A newspaper publisher once told me only somewhat in jest that if it weren’t for money and people, managing would be easy.
I’ve been thinking about managing and leadership lately in light of some local and national stories related to people in positions of authority falling short of expectations.
Nationally, we have had to endure the saga of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, 67, who last month was convicted of sexually assaulting a former production assistant in 2006 and raping an ex-actress in 2013.
The verdict culminated decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Weinstein, including accusations that he promised to help advance careers in return for sexual favors.
Closer to home, Albert Colom, UW-Eau Claire’s vice chancellor of enrollment management, recently stepped down amid allegations of gender discrimination and creating a toxic work environment. He will fill out the remaining six months of his job off campus.
Also, Dan Peggs, Altoona school superintendent, recently was charged with possessing child pornography and sex trafficking. He is in the Madison area on house arrest.
A lot of people who end up managing never had specific training in that area beforehand. This is especially true in newsrooms, where journalists were trained in writing, reporting, editing, page design, photography, and now multi-media skills.
But managing people is never on the list until reporters become editors. I imagine many professions might be like that. Sales reps become sales managers. Bank tellers become loan officers and eventually vice presidents. College professors become department chairs and eventually deans or chancellors.
It can be a daunting task. Now, instead of just knowing and doing your own job, you have to pay attention to other people’s job performances and the culture of the organization. You have to hire, fire, balance budgets and take on many other responsibilities.
Most learn as they go, making mistakes along the way. And sometimes it doesn’t work out; someone who was very good at the job they had may not be good at managing others.
Weinstein obviously represents the worst in leadership. That is, using his position of power to force others to submit to him or risk having their jobs terminated.
Indirectly, that’s why I strongly disagree with the court’s conclusion that “money equals speech” in our politics. Demanding sex in exchange for job security isn’t the same as accepting campaign contributions in exchange for favorable legislation, but the parallel isn’t hard to see.
Honesty and integrity are two qualities we all should aspire to, but it’s surprising how often leaders fall short. Consider Larry Lokken, Eau Claire County’s former longtime treasurer, who turned his position of authority into a personal ATM, making off with hundreds of thousands of dollars until he was found out after leaving office.
So with examples of how not to manage, here are some things that make a good manager.
• Hire good people. Honest, intelligent, dependable and hard-working people make managing much easier because those folks don’t need much managing. All they need are the tools to do their jobs and a healthy environment around them, and they’ll make any manager look good.
I was at a newspaper management seminar once, and one of the editor panelists said she employed the “no-jerk rule” in her newsroom. She went on to explain that having smart, skilled people wasn’t enough if they are jerks, which in turn can poison the operation.
• Don’t forget where you came from. A former colleague told me he had a lot of respect for a former boss because there wasn’t a job in the newsroom the boss couldn’t jump in and perform in a pinch. Not every boss can possibly have such capability, but bosses in smaller operations who delegate every task large and small to somebody else wouldn’t be missed if they weren’t there.
• Respect other views. It’s cliché to say that most good ideas come from the bottom up, not the top down, but it’s generally true, especially in newsrooms. Reporters out on the street should have a better idea of what’s going on than a boss sitting in an office, and it’s wise to tap others’ opinions and use good ideas from all employees to build better organizations.
That said, I get confused sometimes reading about college campuses where leaders are accused of not embracing “shared governance.” That term, I believe, is the idea that the campus should be directed by a consensus that includes input from faculty, staff and students, rather than a traditional top-down flow chart.
I’m all for welcoming a range of views, but there are a couple of challenges to making this work. First, if the views of the boss are no better than anyone else’s, why go through the pomp and circumstance of hiring and inaugurating a chancellor? Why not just pick a name out of a hat?
Also, if everyone is in charge, can’t that also mean no one is in charge? And shouldn’t “shared governance” also mean “shared responsibility” if things go wrong? In theory, yes. In practice, no. Harry Truman was right when he put the sign, “The buck stops here,” on his desk.
Finding the right management style changes over time, and what works in one workplace or with one employee might not work in another shop or with a different employee. But one thing I don’t think has changed is that showing up for work prepared and enthused usually works with your boss, because if the boss is smart, that’s all he or she can ask. And, it’s what they have a right to expect.
Employees also have a right to expect their bosses to be respectful, fair and honest. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Reach Huebscher, a contributing columnist and former Leader-Telegram editor, at email@example.com.