I truly enjoyed most of my last 10 years holding leadership roles in legacy media companies, transforming them from within, leading teams, developing new ways to do journalism, leading product processes, pursuing business opportunities and fostering a mindset of innovation and change. I enjoy working with people, helping them grow and excel, which these roles allowed me to do. And I love the energy in high-paced, intense, decision-heavy work environments – and media companies in transformation processes definitely have their share of that.
There were things that I didn’t love, though: The lack of creative space and lack of appreciation for innovation. The millions of meetings. Petty political fights on the management level. But, more than anything, the share of bad leaders I encountered, followed by disbelief when they still got rewarded with additional responsibilities by boards or CEOs. The often complete nonexistence of diversity on the higher leadership levels, and the absence of a conscious strategy to counter that problem. The lack of appreciation for employees – manifested in the absence of continuing education, growth opportunities, professional feedback and, often, empathy. The lack of professional and appreciative communication. Old fashioned command-and-control leadership styles that I thought would have been extinct in the 21st century.
We Need to Radically Transform
I tried to change some of these things from the inside and, I hope, succeeded in at least some of them. But most of my time was, obviously, focused on the business bottom line and shipping of products per se and in hindsight, I did not invest enough time in cultural transformation.
At some point I realized that the challenge is so much bigger than “just” transforming the product suite or strategy of one organization:
What if it is not the new product, the hot storytelling feature, the great conversion strategy or the modern CMS that will “save” the media industry/the news organization in question, but if it’s rather our culture that is holding us back and that will, ultimately, kill us if we don’t radically transform? Why are we not talking openly about this elephant in the room? And who are going to be the leaders that drive the necessary culture change, while being knowledgable about business innovation in the media industry?
What Impact Do I Want to Have?
Suddenly, the things I focused my energy and time on in my daily managerial routines did not feel radical enough anymore. I started to think a lot about impact: How can I touch as many people as possible with this idea of modern, innovative, empathetic leadership? How might we create a network of media changemakers that can change the narrative on how leadership is supposed to look like and behave in news organizations? How might we break the walls between the silos in media organizations to collaborate in developing sustainable business models and products that truly touch our audiences? In short, I knew it was time for a change of perspective.
The challenge I accepted at the Newmark J-School at CUNY is simple, yet daunting: Creating programs for media leaders at the intersection of editorial, product, business and technology that want to become better at fostering innovation and driving change.
A definition often used for impact in education is: “Impact is the difference we make in people’s lives as a result of the programs we conduct.”
This is how I am going measure my impact over the next years when I am building these initiatives at the school: Leaving a dent in the media universe, via the people we work with through our programs.
We will be starting off our first executive program with an incredible cohort in January 2020. You can find more information about it here, and please feel free to reach out anytime if you want to know more or get involved.
Some great reads on impact:
- HBR with a great piece on the difference between purpose and impact.
- Strategies to measure impact in social enterprises by SSIR.
- Is there a way to measure the impact of leadership development?
(This text was published first as a newsletter August 2019)