Leadership isn’t only for the newsroom. It isn’t the solitary realm of editors and publishers. It is for anyone willing to step out on the ledge and hear its call.
But that calling can be scary, especially when it occurs in our profession. It means putting yourself — your values and very essence — out on the line for all to criticize. That’s not a natural position for journalists. We’d much rather be the ones doing the criticizing.
I bring all this up in response to the 2005 Ted Scripps Leadership Institute in which the question was asked: “Does being a good journalist make you a good leader?”
Certainly many of the attributes we threw out were similar — passionate, fair, resourceful, etc. But being a leader means taking responsibility for the group. What if the group’s well-being is different from our own?
The answer to the paradox of leader versus journalist is one that each of us must find within ourselves. If you’ve not had the chance to attend the Scripps conference in the past, I would urge you to consider going next year. It provides participants and facilitators with the chance to delve into their own leadership style and the opportunities for personal growth are profound — if you’re willing to listen.
The weekend is filled with opportunities for sharing with other professionals and students. And the friendships formed can last a lifetime. But while the weekend is filled with the idealism of SPJ, there also are the realities of being a chapter leader.
Because when you head back to your chapter after the weekend in Indianapolis, you’ll still have to deal with personalities and agendas and problems with follow-through.
The difference is this time you’re coming home with tools to engage inactive members and energize board members and future leaders. You’ve been handed an opportunity to transfer that energy to a larger group. But you’ve got to be willing to learn just as you are willing to lead.
I’ve had the opportunity to interview many leaders in my career, and I try to internalize some of the poignant messages they’ve shared. Here’s one I shared about the importance of listening with the Scripps participants:
Ana Mollinedo is the vice president of diversity, communications and community affairs at Starwood Hotels based in White Plains, N.Y. She is a Cuban-American woman with a sharp mind and engaging presence. I asked her about important lessons she has carried with her during her career. She replied:
“In my mid-20s I was lobbying for a business group in Florida. I was the only woman on the team and the only Hispanic in the office. My boss, who was not the most progressive man, said he wanted to talk to me about my attire,” she said.
She was wearing a dress up to her neck and down to her ankles with a big bow and her hair in a ponytail.
“He told me when I went back to the Capitol tomorrow to notice what the women there were wearing. Then come back to the office and notice what the assistants were wearing,” she said.
The women across the street were wearing suits, and the assistants were wearing dresses.
“He told me to think about what message I wanted to send. I have never worn a dress to work again.
“You can choose to be offended or you can choose to grow and determine what you’re going to learn from that experience that makes you better,” she said.
Sometimes you need to hear your clothes aren’t working, your impatience is having a negative effect, your multitasking has resulted in diluted focus, your leadership style is putting others off or your inability to follow through is hurting the organization. And as a good leader, you need to be willing to hear those messages and to grow from them.
I’ve been a member of SPJ since 1986, when I joined as a sophomore at Ohio University. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the organization over that time.
I joined the Cleveland Pro Chapter board in 1993 after I learned that a national convention had been held in Cleveland and as a weekly newspaper reporter I had never been made aware of it happening. My first national convention in Fort Worth in 2002 was a highly negative experience. I had been a chapter leader of a large professional chapter and traveled all that way by myself only to be greeted with an organization of insiders that wasn’t very willing to let me in.
I was indignant and let the national leadership know in a series of terse e-mails sent in the following weeks.
Less than a year later, I found myself at the Scripps Leadership Institute, and though I had my defenses up and was ready for a fight, what greeted me instead were sympathetic leaders who were willing to hear how they could better serve the membership.
Since that time I’ve had the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is. I’ve helped to elevate the presence and voice of SPJ’s growing freelance community, planned panels for national conventions, led two regional conventions and traveled to South Korea to speak at the East Asia Journalists Forum.
Being an SPJ leader for me is an ongoing struggle to balance the idealist with the realist. But I’m learning, ever slowly, that one of the best responses a leader can have is simply to shut up and listen.
Wendy Hoke is a Cleveland-based writer and editor. She serves as co-chairperson of SPJ’s National Freelance Committee.
Her online Weblog, Creative Ink, can be found at www.creativeink.blogspot.com.