How to be a leader, no matter your role or job title

Speaking with the Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Fellows, Texas Tribune Chief Product Officer Millie Tran shared strategies for how journalists can lead at every stage of their careers

Effective leadership can be challenging. It’s especially hard in modern journalism — an ever-evolving, cross disciplinary field. 

However, no matter your job title, your role, or your place in an organization’s hierarchy, there are always opportunities to lead. 

Speaking recently to the Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative Fellows, Texas Tribune Chief Product Officer Millie Tran shared strategies for effective management, and how to act as a leader even when you don’t have any direct reports. 

Before joining the Tribune, Tran held roles at The New York Times, BuzzFeed News, and The American Press Institute. She said her current job is essentially a culmination of all of her previous positions: Each new job has helped her gain different perspectives and insights, which ultimately brought her to where she is today and allowed her to pursue her primary goal. 

“I hope to make journalism as accessible as possible,” Tran said. “From a reader, audience, and consumer perspective, and also as an industry. I believe you can do that by breaking down the barriers to what journalism is.”

The Lenfest Constellation News Leadership Initiative is a leadership program providing training and mentorship to Philadelphia-area media professionals of color. 

Here are some of the strategies Tran shared with the Constellation Fellows: 

Decide where power comes from and what it is 

It’s clear that managers are people who have the titles to get tasks done, but leadership is something that can be seen at all levels of an organization. Tran explained how one can be a leader in all positions — as an intern, an assistant, an analyst, or a CEO. As a leader, one must decide where their power stems from and how they are going to utilize it. 

“I think power really comes from the trust of the people,” Tran said. “It’s about building trust, it’s about holding yourself accountable, it’s about clarity of that vision and being able to communicate it, and it’s about collaboration.”

To foster a positive culture within an organization, it’s important to empower all team members to do their work to help the organization succeed and equip them for future success. 

“I would love to be in a place where because I give you power, it makes us both powerful and that collaborative and regenerative thing helps bring up more people versus push people down,” Tran said.

Understand good management

Effective managers genuinely understand the strength of their team members and how they build toward their strengths as a team. 

Tran suggested that one tool for managers to better get to know those strengths is by utilizing Strengthsfinder, an assessment to identify your personal strengths that can be implemented in the workforce. Tran said it helped people understand that they are part of something bigger, which is the team, but also that individuals bring different perspectives to the table.

“It kind of forces you to be flexible and adaptable, because otherwise you would think there’s only one way to do things,” Tran said.

Tran also advised that managers hold weekly one-on-one meetings with their direct reports without an immediate work-related agenda. This is a way for people to talk about themselves in the context of work, but not specifically about if the work is getting done. 

“It’s like the one time people can kind of think about who they are at work and where they want to be and whether they’re doing work that makes them proud,” Tran said.

Tran said that managers succeed when their teams succeed, which results in alignment and moving in the same direction together while still bringing out people’s individuality. 

However, that means that not everyone is necessarily suited for the management role, and managing people versus managing things are two very separate paths. 

“Management is just like a track, some people actually love managing things, ideas, products, and projects, but don’t like the act of people management,” Tran said. “Management doesn’t mean you’re more or less than someone else — you just happen to be on a different track.”

Recognize your inner core values and strengths

It’s vital to realize the worth that each person can bring to their team. Strengthsfinder and Myers-Briggs tests are powerful tools to understand skills that someone can offer to the organization and to know how to work best with others. 

Our internal strengths are also our natural tendencies, and it’s essential to have people understand that they are ultimately doing similar tasks for a shared vision within the organization.

“It’s very easy to let external factors determine our decisions and drive our decisions,” Tran said. 

She went on to share how one of her initial jobs in journalism at American Press Institute cultivated her core values that she still carries today.

“It’s about helping the rest of the industry and sharing, learning, and making the industry better, and I think now my values as a leader remain those values.” 

Keep a work journal

In response to microaggressions and negative situations in a work environment, Tran advised keeping a work journal. Unfortunately, these types of situations do happen a lot, but having friends, allies, and people who support you and see you at work as a person is important.

“I like to write things down so I can pull things out of the moment and actually assess how I feel or what I thought about it, which also helps me prepare for it next time,” Tran said.

Tran also notes that seeing representation and seeing people in roles that you desire to have helps you imagine yourself in that place.

“It’s both active in that we’re doing the work to do all this, but it’s also passive in that people just need to see that this is possible,” Tran said.

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