We need leadership now more than ever

By Jerry Bellune

The jury is still out on the future of our industry. Many community newspaper publishers tell me they're seeing an improvement in sales and revenue.

Personally, our August net profit was up 171.3 percent over August of 2009. We're not back to where we were in 2006 and 2007 but we're closing the gap.

When people ask you if newspapers have a future, what do you tell them? You might paraphrase Mark Twain and say "News of our demise has been vastly exaggerated." But I think we face two new challenges as an economic recovery gains traction:

  1. Competition for our best people will increase.  As other newspapers and media outlets begin to staff up again, they are going to look for the cream of the crop. They won't come looking for your losers. They will try to lure away your top performers. That's why we should practice Jack Welch's employment policy at General Electric. Romance your top 10 percent producers and make them never want to leave you.
  2. Competition for the best talent will increase.  As escalating revenues make hiring possible, we will be competing with everybody else for talent. And it will come at a premium in pay , perks and benefits. That's why we should stress leadership over management. No one wants to be managed.  To quote the title and theme of my leadership book, "Lead People, Manage Things."

Bill Rogers, director of the South Carolina Press Association, and I believe leadership is critical to survival. If we act like managerial bureaucrats, we will lose our best people. We will make it easy for our competitors to pick them off to join their teams.

I had those attending the academy teach themselves about leadership. The session was interactive. It made the participants think and share their own leadership experiences. They got a lot more out of it and I mostly sat back and learned, too.

Here are the top five strategies that emerged from our session:

  1. Good leaders think far ahead.  I once worked with a publisher who cut me a lot of slack and gave me a powerful incentive. "You focus on tomorrow, next week and next month," he said. "I'll focus on next year." I had not known anyone who thought that far ahead. It got me to thinking far ahead as well. If you're not looking beyond the next issue of your newspaper, you're making a mistake. And you need to encourage and train your people to be thinking ahead, too. That's real Leadership with a capital "L."
  2. Look to great leaders and model their behavior.  All of us have worked for some really fine leaders. We've probably worked for some stinkers, too. Remember what the stinkers did and don't do it. Remember what the real leaders did and copy their example.
  3. Remember you are always on stage.  As a leader at your newspaper, your people are constantly watching what you do. It's how they learn real leadership. Never forget that they hear your every word and watch your every move. You are always on stage and what you do is constantly evaluated. Make sure it's a good evaluation. I'm impatient and hot headed by nature. Those are two weaknesses I have to control. You probably have some weak nesses, too. None of us are perfect. Work on your weaknesses. If you don't, your weaknesses will do you in as a leader.
  4. Develop the leaders around you.  These are the people you need to groom to take your place when you move up. How do you do that? You start by teaching them the basics of leadership. You talk with them about it. You ask for their opinions about it. Everyone has a picture of what a leader is. You correct them in private and encourage them to do the same with their people. You praise in public every one who does something outstanding. That teaches them the behavior you favor. Your people learn by your example. Make it a great example to follow.
  5. Show abundant appreciation.  When was the last time someone you respected paid you a compliment? It was great wasn't it? I remember as a relative rookie on a big city newspaper copy desk watching the managing editor like a hawk. He was a terrific journalist and all of us stood a little in awe of him. He would occasionally come over to the desk and demand to know who had written a particular headline. I would meekly admit to it, expecting to be scolded for some unimaginable error. "Best headline in the three-star edition," he would say , turn and walk away . I could go on that compliment for a week. Research shows that people value recognition and appreciation above a raise or a day off. We all like to be recognized for outstanding performance and to feel appreciated for coming to work.

© The Bellune Co. Inc.

Jerry Bellune and his family operate their own book and newspaper publishing companies. For details about his weekly Advertising and Marketing Letter, e-mail him at Jerry@JerryBellune.com.

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