Strategic leaders needed for newspapers: are you with me?


What kind of leaders will take newspapers profitably into the future? And are they the kind that are currently leading our companies?

There are three kinds of leaders according to W. Glenn Rowe in the article “Creating Wealth in Organisations: The Role of Strategic Leadership.”

The management thinking, published in Academy of Management Executive 2001, argues that there are three kinds of leaders:


  • Managerial leaders.
  • Visionary leaders.
  • Strategic leaders.

Only one kind, however, can truly grow a business profitably into the future, and his explanations offer some interesting insights when applied to newspapers.

“Managerial leaders view work as a process that enables (a) combination of ideas and people to interact to establish strategies and make decisions. They negotiate, bargain and use rewards, punishment or other forms of coercion,” he writes.

They adopt “impersonal, passive attitudes towards goals. Goals arise out of necessities rather than desires and dreams, are based on where the organisation has come from.”

Visionary leaders go to the other extreme. Visionary leaders are concerned with “insuring the future of an organisation through the development and management of people. Visionaries embed themselves in complexity, ambiguity and information overload.”

While visionaries are inspiring and motivational, dynamic and engaging, it is often the managerial leaders that “get things done.” Visionary leaders want to change everything yesterday — and God knows, we've all worked under editors like that. Managerial leaders believe there is a process, a steady-as-she-goes and not rocking the boat — and God knows we've all worked under CEOs like that.

There are problems with both these kinds of leadership styles, however, and it's not that one is boring and the other on speed.

Both management styles are actually rubbish when it comes to making money.

“It is possible that too many organisations are led by managerial leaders and that managerial leaders do not create wealth,” Rowe writes. “They will at best maintain wealth that has been created and may even be a source of wealth destruction in the long term if they are the predominant leadership type in their organisation.”

Why? Managerial leaders focus too much on avoiding change, on leaving it too late, on watching the short-term financial stability at the expense of the long-term innovation that enhances wealth.

They are frogs in slowly boiling water, who haven't twigged that someone's turned up the heat.

On the other hand, visionaries in their worst incarnations are loose canons.

“Visionary leaders are willing to risk all and in doing so may create wealth. However, visionaries may also invest more in their vision than the returns warrant.”

Visionaries overspend on the perfect solution, not realising when to take a reality check. The vision often does not include paying attention to a bottom line. Visionaries die of brain explosions.

There is, however, salvation for industries and companies mature enough to understand what they really need is a strategic leader.

Strategic leaders combine the qualities of a manager and a visionary. They enhance long-term viability and maintain short term financial stability. Strategic leaders “formulate and implement strategies for immediate impact and the preservation of long-term goals to enhance organisational growth, survival and viability.”

And this is my favourite bit: “A strategic leader creates chaos, makes mistakes, occasionally gets rapped on the knuckles by bosses and subordinates ... but the rewards are worth it as those with whom the leader works become energised and more productive.”

Could we ever allow that in newspapers? Ah, we may not have to worry because strategic leaders are very, very rare — unless we decide to grow them ourselves.

What kind of leaders will take newspapers profitably into the future?

It will be leaders who see the current world of constant change as an unprecedented opportunity to develop new business strategies that monetise content sensibly now and exponentially into the future.

Managerial leaders who worry only about what the newspaper of tomorrow will look like, who only want to improve print and cut costs until we scrape through to the next economic upturn — and visionaries who think the latest technology should be built now with the money coming later — are simply leading us round in circles.

Strategic leadership will get us out of the loop.





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