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Management style: It's about them, not you

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot

We should be constantly evolving throughout our careers. Your "style" as a recent college grad likely will be different from your style 30 years later.

Throughout your career, you'll likely step into many different roles -- that of underling, mentor, veteran, peer, collaborator, manager and leader. (Yes, manager and leader are two different things.)

There's been a lot written about Jill Abramson and her recent firing from the New York Times. Regardless of what you believe was the root cause of her firing, it did bring issues about management style to the forefront. There were a lot of adjectives tossed around in the wake of her firing, including condescending, difficult, aloof and abrasive.

What managers intend to be, what they are perceived to be and what they really rarely line up. And that's where there's trouble.

Too many newsroom managers are promoted from the rank-and-file with little or no management training. And then they are frustrated, as are their bosses, when they fail to get the results they want.

When asked what the problem is, many respond with something like, "I don't know. My management style is pretty approachable."

Let's pause here. ... Because this is important:

Take a minute and answer this question: What is your management style?

Now think about this: How many times did your answers start with "I" or "My"? Did anyone answer "It depends" and respond from the employee's perspective? Ideally, that's what you should be doing.

"Your" management style shouldn't be about you; it should be about your employees.

How you approach the self-flagellating intern should be different from how you supervise the 20-year Pulitzer Prize winning veteran.

My style when I first started in journalism as a page designer was -- to be honest -- that of a prickly, defensive, overly sensitive creative "artist." Later, as I got further away from design and deeper into copy editing, my style evolved into -- to be honest -- that of a prickly, perfectionist copy editor who lived in a black-and-white world of rules and deadlines.

Over the years, my style has changed based upon the roles I've played at my job and the employees I've managed. Now, overseeing digital technology, training and innovation, my "style" incorporates some aspects of a taskmaster with metrics, a coach with training and tech, a door-opener for doers and a rewarder of success.

There's no such thing as "my" management style. The approach I take is the one that is most likely to help me accomplish the goals of my company with the different personalities I work with.

Management is hard. There's a lot to learn. Find training wherever you can: Take courses online, find a mentor outside your company, read books or blogs (my personal favorite experts to follow are Jill Geisler of the Poynter Institute, Steve Buttry of LSU, Harvard Business Review and Peter Drucker).

I don't care how good your instincts are. You'll never be a great leader unless you invest as much time in learning about management as you did in learning how to write great headlines or great ledes.

• I'll be teaching a webinar this Thursday, July 24, at Poynter's NewsU about the natural conflict between task-oriented bosses and creative employees. And how to manage creatives and open doors for them. This course is a part of the American Copy Editors Society certificate program with Poynter.

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