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.
Leading remote teams demands a lot of managers. You need to be a better communicator than ever. Your emotional intelligence needs to be fine-tuned for each employee’s needs. Even if you hate detail work, you need to be a planner.
But here’s one thing you should never be: a high-tech prison guard.
Two recent articles make that clear. NPR business reporter Bobby Allyn examined the rise of “tattleware,” software that lets managers monitor employees’ keystrokes, download videos of their screens and use webcams to snap images while they are - or aren’t - at their desks.
New York Times tech reporter Adam Satariano and his editor, Pui-Wing Tam, gave one such software program a test-drive. Their findings:
“After three weeks of digital monitoring, the future of work surveillance seemed to both of us to be overly intrusive. As she put it, ‘Ick.’”
“Ick” is an understatement.
Remote surveillance of employees isn’t a management tool, it’s a weapon.
Wise leaders know better. Their goal isn’t to guard the office, it’s to guide the people.
Yes, they share clear expectations, talk about ethical guidelines, set deadlines and hold folks accountable - but not through hyper-micromanagement. They do it through regular, rich communication and coaching.
They understand that autonomy is a key intrinsic motivator for people, who are energized by being able to have a strong voice in their work. That voice, and a sense of self-direction and control are especially important to journalists.
The best leaders aren’t guards. Instead, they are managers who provide the guidance and glue that create great working relationships and quality journalism.
The foundation of it all is this sincere message: I trust you.
Whenever I teach managers about coaching and the power of questions, I anticipate this very legitimate question: Are there situations when coaching isn’t the right option, and you should just give people directions? The answer is yes - without a doubt.
When should you give coaching a rest and just tell people what to do?
But here’s the secret: the more you learn about coaching and the better you are at coaching people, the more confidence you will have in knowing when to set that skill aside. You’ll know that you aren’t just defaulting to an old habit of giving advice and orders, or fixing problems rather than teaching others how to find their own solutions.
You’ll be a coach who knows when to fix.
We interrupt this program for an encouraging word.
Journalists are nothing if not resourceful. They adapt to new tools and technology. They endure staff and budget cuts and still produce quality. They find information people want to hide.
And now, whether at home, in eerily-underpopulated newsrooms, or from safe-as-we-can-make-them field assignments, they are delivering essential information during a pandemic.
While doing this work, every one of these professionals is also affected personally by COVID-19’s threat or its real manifestation in their lives.
We must never lose sight of that.
Resourcefulness and resilience are the driving forces behind every good story, photo, video, graphic, newscast, program, podcast, interview, documentary, and community service project that we’re seeing and hearing today.
Those qualities - resourcefulness and resilience - need to be supported with empathy, appreciation and respect. We can share that from the inside, as co-workers and managers.
It can come from the outside, too. Messages of support from readers, listeners and viewers provide a lift, so it’s important to circulate and celebrate those. They are an antidote to stress, politically-driven scorn, and the fatigue that can affect any one of us on any given day.
The best leaders understand the importance of encouragement - and know that even small gestures can go a long way.
A news director friend asked if I’d help him with one of those moments this week. His email said: “The staff is doing pretty good, but I am trying to find great inspirational things for them to see and hear as they continue to work through this crisis day by day.” He asked me to drop in to his morning Zoom news meeting as a surprise guest, adding, “I hope you can reinforce that their work is so critical right now and that their work has true meaning and purpose.”
So, I “Zoom-bombed” them. I stole just a few minutes of their busy agenda to talk about the road ahead, the reporting challenges they will face, and the people whose lives depend on their commitment. It was a combination reality check and rally.
If you’re in a position to invite a surprise cheerleader whose words would be meaningful for your team, go for it. If you’re the invited guest, please accept.
Resourcefulness and resilience grow stronger with respect.
We’d like to think we’re very good employees. (Especially when it’s time for annual evaluations, right?)
But none of us is perfect. We all have idiosyncrasies. They’re not career killers like dishonesty or gross incompetence. Instead, they’re quirks – the kind of habits our co-workers cope with and work around, especially when we have plenty of other redeeming qualities.
At least that’s how it works in normal times. But right now, when teams are operating under excessive stress, let’s not add to it. Whatever we can do to amp up our strengths and tamp down our idiosyncrasies is a genuine gift to our colleagues.
