Keys to managing in tough times: Direct and inspire

Butch Wardempowered a group of Society of News Design newsroom managers Friday to more skillfully navigate the choppy white waters of management.

Ward, a Poynter faculty member, drew on his 27 years of newsroom experience as an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Baltimore News-American.

Butch Ward speaks at SND St. Louis

Ward explained that the challenges for managers have changed dramatically. “The terms have changed for success in leading. We now have a constant challenge of moving forward.

“It used to be getting to the finish line,” Ward said. “If we got to it, it meant success. We don’t kid ourselves about that any longer.”

Ward explained that a leader has two roles:
To serve as the director of the operation
To be the keeper of the promise

The director has to know the nuts and bolts of the operation, but ideally doesn’t have to do them all. “The workforce respects that you know the operation, and you put good people in charge and keep the product moving along.”

The keeper of the promise, meanwhile, is the inspirational leader of the group.

“When things are bad, you go to the leader,” Ward said. “People look to you to maintain the faith that we are going somewhere good.”

The challenge, Ward said, is for managers to balance both challenges simultaneously.

“When you ask your staff to try something new, people want to know it’s a good move,” Ward said. “They want to know if it’s going to work, if it’s important.”

“I wish I could eradicate the phrase, ‘I had to do it.’ That’s a lie,” Ward said about managing. “Everything in front of us is a choice. We get to choose everything.”

He explained that listening, for example, is a choice. Ward said listening is always at the top of the list of traits of a great manager. The choice to engage staffers makes managers even better able to succeed.

“Asking questions is the most powerful tool we have,” Ward said. “Great managers are great reporters, and the way they demonstrate that is by listening. It’s a choice.”