By MIRA LOWE
Soon after becoming senior features editor at CNN Digital, my über boss surprised me by telling me to not make any immediate changes with respect to staffing or resources or content. Take 60 to 90 days to figure things out, she said.
I remember thinking, “Wow!” Having been editor in chief of JET magazine in Chicago, and before that an associate editor at Newsday in New York, I couldn’t imagine needing that much time to stake my claim as deciding what should change. You know, succumbing to the urge to prove I was worth hiring.
But my über boss’ advice was crucial. Don’t try to chart a new path without seeing what already exists. No matter how much leadership or management experience you think you have – take time to learn the new terrain. Learn for yourself what your staff can really do. Who among your peers really shares the company’s values, mission and culture? Who’s self-interested? Who may want to see you fail?
Once you’ve assessed where things stand, come up with two to three ideas that would break new ground, improve inefficiencies or encourage creativity. Again, the aim is to have long-term impact on the work and the workplace.
As the business of journalism and media continues to evolve, newsrooms must also quickly adapt. Leaders need to be nimble and help those they supervise to keep pace. In a climate of constant reinvention, effective leadership means communicating more not less. Making the vision plain. Underscoring the goals. Encouraging innovation.
So how does one become a successful newsroom leader, especially if you’re a first-time manager or new to the situation? Listen. Learn. Then, execute.
Before you can affect change and influence others, you must take the time to understand how things are done and build relationships. Yes, you may want to immediately impress as a new manager by making speedy changes. But the smarter play is to assess for greater value in the long run.
Oftentimes, becoming a newsroom leader is on-the-job training. Seek out mentors and classes to help fill in the learning gaps. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Familiarize yourself with various aspects of the business.
Note to bosses: To build an even stronger management team, identify potential leaders and develop them. The transition for all involved will be smoother, the career path for the new leaders will be clearer and retention rates will be higher. Also, great leaders willingly assume responsibility for others and empower others to lead and succeed.
Here are five enduring traits of effective leaders:
- They are humble and shine the light on others. They don’t need or seek the credit.
- They are optimistic and forward thinking. Having a positive outlook fosters productivity.
- They are decisive and take action. Wishy-washy leadership inspires no one.
- They are trustworthy, accessible, honest and consistent. People won’t follow you if they don’t trust you.
- They are authentic. True to self, they don’t try to lead like someone else would. They are confident in their ability to create the future.
So what about those first 90 days on the job at CNN Digital? Did it help me to help my team flourish in the long run? Absolutely. We experimented with new projects that helped us to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement. I built relationships with other units across the company that supplemented and advanced our department’s overall goals and objectives. I also used that time to draft and present a strategic vision for my sections to my über boss and other supervisors.
So my best advice to anyone new to newsroom leadership is to resist the urge to be the proverbial bull in the china shop. It’s not necessary to break glass for the sake of breaking glass to let people know you’re there. Take time to create a wider, better path within your shop.
Trust me, after the first 60 to 90 days, people will have noticed.
Mira Lowe is the Senior Editor for Features at CNN Digital, overseeing the entertainment, health, lifestyle, travel and special tech coverage on CNN.com and mobile. Lowe is responsible for key editorial initiatives, partnerships and multiplatform opportunities while managing a team of nearly 20. Prior to joining the Turner Broadcasting Co. in Atlanta in 2012, she was the editor-in-chief of JET magazine in Chicago, where she became the first woman to helm the No. 1 African-American newsweekly. Her print experience also extends to newspapers, including Newsday, where she has worked as an editor and recruiter.