One of the things I enjoy as a manager is learning from the people I work for, my staff. Servant Leadership is a whole other post. What I mean is I approach every relationship from the point of view of information sharing to make the business better. That said I have to do my part, bring something to the table to share. The only way I could do that as a Photo manager, was to keep my skills sharp. Reading articles practicing tutorials and staying up on the latest innovations of our creative craft.
One of the things I believe made me a credible manager in their eyes was that throughout my career I had done every job I asked of them. I knew what it was to freeze your butt off on stake out. I knew how hard it was to carry a ton of expensive gear and keep it safe in the most precarious of situations. I knew how frustrating it was to have done all of this and not get one image into the paper or online. I honestly felt their pain, for lack of a better Clintonian phrase.
So at 33 years old when I took the helm of the department, there was a certain amount of trust given and respect earned, from my earlier years in the business. My new task was to keep that respect in my new role. As a personal goal, I committed to learning each skill, even if only in a rudimentary fashion, that I asked my staff to learn. Often I allowed them to learn and then teach me. This step down from the lectern to put on my student cap accomplished two things. First, it made me understand their work style better. Secondly, it gave them more casual access to me as a person not a manager.
The conversations we had during these sessions were priceless. They were able to share inefficiencies with me in a way that was not seen as complaining. Slow computers, designers wanting images to be resized for every possible use in the future and unsearchable archive databases that crashed on deadline were all revealed to me in these personable interactions. In return, I offered software tips and shortcuts, best practices and support. I also, most importantly, took notes on their frustrations that I actually investigated, followed up on and in many cases fixed. Sometimes finding a way to buy a faster computer, with no capital budget requests being accepted, can change an employees’ whole outlook toward their work and the company. My advice is to step away from the desk from time to time, go learn from your staff and keep your ears open when you do.
In his book, “A Whole New Mind,” Daniel H. Pink makes a great case for the artistic mind in today’s business world, I agree. I am often asked “How relevant are your photojournalism skills in business and new media?” I refrain from the puzzled look then respond, “Extremely!” You need to be analytical, social, open to change, part geek, part therapist and part artist. I am a trained photojournalist, experienced manager, MBA and professor. The first career trained me for all the other accomplishments.
Photojournalists are typically the gadget geeks in the newsroom. This lends itself to ease of learning when faced with new equipment and software. We have also navigated a series of industry changes. The transition from dark rooms to PhotoShop, the near death of the film camera and learning to shoot and edit video all while producing quality audio required a lot of flexibility. The photographer in me has learned to be a Jack-Of-All-Trades and master of many! Simply put, successful photojournalists are fast creative problem solvers with technological savvy and people skills.
Photojournalists have to deal with an awful lot on an assignment. We need to document the news visually and be artistic about it. We meet and relate to new people every day. Often we deal with people at the single worst moment of their lives, so empathy is a given. Building relationships quickly gains us the trust needed to photograph naturally apprehensive subjects. The deadline pressure is often insane, so the fast pace of new media suites us just fine. Did I mention you need to find ways to get into places that are not necessarily safe for the general public, and avoid injury or equipment loss? I’m not going on the record about how useful these skill are! Suffice it to say I’ve been hit by a NASCAR and still made the picture. We are professional, behaving appropriately on Air Force One. Photogs are natural competitors, comparing our photo play daily in news outlets across the country.
Photojournalists do much more than this. We have breadth and depth of experience that easily translates into today’s tech heavy business world. New media, no problem. With the trials of the newspaper industry, it is worth it for photogs to consider a new path. So colleagues, while this is a trying time for photojournalists across the country, have no fear there is a place for your training in the private sector! Employers, it may just be time to start hiring “A Whole New Mind.”
Yes this is another know your strengths post, but not for you, for your team. As a manager of a technological department in a period of change for our industry, I needed to map out a successful plan for my team. Again I used Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. This time I gave it to key members of my staff to find out their strengths. The results were enlightening. Not only did I discover why certain members of my team were better at dealing with different situations, I learned why they failed miserably in the same situation. Now that I knew the tools in my toolbox, I refined their uses. I began to use a hammer when I needed a hammer and a learner when I needed someone to use and review new software. I completely realigned my team. I changed their responsibilities in the department to match their strengths. I then began to manage my department in the division the same way. I asked people to see me to determine who should be asked to attend which meeting or assist with which project. I began to assign people according to their strengths. I know you’re thinking well that makes sense, but often it does not happen. I have seen performance reviews completely focused on making people stronger in their weak areas. After this personal experiment, I am a firm believer in Strengths based leading. Isn’t it more efficient to use your time to help people excel in their strengths? I’m just sayin!
My top five are WOO (winning others over,)strategic, communication, futuristic and significance. When you buy Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder 2.0, you get a code in the back of the book to do a strengths assessment on what you do well. I like people. I enjoy my relationships with people and I like to make sure people know where they stand with me. This is probably because every time I have taken this assessment I have scored WOO as my top strength. It is not just a fluke! The assessment is interesting because it asks you questions in a predictive way. The order is determined on your previous answers and the time it took you to answer it. It will then give you your top five strengths in rank order. There are 36 possible strengths and you can pay for your full list in rank order if you like, but the top 5 come with the book. I think the top 5 is enough since after the top 7 or 8 your percentage graph drops off significantly.
Learning my strengths allowed me to tailor my management style for success. I routinely enlisted buy-in for any new endeavor by being able to communicate the significance of that change. I was able to share the strategic reasoning behind a change and ultimately win over the people who needed to sign off or enlist. This is my strength on the team. I am a social butterfly, big picture seer and strategic planner who likes the work I do to be meaningful. If you know what your strengths are you are able to choose or sign-up for the tasks on a project that suit you. Set yourself and your team up for success.