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Advice for new (and old) leaders

Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes -- Peter Drucker

I remember, way back in the dark ages, when I was promoted from copy editor to an "editor" management position, I knew exactly what I didn't want to be. I didn't want to be anything like the bad bosses I'd had in the past.

I didn't want to be a boss that blamed his/her subordinates for his/her mistakes. I didn't want to be a boss that settled for okay instead of amazing. I didn't want to be a boss that didn't listen. I didn't want to be a boss that sugar-coated the facts. I didn't want to be aloof and unapproachable. I didn't want to be autocratic, but I also didn't want to be laissez-faire.

But what qualities did I want to have? Open door. Straight shooter. Honest. High standards. Fair.

And I worked hard at developing my leadership style. I gave clear feedback. I treated everyone the same. I set high standards. The staff would love me, the paper would win Pulitzers and there would be peace throughout the land....

No one was more shocked than I when I failed.

The point of this blog is more than self-flagellation. Steve Buttry, Digital Transformation editor for Digital First Media and the Journal Register Company, has been running a series of blogs with advice for new editors on his Buttry Diary website. He asked me to contribute a post for new editors, and I chose to write about leadership.

I fell into two traps that new managers and editors often do. First, I focused on what I was the most comfortable with: journalism tasks. I could re-edit, rewrite, re-report stories. I could redesign pages. I could tweak headlines. What I didn't do was be a "coach" who helped others improve their work instead of autocratically doing it for them.

My second mistake was thinking that leadership was all about me and my style. In reality, it has everything to do with the team you're leading.

Much like your writing style needs to change from a feature story to a crime report, good leaders tailor their message to fit the person he or she is trying to reach.

There are several major leadership styles. Authoritarian, charismatic, innovative, participative and delegative are just a few. Good leaders pull from all these styles to accomplish different tasks or lead different groups.

Some just need a nudge. Others need a push with a bulldozer. Some can follow direction in an email. Others need one-on-one. Some need encouragement and hand-holding. Others just need you to open the door and get out of the way.

Management is a learned skill. Invest the time in teaching yourself. Read some books (I like "Who Moved My Cheese"). Follow some blogs (Jill Geisler at Poynter is among my favorites.) Get some training (check out Dale Carnegie for some cheap, one-hour sessions). Seriously consider taking the Myers-Briggs type indicator test. Read up on listening preferences.

The age-old question is whether good leaders are born or made. I'd argue that the truth likes in changing the conjunction: Good leaders are born, but great leaders are made.

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