If you’re interested in leadership — and who isn’t? — I’ve got a book to recommend.
Blood on the Out-Basket: Lessons in Leadership from a Newspaper Junkie was written by a friend, Mike Waller, a former editor of The Kansas City Star and The Kansas City Times. It’s a 135-page paperback, which sells for an affordable $16.95.
Before I get into more about the book, I want to relate a couple of stories about Waller, who went on to become editor of The Hartford Courant and then publisher and c.e.o. His last position was publisher and c.e.o. of The Sun in Baltimore. He retired in late 2002 and now lives with his wife, Donna, in South Carolina.
Story No. 1: At least once when I was a reporter at The Star, Waller came over, sat down beside me and tilted his head back so he could see the words on my computer monitor through the lower part of his glasses. After studying the text for a minute or so, he said something like, “Are you sure that’s what you want your lead (first paragraph) to be?”
We then discussed the gist of the story for a couple of minutes. I don’t remember whether I made any changes or not (probably did), but, regardless, Waller was the only editor of a paper that I ever saw who would sit down beside reporters and read and discuss stories as they were being written. I’ll tell you, it was a wonderful feeling to have the top editor taking an interest in your story while it was under construction.
Story No. 2: I remember a time, back in the 80s, I believe, when Gil Bourk, then chairman of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, lied to me about the executive director’s salary. The CVB, mostly funded by the city, wasn’t used to getting attention from the press, and Bourk thought he could conceal the salary information, which, actually, was subject to the Missouri Sunshine Act.
After I got the records and found that the director’s salary was significantly higher than what Bourk had told me, I began writing a story about it, saying, right off the top, that Bourk had misrepresented the salary.
It being a touchy situation and Bourk being a well-known civic leader, an assistant city editor, Bob Lynn, and I sought Waller’s counsel. He suggested that we present it as a misunderstanding. At first, Lynn and I reluctantly agreed, but after I turned in the story, Lynn said, “This is bullshit,” and went straight to Waller’s office.
When he came back, he said he had convinced Waller to let us tell the story like it was — that Bourk had misrepresented the director’s salary.
That incident showed me and Lynn that our top editor was willing to change his mind and also willing to buck the establishment. It just elevated our admiration of him.
While this book is rooted in Waller’s journalistic experiences, its messages and lessons apply to every type of business and organization — profit or nonprofit, public or private.
The book’s theme is the exercise of effective leadership, including the importance of teamwork, integrity, innovation and, perhaps most important, listening to employees.
Along the way, Waller relates some compelling stories from his years in journalism, including how The Star executed its Pulitzer-Prize-winning coverage of the Hyatt Regency disaster in July 1981.
But back to his managerial philosophy. Following are a few excerpts on various subjects.
** Sharing of power:
“The more you use it, the more you lose it. So choose carefully when to exercise power.
“The source of power is people, not position. Power is granted to you by those who work for you, not by those for whom you work. Your title will only carry you so far.
“Power flows in the direction of hope. Your job is to prevent powerlessness, which produces despair, stifles enthusiasm and saps energy. Put everyone in charge of something. You can share power and knowledge and wind up being more powerful than ever.”
** Respecting employees:
“Leaders respect employees by trusting them, communicating honestly with them, coaching them and celebrating their achievements.”
“Learn to get your satisfaction through the success of others. Be prepared to make sacrifices for the team’s overall good. Build up your teammates, not yourself. Honor your commitments and help to build trust.”
“Pay attention when someone is speaking to you. Don’t prepare what you’ll say while they’re talking. Look people in the eye. Before responding, repeat the message you think you’ve just heard to avoid misunderstandings. Remember that many people are not expecting answers; they just want someone to listen.”
After reading this book, my first thought was that I sincerely wish someone had given me some management training along these lines before I became an assistant city editor, running the Kansas City, Kansas, bureau in 1995…It would have spared me, not to mention the reporters I supervised, a lot of grief.
You can purchase Waller’s book online through The Kansas City Star Store, Amazon or any of several bookstores. I got mine through Rainy Day Books in Fairway.
Wonderful book, Mike. You’re the greatest!