Think about it:
- If you’re forgetful and tend to double-book yourself, pledge to keep better notes and calendars.
- If you hate meetings but your remote teammates are hungry for connection, support having more huddles.
- If you’re long-winded, edit thyself.
- If you’re terse, upgrade your messages to telegraph a little empathy.
- If you’re a workaholic, don’t expect others to emulate your 24/7 toiling.
- If you’re all-business, get to know the partners, kids and pets that populate your employees’ home offices.
- If you tend to be impatient, lighten up.
- If you’re a little sarcastic, take the edge off, on behalf of those who might hear only the “tough” in your tough love.
And if you’re not sure whether others think you have any idiosyncrasies because no one’s ever told you, now’s a good time to find out. (Imagine how important that is if you’re the boss!)
I’m not talking about a quantitative analysis of your quirks. A simple question will do: “Is there anything you need more of – or less of – from me?”
The answers can help you tweak some behaviors and – who knows? – might set you on the road to becoming that almost-perfect employee for these clearly imperfect times.
I had a Zoom huddle with broadcast and digital news managers of the TEGNA stations group this week. This was an open forum for all who wanted to offer ideas, ask questions, and share status reports about leading during pandemic times. The company offered it for both the learning and the camaraderie. Attendance was voluntary.
One hundred managers showed up. One hundred -- all of whom are leading their remote news teams from home. Their apartments and houses have become the nerve centers for newscasts and websites.
They’re making it work, but it’s demanding. And they’re struggling with an uncomfortable reality: They now feel tethered to their desks.
It’s more than a feeling. Consider this: Their desks are where they now lead and attend meetings, review rundowns, create schedules, write memos, manage budgets, monitor news developments, post to social media, edit stories, provide feedback, review their product, conduct research, interview job candidates and manage relationships with the public, vendors and colleagues.
If they were at their TV stations, they’d be at their desks a fraction of the time. The rest would be spent walking the newsroom to visit with staff, sitting at news meeting tables and in conference rooms, visiting colleagues’ offices, connecting in break rooms, and even taking people out to lunch. (What a concept.)
They know they need breaks, but they’re reluctant to step away. They fear letting people down, or missing important information, or setting a bad example by their absence.
And they know it’s not healthy. So we talked about solutions, because they need to get up, move around, stretch, clear their heads, get fresh air, school their kids, walk their dogs and have a meal away from their keyboards.
Read on to see the remedies for busy editors.
Check on your editors | 4/22/2020
This pandemic has produced an abundance of powerful and painful stories. We worry – as we should – about the resilience of the reporters and photographers bearing witness to COVID-19’s impact on human life.
Behind those reporters and photographers are editors who make their stories stronger and clearer, more understandable and relatable. They see every detail – the ones that move us to tears and those that may be too raw or graphic to include.
Editors are immersed in a daily stream of personal tragedies and institutional failures as they attend to story upon story.
Most are doing this work alone, at home. They’re no longer in a newsroom village where they can easily step away from the desk to decompress in the company of colleagues who understand what they’re experiencing.
Take a moment to check in with those who edit your team’s words and images. Keep asking, “Are you okay?”, listen carefully, and then act on what you learn.
Getting Zoomed-out? Tips to make video gatherings more user-friendly | 4/20/2020
I like Zoom well enough. And wow, have I been using it.
In the last two weeks, it’s been my platform for teaching six Loyola Chicago classes, moderating a Power Shift Project webinar, taking part in an advisory board meeting, delivering leadership pep talks for a TV station’s town hall meetings, and leading three training sessions for the Online News Association and a workshop for Stanford’s John S. Knight Journalism Fellows as they glide toward the end of their term.
A few of those sessions normally would have been done from a distance. Others were adaptive — the “Hey, this is the best we can do in these times” variety for those dealing with so much disruption.
On-campus classes were shifted suddenly to online. TV stations, with all their complex moving parts, switched to largely home-based workforces. ONA mobilized online Community Circles in response to a member survey that revealed a hunger for connection and collaboration amid today’s chaos. The Knight Fellows program had to abandon Stanford’s campus — and modify my annual in-person visit. It’s traditionally a retreat day of conversation, introspection and planning for the future.
