From The Publisher: Leaders need to let go

As John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing Less.” We all have some form of influence over another. Therefore by definition, we are all leaders. Follower types cringe at the idea of leading. The word “lead” to them has the same emotional connotation as the word “sales” has to people who think they aren’t salespeople.

My friend and mentor Jerry Frentress is quick to point out, however, that we are all in sales all the time. We are constantly selling ourselves. As human beings, we tend to make quick judgments of one another, so we often put on our “best face” when dealing with others. Essentially, we are selling ourselves to them.

The older we get, the more people tend to look to us for leadership. People naturally look up to someone who is older or has more experience. You may have been the “youngster” in the office at one time, but chances are, there is a new “youngster” who is looking to you for leadership right now.

Remember the definition from John Maxwell… If you have influence, you are a leader. Be careful, though. Just because you are a leader, you are not necessarily THE leader. People who want to embrace their leadership skills often fall into this trap. A good leader will recognize where he resides on the leadership totem pole and not violate the hierarchy. For every colonel, there is a general telling him what to do.

I have been blessed to lead many boards from the chairman’s seat over the years. As I grew in my personal leadership, I realized the executive director’s of those organizations did not work for me. In fact, the opposite was true more often than not. 

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the greater New Orleans area. One month later, Hurricane Rita did the same to southwest Louisiana. At that time, I was chairman of the Louisiana Press Association. 

During those days, I considered myself a hands-on leader. But, I was located in the northwest corner of the state, and the LPA was in Baton Rouge (southeast). With many roads impassable, and communication sketchy, I literally could not be on site.

Pam Mitchell-Wagner, the Executive Director of the LPA at the time, would call me daily from whatever phone would work at the time. She was accustomed to a chairman micromanaging every move she made. We newspaper publisher-types tend to do that. That type of leadership simply would not be possible in this situation.

“Pam, here is what I want you to do,” I told her over the phone. “Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself, your staff, and the member newspapers that are affected. You don’t need to ask me for permission.”

“Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack. Just call me when you can and let me know what you are doing so I can speak intelligently to the rest of the board about it.”

“Are you sure? It might get costly.”

“Just act as if you were me. If you don’t think I or the board would approve, or you can’t defend the decision, then don’t do it. Otherwise, you have my full backing on any decision.”

“Thank you so much for your confidence and support, David.”

Pam and her staff performed amazingly in the aftermath of those storms. Oddly, they did all the work, but I was credited with the performance. That is also how leadership sometimes works.

Since then, my approach to board leadership has been to mentor and support the person on the ground. I generally make the following statement before I accept a chairman’s position, “My job is to have your back. Your job is to make sure I don’t have to.”

David Specht | President of Specht Newspapers, Inc.