This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.
Sometimes a new editor inadvertently squelches staff creativity and initiative by telling staff members what they should be doing and how. An editor can communicate priorities and stimulate staff creativity by asking, rather than telling.
Whether you’re asking about general staff performance or specific stories, good questions are effective leadership tools.
If you tell a reporter she needs to crowdsource this story and she’s already planning to do that, the reaction might be dismissive and disrespectful (or convey that she doesn’t think you respect her). If you tell a reporter to crowdsource and she wasn’t planning to, maybe you set off a power tussle unnecessarily. If you ask how she’s going to crowdsource, you are saying crowdsourcing is important to you. But you also show respect that you understand she knows this is a crowdsourcing opportunity (whether that is reinforcement to a reporter heading in the right direction or a prod to the resisting reporter). Whatever the reporter’s crowdsourcing plans, the resulting discussion is likely to be more positive: a briefing on effective crowdsourcing plans or some brainstorming on how crowdsourcing might be helpful.
Don’t drive this principle to extremes. Sometimes you will have to tell your staff what to do (especially if the answers to your questions show the staff member is headed in the wrong direction).
But keep this in mind: When you tell, your staff gets the benefit of only your ideas and creativity. When you ask, you unlock the creativity of your staff.
How have you (or an editor you worked for) used effective questions to guide journalists to creative solutions?
Earlier posts with advice for editors
Here are topics I am planning on covering in this series (the order is tentative). What other topics should I cover?
- Respecting authorship
- Face-to-face communication
- Personal life
- Time management
- Developing new leaders
- The editor’s blog
- Role models
The posts probably will run daily Monday-Friday for the next few weeks. If you’re another Digital First editor (or a leader or former leader in another organization) and would like to propose a guest post as part of the series, email me at sbuttry (at) digitalfirstmedia (dot) com and we’ll discuss. I’m not interested in a post of general leadership tips. I’d rather have a post on a particular leadership topic. Feel free to suggest a post that might address a topic I’ve already covered, but from a different perspective. I welcome posts that disagree with my advice. I will invite a few editors I respect to write posts.