Episode 29: Discussing What Great Bosses Know with Jill Geisler

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In this episode of Brandstorm, we welcome Jill Geisler, a Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Famer and author of the book, Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know. Jill discusses her involvement in the Newseum’s Power Shift Project, what it takes to be a great leader in any industry, and why her mantra is, “Life’s too short to work with jerks.”

Jill Geisler
In 1978, Jill became one of the first female news directors in the United States, working at WITI-TV in Milwaukee. She served in that capacity for more than 20 years and was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ prestigious Silver Circle.

In 1998, she joined the faculty at the Poynter Institute, building and teaching leadership and management programs, and writing columns and producing podcasts that would eventually become content for her book, which was published in 2014.

For the last three years, Jill has been a Bill Plante Chair in Leadership and Media Integrity at Loyola University Chicago. She consults with newsrooms and organizations around the globe and is an in-demand speaker on the issues of leadership, ethics and diversity in the digital age.

Power Shift Project
Last year, stories of sexual misconduct by powerful men in entertainment and media, like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, shook the industry to its core.

Jan Neuharth, a trustee at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. (a popular museum dedicated to the history of journalism), and daughter of USA Today and Newseum founder Al Neuharth, asked for Jill’s expertise and assistance in bringing together people who are on the forefront of this issue, including individuals from news organizations dealing with these bombshells and covering their own stories, victims of the reported abuse, academies who have studied these issues, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and many more.

In January, over 130 media leaders attended the first Power Shift Summit at the Newseum. At this summit, Jill moderated panels where representatives from news organizations spoke about attempts to put the pieces of their own companies back together after these accusations came to light. Discussions were also held on what can be done to change things industry-wide, and to shift the power away from the higher-ups who perpetuated such misconduct.

Realizing more education on this topic was needed, Jill was asked to sign on with the Newseum to help design curriculum and activities for the Power Shift Project. With the full support of Loyola University, Jill sees her new venture as a wonderful service to humanity, and points out that misconduct in the industry is not limited to that of a sexual nature. Other issues include incivility, discrimination and how those who previously felt they were voiceless can now come forward.

Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know
The impetus for Jill’s book came from feedback she received as a consultant and coach. She was frequently asked about books she might recommend on leadership. Instead of suggesting different books that dealt with singular topics like conflict resolution, time management or emotional intelligence, Jill felt there was a need for a book for people like her, who originally received no formal training in management or leadership. Her journalism background provided her with the unique talent to take in a lot of information, synthesize and translate it for others to easily understand.

Jill says Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know is a reference tool that acts much like a workshop with self-diagnostic activities and quizzes to help any manager or team of managers improve their leadership skills and create a better work culture.

What Makes a Great Boss
No boss is perfect, but according to Jill, the great ones are leaders who work to overcome their flaws and surround themselves with people who will keep them honest and fill in their gaps. She also says people appreciate inspiration. True visionaries can see an end goal and let their team figure out the best route to get there. Great bosses will not likely hesitate to apologize. In fact, most employees have more respect for a boss who genuinely admits to a mistake and responds with the wisdom to figure out why it happened, and why it won’t happen again.

A great boss also remembers that their employees are people. What you do during both joyous and somber times as a leader will never be forgotten. Going out of your way to offer employees sincere condolences and support over a death in the family or being congratulatory about personal or family successes are good examples of this.

Other Ways to Succeed at Leadership
Jill believes the most important thing a leader can do is to help others succeed. Establishing early on that your goal is for your team to be able to do their best work builds social capital. Jill recommends tracking this in measurable ways, such as how you speak to your employees, how much you make yourself available to them and how much you know about them personally.

However, this does not mean that treating everyone the same will work. Many leaders confuse office equality with forcing everyone to work the same way. A manager who tries to turn their staff into a version of him or her will likely fail. While standards can be universal, achieving those standards can differ for each person, and no two people should be required to achieve something the same way.

Management Styles of a Bad Boss
Jill says the worst management style she’s seen in her career is the “Absentee Landlord.” This is the person whose credo is, “I hire good people and I get out of their way.” Jill explains that no good boss ever gets completely out of the way of their employees, because even top performers require feedback. Without it, employees have little idea where they stand, or how they are performing.

Another avoidable management style is that of a controlling boss. While Jill admits that taking on an underperforming team requires control at first (such as being specific about your expectations and managing the team closely), maintaining that control will inevitably be damaging. Once the team begins to shine, a great boss steps back and becomes more of a participatory manager. Democracy is not always possible in the workplace. Bosses sometimes need to make tough calls. Jill recommends that if you cannot give your team a vote, then at least give them a voice. This helps people not only get things done, but to do so with an idea of their own creation. If a team doesn’t need to rely on the boss for every single move, it will inevitably lead to great things.

Jill also believes that poor leaders can often be too focused on product, believing that their staff is just a means to an end. These leaders should be more focused on helping their team reach current goals and set new ones. In other words, how can they make the process to complete a task more successful?

Mistakes Employees Never Forget or Forgive
Jill says dishonesty or a lack of transparency from a boss, especially when it comes to potential layoffs or a possible pay increase, is something employees never forget or forgive. Another breach of trust is a boss taking credit for someone else’s work or idea, or on the flip side, refusing to take the appropriate blame when necessary. Lastly, a boss who acts differently around his or her employees than with a superior will likely lose the respect of the team. Seeing two distinctly opposing sides of a leader is never a good look.

Jill says that if you are known around the office as being generous with information when you have it, you are more likely to be believed and understood by your staff when you can’t comment on a situation, or have no say in the matter.

Managing Age Differences
When working with a group that includes both Baby Boomers and Millennials, Jill states that there is a clear difference between how each group obtains and processes information. While Baby Boomers grew up getting bank statements once a month, seeing their grades at the end of a semester and were oftentimes unable to talk to their parents until the weekend because of lower phone rates, the newest generation in the workforce often talks to their parents several times a day via text and can check their school grades or get a reaction from a thought on social media instantaneously. Where they don’t get instant feedback is in the workplace. Jill recommends that leaders add feedback in their conversations with Millennials, discussing challenges, while giving them a path to grow.

Reflecting on her own Management Style
As news director at WITI-TV, Jill developed what she refers to as a “coaching newsroom,” where people came to learn and discover their own opportunities to hone their craft. She put an emphasis on rewarding unique and original stories, as well as creating a family-friendly workplace. She says that if you allow your employees to bring their whole selves to their position without ignoring family and challenges at home, they will do a much better job at the office. However, after years of experience to reflect on, Jill also believes her team at WITI-TV would have benefitted from knowing what they could be doing better, and not just what they were already doing well.

Recommendations on Getting Ahead
Employees are often good at identifying problems or what’s not working, and are more than happy to complain about it to fellow team members or their employer. Unfortunately, that’s where the motivation stops. How can anything be fixed without change or an attempt to try something different?

Jill recalls that it was her practice of volunteerism that worked best for her. By giving extensive thought to a challenge, and how it would fit into the greater context of what her team was trying to accomplish, Jill would not only take her recommendations to her superiors, but also offer to help or head up efforts to solve the problem.

Jill says this is how the seeds of great leadership can be planted. Look at problems from the view of the organization and not just your own goals. If you are known as someone who is a good collaborator, people are more inclined to follow you knowing there is a promise of reciprocity. You don’t have to be the best at your craft, but having the ability to take a more global approach, while rolling up your sleeves and being a part of the solution, will get you noticed!

Contact Jill:
Facebook: facebook.com/WhatGreatBossesKnow