I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have such a rich and diverse group of bosses and mentors in my career. I was offered the opportunity to learn the inner workings of news media organizations early in life. I eventually realized those opportunities came from great mentors believing that I may be responsible for leading large groups at some point. As an unfavorable consequence, I conceded to being held to a different standard or possibly knowing I wasn’t allowed as much room for error. I never wanted to let others down, so overcoming the stress of dealing with risk and adversity became a way of life. Everything was a lesson to learn before the following responsibility. I was appreciative, but at each new level, I slowly began to realize something odd — there weren’t many individuals that looked like me at C-suite levels in news media.
I understand that diversity at any industry’s C-suite and executive levels is typically always top-of-mind and has been in various stages of reform for decades. However, I’ve noticed one underlying, abstruse point of contention in past years that may affect the future state of diversity in the C-suite. It’s the feeling of being uncomfortable.
It may not seem shocking, but I’d like to give more context. It’s widely understood that holding executive and c-level positions at many organizations can be uncomfortable. You have the proverbial fate of the company's future in your hands, and depending on the circumstances, you may be tasked with extremely stressful initiatives or strategies. Suppose you can lead an organization in this capacity but have discovered that you’re not inherently self-confident in your leadership skills. In that case, you may become more averse to risk and uncomfortable with unfamiliar surroundings. The stress and anxiety can be crippling, and instead of looking to engineer solutions, you’ll slowly begin to manufacture blame. Herein lies the dilemma. When self-doubt starts to seep into the leadership spirit and anxiety is at its highest, can you, as the leader of your organization, retain true objectivity in hiring your management team?
Please note that each situation is unique, and I only write in general terms to illustrate an indirect social corporate phenomenon. When the stakes are at their highest, can you trust yourself to employ and lead highly skilled individuals from varying backgrounds to achieve a common goal? Are you afraid of the perception of others or have some irrational fear of ineptness? Perhaps you’re intimidated or worried that you won’t be able to relate to or have honest conversations with someone who doesn’t look, sound or think as you do. If so, please know that it's simply an illusion. Competency, ambition, hard work, instinct and ability aren’t tethered to gender, ethnicity, age or cultural background. Bypassing the opportunity to inspire and enrich your organization with a highly proficient, diverse leadership team may squelch incredible gains that could set the tone and rhythm for the next generation.
Why is this important? Managing the expectations of board members while fostering a new age of diverse leadership takes exceptional courage, patience and confidence. It's a rarity — separating good leaders from great leaders — because it demands an acuity for clairvoyant social awareness typically absent in many organizations. This type of leadership will become even more critical as the world continues to evolve and require more significant social and cultural adeptness.
If you’re looking to fill key leadership roles, ask them how they would structure critical positions at your organization and why. What you’re looking for is someone who has a grasp on the objective at hand and can build a diverse team of individuals that will accommodate the organization’s needs while creating its future state. Great leaders have a natural ability to identify exceptional talent and simultaneously attract outstanding talent across diverse classifications. They’re pressure-tested, have natural self-confidence, and are just as invested in mentoring and succession planning as they are in changing the status quo. It’s what's in the leader’s heart that drives the business, and trust me — great leaders are easier to find once you become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Richard E. Brown is a News Media Alliance Rising Star recipient, the former director of renewals and digital sales strategy at LPi, and the former director of digital operations and sales of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He recently served as the head of digital subscriber churn for Gannett | USA TODAY NETWORK and is now the senior director of retention for The Daily Beast. He is also a member of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation.
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