When I was named business editor of The Des Moines Register in 1998, one of my favorite parts of the job was going to the daily news meetings and poking holes in stories pitched by the city editor, who was young, new to his job and overly ambitious.
He was the kind of editor who pitched the content of a story – even writing the first few sentences – before anyone had actually done the research for it.
As you might expect, a lot of those stories never turned out the way he pitched them, and I would delight in pointing that out at the news meeting the following day.
Newspapers are notorious for their bad management, and I have to admit that neither I nor the inexperienced city editor did much to change that image.
I mention it now because I’ve just read Jann Freed’s new book “Leading With Wisdom: Sage Advice From 100 Experts,” which is available on Amazon.com.
Her chapter on destructive egos caused me to realize for the first time how bad some of my behaviors were back when I was trying to be a leader.
Freed, who lives in Des Moines, is a leadership and change management consultant with The Genysys Group and a professor emerita of business management at Central College in Pella.
She’s been fascinated by the wisdom of older leaders and spent a good part of the last decade interviewing 100 authorities in the field of leadership. She started small with a dozen people, whom she described as “highly recognized authors and thought leaders.”
She asked each to recommend others, whom she also interviewed and asked for additional recommendations, and so on until she’d done 100 interviews.
She distills into eight specific practices the lessons she learned from a wide array of experts who range from Warren Buffett to Stephen Covey to Des Moines’ own Jim Autry.
The book appealed to me because it’s not targeted at the traditional managerial class of folks who typically buy leadership books, although Freed said she will use it in seminars she conducts for corporate clients, which in the past have included Wells Fargo & Co., Principal Financial Group Inc. and Meredith Corp.
Her new target audience, Freed said, is the Baby Boomer generation, which is entering a new phase of life, retirement, which many of us have not planned for, nor do we know what to expect.
By providing leadership principles about egos, compassion, community, legacy and such, Freed believes she can teach us truths about ourselves that will make life more enjoyable as we move on to that next stage.
Freed confided to me that she’d like to be “the Suze Orman of the second half of life. I’d like to have a column. I’d like to have a radio show. I’d like to be the go-to person for people who have just retired and don’t know what to do with the rest of their lives.”
“The most important person you will lead is yourself,” she said.
The real key about good leadership, Freed said, is that good leaders know who they are, how their actions impact others and they care about it.
But to become a good leader, she said, “you have to want to learn it,” to understand the intricacies of what is involved and how your actions affect others.
“Most people don’t understand when the ego is taking over,” she said. “We all have to have an ego, but when it takes over, it often manifests itself in terms of jealousy, envy, greed, defensiveness, micromanaging.”
Back in 1998, I didn’t understand how ridiculing my colleague during the daily news meetings was affecting him until he started doing the same to stories that I pitched. By then, we were both losers.