As I took part in each of these now-Zoom gatherings, I looked for lessons to share. What works best? What do people need?
Here are some tips:
- Let the meeting’s purpose guide you — and be prepared.
- Use purposeful visuals and audio to enhance key points.
- Know when to set the table for fun.
- Agree about your on-camera/off-camera protocol.
- Build in breaks for longer sessions.
- Make good use of the chat box.
- Make the best possible memory of your meeting.
Better still, my friend Damon Kiesow, the Knight Chair in Digital Editing and Producing at Mizzou, just put together this great buyer’s guide for video conferencing with style.
Read on for examples of how these tips have kept Zoomed-out teams from tuning out.
Brevity is efficient – until it’s deficient | 4/19/2020
You’re bombarded with communication - text, email, Slack, phone call, Zoom - sometimes all at the same time. When you’re on overload, your written messages may be brief, for efficiency’s sake.
But short takes can be misread as dismissive, frustrated, angry or unhappy, when that’s not your intent.
Misunderstandings happen when:
- There’s a power differential. You send a carefully crafted request for time off on short notice to your boss. The reply is “OK.” You can’t tell if all is well or your boss is silently resentful.
- The response is short and negative. You offer to help someone with a project and the reply is “No thanks.” You wonder if the person doesn’t need assistance or was put off by your offer.
- The answer is frustratingly ambiguous. You hope to see your story on the homepage so you send a note asking an editor whether it'll be there and the response is “Got it” with no indication of next steps.
- A question is heard as a criticism. “What’s the status of that story?” may be a simple matter of curiosity, or need-to-know for planning - but can come across as “Why isn’t it done yet?”
- The message causes needless work. You asked about two things and the reply addresses only one, so you have to ask again. Or you receive a shorthand response that could have contained a link to a quick solution but doesn’t - forcing you to search.
And - even if you hate emojis - consider applying them to your message when you want to reinforce your positive intent.
Finally, if you have any fear that an important missive of any length might not land the way you intended, here’s my patented preview tip: Read your message out loud - but in a sarcastic voice. It will give you one last chance to tidy things up before hitting “send.”
What phase has your remote team entered? | 4/15/2020
There’s a classic theory about the life cycle of teams. The late psychology professor Bruce Tuckman coined these memorable terms for team development way back in 1965, and they’re taught to this day:
- Forming: the group gets going, identifies roles, goals and responsibilities; there’s lots of energy
- Storming: reality hits; not everything works, people get frustrated with each other and become skeptical of goals; without good leadership the team can flounder
- Norming: things are sorted out, systems are fine-tuned, people settle into habits and feel comfortable with the work and with each other
- Performing: the team hits its stride, people are competent and confident; there’s pride in accomplishment
Consider those four steps as they apply to your colleagues who made a near-overnight jump from working in a newsroom to working from home. Remote teams are a different breed, using new tools, communication and workflows.
For your newborn remote team, the initial “forming” phase probably involved an emphasis on being hardy, adaptable, and mission-driven. “We’re all in this together as we work it out” was a common theme. Everyone improvised, shared tips and cut each other some slack as they did the best with what they had.
Now, weeks into the new reality, it’s time for leaders to check on the status of their teams. Read on to discover how.
What advice can we give the next generation of journalists, poised to join the profession in a pandemic? | 4/13/2020
The journalism students sent me their questions in advance. Most were variations of these:
“What advice can you give us in applying for jobs at a time like this? Are employers even looking to hire? Do you recommend we continue applying for positions?”
As I prepared to talk with a class of graduating seniors, I thought about the boilerplate lessons I always share with our Loyola School of Communication students: how to craft winning resumes, which work samples to submit and what hiring managers are looking for.
But this conversation was different. This class of muliti-media storytellers just had their worlds upended by COVID-19.
They were sent home from school but must keep learning about work that’s better done up close and personal. They’re no longer in control rooms and studios with state-of-the-art tools. They’re not right there in an office or classroom with professors who can look over their shoulder at a script or an edit on a work in progress.
They’re doing their best from a distance, thanks to adaptable professors like my colleague Lee Hood, whose class I visited via Zoom.
They are marking the days until their commencement ceremony, in whatever form it might take. As they do, they see reports of newspapers folding, newsroom salaries cut, and journalists enduring furloughs and layoffs.
