeps writers focused.
  • Write with authority, humanity and clarity.
  • Maintain an FAQ mindset. As you write, anticipate the “what does this really mean to me?” questions from everyone receiving it.
  • Remember that people under stress don’t always process info well. If it’s important info, send it multiple times in multiple messages.
  • Information is currency. Your default should be “share.”
  • In addition to information, people need encouragement and inspiration. Don’t hesitate to send brief messages of support to your team.

Communicating clearly during a crisis   |   3/13/2020
Q: How do I keep my boss informed without driving them crazy while working remotely?
A: The easiest way to miscommunicate is to make assumptions about what others want or need. Now’s the time to make everything easier with one question: “What’s the best way to communicate with you — and when?” Get clarity on two types of communication — the routine and the urgent. Do the same with colleagues. Sometimes when we work from a distance, we worry that our bosses or teammates think we’re slacking, since they can’t see us. Let’s make a compact among all journalists that we will assume just the opposite. We’re pushing ourselves because nothing is more important in crisis than sharing valuable and valid information. 


2019 Research