Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Whatever happened to the leaders?

Delighted to see Alan Geere active on Twitter at long last. His thought for today is We're all followers ... where are all the leaders? Good question. There is certainly a vacancy. If you fancy applying here is the job description that I ran in my Press Gazette column this year. Any takers? 
 Ben Bradlee - all editors need supportive publishers
 (and that is one of today's fundamental problems)
If ever leadership was needed in the regional newspaper industry – it is needed now. I see plenty of managers, controlling costs and reading from the corporate script, but genuine leaders appear thin on the ground. Maybe they are too busy retreating. Yet, traditionally, it is during adversity that our greatest leaders have stepped forward? In my 33 years in the regional Press there have always been big characters, prepared to fight for what they believed in. So now the industry is going though perhaps its darkest hour, what has happened to all the heroes? The answer, sadly, rests with the first quality of leadership – having a vision.  As theologian Theodore Hesburgh  aptly put it, you can't blow an uncertain trumpet. But does anyone have a clear mapped out strategy beyond the management of decline?  Newspapers have dabbled with video, blogging, social networking, going free, web first, paywalls, UGC  – all without much real conviction, investment or, to be frank, results. That is not to devalue the editors guiding their staffs and publications through difficult times. If they could get out of the engine room and on to the bridge, I know many who have real leadership qualities. So if anyone fancies the job, this is what it entails. You will require:

Vision. The essence of leadership.  People won’t follow you if you don’t know where you are going. 

Communication skills.  No point in having a vision if nobody knows about it. You need to be an articulate orator and to understand the resistance and fears of others.

Integrity. People have to trust you and your motives.  If you are just regurgitating the company line, if you don’t genuinely believe, if you don’t have strong values, you are unlikely to earn that trust. 

Commitment. Leaders do whatever it takes to achieve their goal. Hard work and energy are essential.

Charisma. Leaders are never dull. You need to be interesting and passionate.

Courage. Leaders can be afraid … but they can’t be shackled by their anxieties. You need the courage to say No (much harder than saying Yes) and to understand that your own position may be threatened

Confidence. In yourself, your vision and your people.

Creativity. Newspapers require creative and radical solutions. Padding the same path as your predecessors is not the role of a leader.

Strength. You will put yourself and often your family under stress. You need to be assertive, which is very different from aggressive, in the face of resistance and personal pressure.

Resourcefulness. Ben Bradlee, one of the great editors of our time, had the full support of his publisher Katharine Graham during Watergate. He couldn’t have done it without her. I know editors who do have a vision for regional newspapers –many believe that they should be locally owned, operating on smaller margins and providing a comprehensive community service. For that they need financial backing, otherwise it is no more than a pipe dream. Leaders need to call on all of the qualities above to get the resources to achieve their goal.

There is more of course –  including  judgment, knowledge, humility, responsiveness, fairness and consistency. So if anyone is up for it, that’s the job description. There certainly appears to be a vacancy.

I will leave the last words to Lord Slim and his pertinent and still relevant assessment of the difference between leadership and management.
Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision. Its practice is an art. Management is of the mind, more a matter of accurate calculations, statistics, methods, timetables, and routine. Its practice is a science. Managers are necessary. Leaders are essential.


  1. Hi Peter
    Great thought from (Sir) Alan yesterday
    Keep your eyes and ears open for what we are doing at Archant London. We're not redesigning our portfolio but completely rethinking and rebooting them.
    We putting more reporters out on patch. Investing in five (appointed yesterday) visual journalists and are going to produce products for readers and viewers rather than products for journalists as so many publications are guilty of doing. Its all about storytelling and finding the best way to tell that story and engage with our audience.

  2. Thanks Steve. Tell me more. I am writing an article on the outlook for the regional Press and any thoughts are welcome. You can email me on petersands@mistral.co.uk