I can’t sugar-coat things. It’s rough out there.
But it’s not impossible, especially for those who can work on any - or every - platform. Many broadcast outlets, for example, are on the lookout for MMJs and producers for their on-air and digital offerings. Those that have put hiring on “pause” hope to resume it.
So I met the students at the corner of optimism and realism and gave them advice, which I share with all graduating seniors who are stepping into the storm.
Read on for Jill’s advice to graduating seniors.
‘Are you OK?’ Great bosses ask then act | 4/10/2020
A few columns ago, writing about resilience, I advised managers “In addition to asking ‘What are you doing?’, ask “How are you doing?”
When I write things like that, I sometimes question myself. Isn’t this just stating the obvious? Who wouldn’t know this?
At the same time, I’ve learned never to assume that managers are automatically equipped with ample supplies of empathy. Or that their organizations necessarily value those who are.
That idea was hammered home during the Freedom Forum’s Power Shift webinar I led Wednesday.
It featured the leaders of 11 of the country’s top associations for journalists, all talking about taking care of journalists and journalism - with tips and insights.
Irving Washington, executive director and CEO of the Online News Association helped me put the program together. When it was his turn to share, he talked about sending an email to ONA members a few weeks ago. It had one simple question:
“Are you OK?”
One reply was a jaw-dropper:
“You are the first person to ask me that question, including my employer.”
I believe it’s not an aberration.
Read on to see what to do after you ask “Are you OK?”
How to meet the needs of introverts and extroverts from a social distance | 4/8/2020
There’s a lot of stereotyping around introversion and extroversion on any given day. It can get worse when we apply that thinking to working at a “social distance.”
Don’t assume that Introverts are shy or anti-social. They lead meetings, teach classes, make speeches and anchor newscasts (yes, of the many anchors in my leadership seminars who took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, twenty-five percent were introverts.) But they get their energy from the life of mind. They like time to think and prep - and they recharge their batteries with quiet time to do so.
Don’t assume that extroverts are “always on” and eager to mix, mingle and chat. Extroverts get energized by connections with people, but they need “down time,” too. They may be among the first to speak in your meetings and may speak more than others, but they don’t necessarily want to be your “social chairperson,” assigned to plan all the team’s get-togethers.
Some tips for managing introverts and extroverts from a distance:
- Ask people what they need from you. Don’t assume the introverts want fewer check-ins than extroverts. Silence can lead to misunderstandings.
- Zoom meetings can exhaust introverts AND extroverts - for interesting reasons. They differ from in-person sessions, where people can move more freely, read body language, make eye contact across a meeting table to express support, and speak without having to “unmute” first. Build breaks into long meetings so people can stretch. Try to avoid back-to-back sessions so people can clear their heads.
- Don’t assume that your extroverts always prefer on-camera meetings. Phone calls provide more options to multi-task (come on, we all do it) and move around. Mix things up.
- Agendas help everyone. They let introverts plan and keep extroverts on task - and help ensure that meetings don’t run longer than they need to.
How do I provide feedback when I’m barely keeping up with all my work? | 4/6/2020
I had a talk this weekend with an editor I respect. She’s leading ambitious and ever-expanding coverage of the coronavirus on multiple platforms. Her staff is serving the public’s insatiable appetite for trustworthy news.
But the editor worries that she’s letting her hard-working team down. She can’t keep up with the feedback they deserve.
On what once were her days off, she reviews great chunks of the week’s output. She wants to provide people worthwhile messages about their work; specifics, not generalities. But that commitment leaves her little time to recharge her own depleted batteries.
I know she’s not alone in dealing with these dueling goals — one that says “Lead the bigger picture for your team,” while another says “Deliver detailed feedback.”
It’s easier to juggle those goals when a crisis isn’t creating a tsunami of stories. It’s an ever- growing problem for managers today.
Let me offer two modest solutions:
- Grow the grapevine
- Go ahead and brag
Let’s change that.
Now is the time to “rat out” the good stuff to management. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth review, just a quick note with a nugget or two of detail that proves it’s for real. It doesn’t have to be for superstar performance. Darn good is sufficient. Just pass the message to management - or cc a manager in the note you send to your co-worker.
With this simple move, we can provide leaders a present they can shamelessly re-gift to staff.
