The Best Leadership Strategies From Today's Top Journalism Innovators
“I geek out about leadership,” says Mira Lowe, president of Journalism & Women Symposium, assistant dean at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications and director of the Innovation News Center there.
Leading a panel on “Stepping into Leadership” at the recent JAWS Conference and Mentoring Program, Lowe, who was a recent participant in Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change The World in Journalism program, adds, “Leadership is a constant avocation. You are never done learning about leadership.”
Jhimra Alexander, president of Public Narrative and former owner and principal of 29Eleven Consulting, says while she didn’t set out to be a leader, “I always had a desire to do what I loved.”
While she was also a project director, youth development and program designer, Alexander says, “Every pile of ash I stood in prepared me for these moments. I am learning to use my experiences to write history.”
Kristin Gilger, senior associate dean and professor of business journalism at Arizona State University, is the co-author of the new book, There’s No Crying In Newsrooms: What Women Have Learned About What It Takes To Lead, a chronicle of women leaders in newsrooms over the past 40 years.
With 40 years experience in newsrooms as a reporter and editor, Gilger says there have been three waves of women in U.S. newsrooms. The first were the Pioneers in the 40s, 50s and 60s, where women “had to act like one the guys,” Gilger says.
The second wave was in 1970 when they “started opening doors to women and started having some diversity in newsrooms.” The women in this wave of leadership learned “in order to keep our seat at the table, we had to adapt,” Gilger says.
The Modern Movement is happening now, when women leaders are “much less likely to put up and shut up. They are less willing to invest parts of themselves in what they don’t totally believe in. And they are not willing to put up with bad behavior.”
Jennifer Kho, strategic innovation director at Huffington Post, is the former managing editor, editorial partnerships editor and sustainable business editor at The Guardian U.S.. For Kho, leadership has involved “diplomacy,” she says. “It’s about building relationships.”
Alexander agrees that leadership “starts and ends with communication and listening.” She acknowledges that inferences, presumptions and expectations about women in particular are “a hinderance that exists beyond our ethnicities and genders.”
Still, Alexander adds, “I don’t want to be a type of leader where someone feels forced to be on my side. We all have choices to make and we are not free from the consequences of those choices.”
Gilger contends that as a woman striving for a leadership role, “Failure helps.” She adds, “What a lot of women do is create a narrative for themselves. You need to be aware of the stories people tell about you.”
Kho says as a leader “I need to convince people to come along with me. It’s soft skills, but not actually very soft. It’s a toughness.’
A key tip Alexander has for leaders, she says is, “I approach things every day with fresh eyes. My point of view is not the only point of view.”
Kho says that it is her leadership style to concentrate on the big picture. She asks, “Are we headed in the right direction? That separates a leader from a manager.”
Lowe, who was a senior editor at CNN Digital, and prior to that editor in chief at JET magazine (the first woman to hold that position) and also assistant managing editor at Ebony and associated editor at Newsday, says that with each leadership position, “If it makes you afraid, it tends to be the opportunity you should take. Grow and push yourself, I would not shy away from it.”
Kho says she has benefited from the input “from mentors in different seasons in my life.”
Lowe adds, “One of my mentors is my mentee.”
At a separate panel over the weekend on mentorship and allyship, Fara Warner, project leader with Solutions Journalism Network, instructor at Poynter Institute and co-leader of Take The Lead’s 50 Women in Journalism Can Change The World cohort, led the panelists in a conversation about how best to be present for each other professionally.
“I thought if you just do your job really well, they will promote you,” says Warner, who was vice president and global editorial director of custom content at Wall Street Journal, and the author of The Power of The Purse: How Smart Companies Are Adapting to the World’s Most Important Consumers—Women.”
Alicia Bell, News Voices Organizing Manager at Free Press, says a key to institutional change is to have “a shift towards abundance. Because in the face of perceived scarcity, people cling to power and do not move.”
Alicia T. Crosby, co-founder of the Center for Inclusivity, says it is optimal to be “managing up, or making sure people above you share the goals. It’s about reframing.”
Carla Murphy, a social justice reporter and Echoing Ida editor, whose work has appeared in The Nation, Daily Beast, Christian Science Monitor and more, says, “If you can diversify your power base, that will be ideal.”
The question for you, then, as a leader, asks Crosby is, “What are you willing to risk?