Congratulations! Since you’re reading this post, chances are you’re a new manager. Perhaps you’re taking an editorial position on your student media staff in the fall, or you assumed an editorial post this summer and are anticipating what will happen when the bulk of your student body returns to campus. Either way, you should be excited about your new post. You also should be aware of some of the challenges ahead.
I know you’ve got a lot going on, so I read a ton, added my own insights and collected this list of tips for new managers. If you haven’t experienced or thought about these issues yet, now is the time!
Be friendly, not friends
It’s important for you to have a strong working relationship with all members of your newsroom staff. This means you are equally friendly with everyone in a professional way that creates a strong team environment. It doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with everyone or anyone in your newsroom. If you are friends with some staffers, which certainly makes work more fun, don’t let those friendships taint your relationships with others.
Avoid office politics/gossip
There will be people in your newsroom who are just cynical, for one reason or another. Don’t allow them alter your views. Form your own opinions about the workplace without being jaded by people who just want to complain.
Also, avoid gossiping about or among coworkers. This results in cliques being formed, may make employees wonder what you’re saying about them behind their backs and just makes you look unprofessional.
Don’t come in on the first day and immediately start making big announcements, decisions and changes. Instead, give yourself time to learn from others within your newsroom and really listen to their wants, needs and wishes before you start changing things up.
Retain this concept of learning first throughout your time as a manager. Ask employees what they think, really listen to their answers and determine how/if you can help. Learn from your staff.
While you need to learn first, newsrooms are fast-paced places. Don’t be afraid to take on your leadership role quickly and start making informed decisions. Take ownership of your role as an editor. It means you have the knowledge and ability to manage others.
Ask for help
I frequently am surprised by student journalists who say they “think they should know” things they don’t. Never be afraid to ask for help. If you knew everything there was to know about working in a newsroom, you wouldn’t still be a student or a staffer, you’d be running the joint. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It shows you are intelligent enough to understand your limitations.
People don’t like being told what to do. They like to be directed and inspired. Do not assume that being a manager means you bark orders and everyone does exactly what you want them to do. This management style will result in distrust, unhappiness and an empty newsroom. Instead, earn your team’s respect by listening to their ideas, engaging in discussions about the best ways to do work and communicating openly to help your team embrace your goals.
No one wants to work for a scatter brain. Create an organization system that works for you and stick with it. Always be on time and prepared. Set the tone for your staff.
Of course, we all have our days. If you find yourself showing signs of disorganization, take a few minutes to regroup.
Don’t over promise
I know you want to help your staff, but be wary of promising things you can’t actually do. If you make promises you can’t fulfill, it will make your staff feel like they can’t trust you or that you’re lying to them.
If you’re uncertain about whether you can make something happen, say so. Tell the staffer you’ll check into their need, then actually do some research and get back with them. If you can accomplish the task, great. If not, explain to the staffer why it can’t happen or can’t happen at this time. It might be difficult to do, but this will build your staff’s trust and respect.
If you know you can make something happen, but don’t think it’s best for the staff or your publications, explain why and listen to counterpoints from your staff.
If you know you can make something happen and you think it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it.
The fastest way to burn out in any management role is to try to do it all. You cannot function as a team of one. You must learn to hire well, delegate to those with the knowledge and skills to do the work, then step back and let them do it. Your staff, products and audience all suffer when you try to do everything. Oh, and you suffer too because you’ll be miserable and hate your job, having set yourself up for failure.
I don’t know a single person who doesn’t struggle with productivity. Even the most productive people wish they could do more. The truth is that we all have the same 24 hours in a day. Learn how to make those hours as productive as they can be for you. Being in a management role is a wonderful opportunity for you. Get as much out of it as you can and leave a positive legacy for future staffs.
Excuses are one of my biggest pet peeves as a supervisor. We can always find a reason why we can’t do something or why a mistake was unavoidable. Excuses undermine your credibility and make you look weak and lazy.
It’s ok to explain processes or ways of thinking, but don’t try to shuck responsibility. As I tell my student editors, shit rolls up hill when you reach the top. You’re ultimately responsible for whatever happens in your newsroom. That’s what being the boss is about.
This is a management trait I have to work at myself. It’s easy to get bogged down in all of the details of a task or by trying to make things perfect. Instead, do the best you can on a project or task in the time you have, then ship it! If you wait for perfection, you’ll never get anything accomplished. Focus on completing the task to a level you can be proud of, knowing there’s always room for improvement or expansion later.
Why do you do the things you do? Be able to articulate your organization’s vision and communicate it frequently with your staff. Once you help them buy in to your organization’s mission, they will become focused on helping you meet your mutual goals.
Know your employees
Knowing your employees is not just about relationships. It’s also about situational leadership, which means figuring out how to manage each of your employees individually in a way that’s best for him/her. Using situational leadership is the best way to become a great leader who employees respect and remember fondly. Start studying up on this concept today.
Have difficult conversations
No one likes having difficult conversations like those about poor employee performance, missed deadlines or conflicts in the newsroom, but addressing these issues in a timely, calm and respectful way is part of what makes managers leaders and helps organizations function at their best. The quickest way to lose the respect of your best employees is to avoid addressing issues.
One of the great things about working in a newsroom is having flexibility in your schedule. As long as your staffers meet their deadlines, don’t put a lot of rules on when they are physically in the newsroom. Require them to be there only when they’re actually working. Show that you are respectful of their time. As a manager, you likely will spend more time in the newsroom than most other staffers. That’s ok. Just because you’re there doesn’t mean they have to be.
Everyone loves to know how they’re doing. Give staffers specific feedback on things they’re doing well. Praise them in front of others. Avoid correcting staffers in front of others. Instead, give them constructive advice in private.
I know this sounds cliché, but you have to love what you do to do it well. Unhappy managers breed unhappy staffs and create poor products. If you hate being a manager, don’t be one. You always have a choice. But do not get trapped in a management role and make everyone around you miserable. You set the tone (whether you realize it or not) in your organization. Make it a positive one.
Do great work
You do not have to do every job your staff does (in fact, you shouldn’t), but you must be able to perform every role in your newsroom well.
Also, not only should you be a great manager, you should do great work yourself. Write big stories (but don’t save them all for yourself), create strong training programs, organize important projects… lead your staff by example by doing great work yourself.
Find your safe place
Managers need help too. Find a person (perhaps your adviser) to mentor you through the management process. Go to him or her for advice and discussion, but remember that it still is a professional relationship. Don’t gripe to your mentor about your job or gossip about others. Find a friend or partner outside of the newsroom who you can “vent” to.
Understand the lifestyle
Being a journalist is a lifestyle, not just a job. If you’re in a newsroom management position, you already know that. However, being a manager is even more so. You don’t get to stop being a manager. It is a change in the way you think and behave, always. Make yourself available to your team. Set the standard of how you want them to treat each other and their future employees.
Work on it
Your real goal during your time as a manager is to work toward becoming a leader. You cannot name yourself a leader and make it so. Leader is a title others give you after you’ve earned it. Learning to be a better leader doesn’t stop. It’s something I work on every day. Some days I’m good at it. Others, I need improvement, but the payoff for being a strong leader truly is a happier, more fulfilled life.
Congratulations again on your new position. I know you’ve got a lot to think about and so much to do. Let’s get to work!
Let’s Talk Nerdy!
What is the best advice you can give new managers about what they should or should not do?