What about the other solution? Read on.
Virtual applause to real heroes on your team | 4/6/2020
We treasure our journalism superstars; the master muckrakers, sense-makers and storytellers. Always will.
Now, let’s give some love to a few other newsroom heroes, whose efforts, in the midst of chaos, make everyone better. They lift the team. They lead from wherever they are.
Here’s a salute to:
The MacGyvers: They are the wizards of workarounds. They revive hardware, revitalize software, find substitute tools and reroute systems – all when budgets are tight and options seemingly limited. Their resourcefulness not only solves production problems, it’s protecting the physical and mental health of co-workers.
The Planners: They ensure that we’re looking beyond today. Stories, staffing, supplies. Their backups and follow-ups reduce our screwups.
The Calm in the Storm: They anchor us during stress with their clarity, focus and unflappability. Their very presence in the room reduces tension; their cool heads are contagious.
The Coaches: They’re the ones we turn to when we’re frustrated or fearful. They’re the listeners and the encouragers. They know when to let us vent, how to help us figure things out for ourselves, and when to challenge our perspectives – all the while making us feel better for the conversation.
The Catalysts: They are the organizers of social moments when distance is damaging us, the groupthink-challengers who get us to look at different perspectives and the rascals who love to make us laugh (including at the boss.)
If you’re blessed to work with any of these heroes, don’t take them for granted. Don’t assume they know how much they’re appreciated. Deliver the applause they deserve.
Let the words of the late legendary Bill Withers say it for us all, “Just one look at you – and I know it’s gonna be a lovely day."
Managing the “Give” and “Get” Ledger | 4/2/2020
Great bosses know that we all keep a mental ledger of what we give to our workplace and what we feel we are getting in return. Here’s what’s interesting about the “give” side of our ledgers:
Our “gives” are very clear to us. We keep track of what we’ve done, the degree of difficulty, the extra effort and sacrifice.
- Our “give” side also contains our good intentions. We judge ourselves by those, even when we make mistakes. As in “Oh, I meant to call you but I got busy.” or “I didn’t mean to offend you with the suggestion, I was trying to be helpful.”
- Our “give” side is key to our sense of self-worth and self-image.
Feedback is the best tool for this and cannot become a casualty of the coronavirus crush. It’s more important than ever when people are working under extreme stress to let them know that you see what they’re giving and the conditions under which they’re working and to praise what’s working and carefully address what needs to be better; to provide guidance that’s realistic and respectful.
If not, you will create a “tipping point” moment when they think the ledger just blew up. They may not quit, but they sure as heck won’t throw themselves into their work. They may hold back when they could have volunteered ideas. They may do “just enough” and no more. They may complain to others. If they’re influential, their negativity becomes contagious.
Read on for tipping point moments and how to manage them
When WFH means too much ‘give’ and too little ‘get’ | 4/1/2020
For those accustomed to working in a newsroom or classroom, the switch to working from home seemed instantaneous, even miraculous. How did people make the shift so fast, so inventively, so cooperatively?
They drew on their session of mission, their adaptability, and frankly, their desire to have jobs.
Now, they’re doing the best they can with what they have, likely a hybrid mixture of employer-supplied tools and whatever they already had at home — laptops, tablets, phones, bandwidth, software, work space, and office supplies. Many are sharing those essentials with other family members who also need them for work and school.
It’s a juggling act, but good enough for now.
But “now” is looking like a long stretch ahead. It’s important for leaders to recognize the increasing strain that “good enough” will cause.
In the rush to keep the journalism flowing safely there wasn’t time to discuss, much less negotiate, the mix of time and tools this would take.
That’s why it’s important for leaders to remember that people carry a ledger in their heads. They know the value of personal property they’re using for work, the professional tools they wish they still had at their fingertips, the extra hours they’ve spent coaching colleagues who needed tech advice, and odd hours they may be working as they juggle family needs.
They think the “give” side of their ledger is pretty valuable. You are responsible for the other side of that ledger, making sure the “get” side evens things out. That’s the real magic of management: knowing how to balance the ledger, as best as humanly possible, with each member of your team, so they feel that what they get is as good as what they give.
Read on to learn what makes teams feel they’re giving more than they’re getting, and what leaders can do to restore balance.
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.
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.
‘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
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.
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.