Lesson 5: Be the Elephant in the Room

Embrace the need to be better In order to stay current and relevant, you must adopt the blueprint of adapting, evolving and reinventing. I’ve touched upon the first two in prior articles so it’s time to address the last one, and the most difficult: Reinventing. As my career at the Tribune began to take shape, […]

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Embrace the need to be better

In order to stay current and relevant, you must adopt the blueprint of adapting, evolving and reinventing. I’ve touched upon the first two in prior articles so it’s time to address the last one, and the most difficult: Reinventing.

As my career at the Tribune began to take shape, the circumstances within the company and my ability to agitate change provided many opportunities from a career standpoint. To capitalize on those opportunities, I needed to make meaningful changes to my leadership abilities.

Each step of my career gave me expanded knowledge and experience…but without acknowledging the need for reinvention, I realized the upside of my career would be limited. Adapting (incremental improvements) and evolving (stacking new capabilities over time) wasn’t enough.

That meant I needed to reinvent myself. It meant making more dramatic and meaningful changes to my leadership style, and addressing the gaps in my knowledge and expertise.

Through reinvention, I acknowledged, accepted and embraced the need to be better — a better person and a better leader.

The greatest breakthrough in my reinvention occurred during my run as CEO. I had become CEO with no practical experience in advertising or editorial, the two largest, and most impactful areas of the company. Not to mention zero PR experience. And importantly, my tenure began at the beginning of the great recession, social media explosion, and the corporate entity declaring bankruptcy.

That’s why I began to use the “Big Ears, Thick Skin” principle. I realized to be a GREAT leader, you must become a GREAT listener. So I got to work, listening and learning.

I don’t mean the fake listening we are all occasionally guilty of… I mean REALLY listening. And when I did, the ideas and solutions were right in front of me. All I had to do was state the goal, ask the right questions and remove the barriers; then my team was able to:

  1. Make meaningful changes to the content in the paper (my editor’s idea and plan)
  2. Become a much better negotiator, saving millions of dollars (and resolve many internal company issues too)
  3. Drive culture change by getting off of the platitudes and into specific behaviors (based on feedback from my team)

The thick skin part of my reinvention was necessary because of my inherent behaviors and attributes; pride, fear of failing, not good enough, and negative reaction to criticism. Let’s be honest — no one enjoys hearing criticism, or about the issues and problems within the company. From time to time, we’re in conversations where we stop listening because we don’t like the message. And in other cases, due to the method of communication, or the delivery of the message, we ignore everything else. So how do you make it constructive? Through active listening, you identify nuggets of truth in the criticism you receive.

Now that I was open to hearing criticism, I had to toughen up from a mental standpoint.

To be successful in life and business, you need to be able to hear things you don’t like or don’t agree with. And thankfully, I improved in this area because there were some very challenging issues I would face as CEO including:

  1. Presenting to employees at town halls after my compensation was printed in “my” newspaper
  2. Taking heat from the positions we took on our editorial pages
  3. Rebounding from deafening criticism of a redesign of the newspaper

If you’re in tune with the circumstances and dynamics in your life and career, you’ll know when a reinvention is necessary.

If you need some help identifying when a reinvention is necessary, here are a few strong hints: your ideas aren’t getting the desired response; your results and/or team performance flattens or begins to decrease; your passion and motivation begin to wane; your overall effectiveness is not keeping pace with the rate of change and/or the expectations of your position.

In the hints above, without reinvention, your career and advancement opportunities will begin to level off. If that’s ok with you, then make sure you continue to grow your skills and leadership capabilities through adapting and evolving. Otherwise, you’ll fall behind and become irrelevant and less valuable to your company.

So open your mind…and ears to get real-time feedback. The ability to really listen is only obtained through practice and replication. Thick skin is a mindset, and an ability to “compartmentalize” your feelings in order to effectively lead under duress. So put your ego aside, and thicken up your skin.

And once you get into the swing of adapting, evolving and reinventing, you’ll fully understand lesson 6, my last lesson (or is it?): you are never really finished.

This article was originally published on on 7/2/2019.

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