“Millions of words have been written about organizational leadership – especially in an anxious economy.” So writes John Boyle in his introduction to Leadership in Uncertain Times, a series of interviews with some of the best and brightest business leaders in the country.
Boyle says his goal is to share personal, stimulating stories that will help us all to navigate and succeed in today’s tough marketplace. “Our hope is that you’ll attach new meaning to the concept of leadership in these uncertain times,” Boyle says.
In the first interview, Boyle speaks with Colleen Brown, President & Chief Executive Officer of Fisher Communications, about the importance of accountability at the top. As an example, Brown points to Katharine Graham, whose leadership at the helm of The Washington Post during the Watergate era “continues to have a tremendous influence on the media industry.”
What are the most important things a leader can do to help get his or her organization, and the economy, to a place of greater stability?
We need a new definition of “stability”. Today, more than ever, leaders must be willing to embrace change, innovate new ways of doing things, and demonstrate resilience. If these things are considered normal in an organization then the leadership has created “stability” in the organization. With virtually universal access to information by all stakeholders; the increasing frequency and speed of change continues to accelerate. Economic uncertainties at home and abroad place added pressure on virtually everyone. Typically, with change and economic stress, fear is a natural emotion. By being open and receptive to change, planning for change and then making change happen there is a greater sense of confidence, purpose and empowerment in the organization.
What’s the best leadership style in an uncertain economy?
A strong effective leader in today’s uncertain economy shares the leadership role with other members of the team. Stepping out from the formal leadership role, the shared approach is an informal team approach where the lead role shifts by the subject at hand. It allows the organization to tap the excitement and skill sets of others to get more done in a way that drives an even better outcome. By building trusted relationships within an organization through accessibility, transparency, communications and actions the shared leadership concept achieves a much higher sense of commitment and meaning to those involved. And one more thing to mention…keeping a clear perspective with a good dose of humor goes a long way to prepare and position the organization to face the uncertain economy.
How does leadership influence culture and strategy in a tough marketplace?
Regardless of industry, there should be one common theme: the job should be more than a paycheck. I know that is difficult in the current economy, but that is where an effective leader can really make a difference. In highly successful organizations, passion is a trait that trickles down, motivates employees and creates loyalty and stability. Leaders who demonstrate energy and purpose every single day can be instrumental in boosting morale and outstanding results. Furthermore, leaders who challenge employees to explore innovative ways to improve can foster a dynamic workplace environment, and as a result, create an atmosphere of empowerment.
Can you name a leader – either someone in your industry, or someone you’ve worked for or collaborated with – who has helped his or her organization survive and thrive in the current economy?
Katharine Graham, who passed away in 2001, continues to have a tremendous influence on the media industry. She was a true visionary, who, despite not having expertise in the field, successfully stepped into the leadership role at The Washington Post and made the paper one of the most respected news organizations in the country. Her lasting legacy is her empowerment of reporters and strong belief in the public’s right to know. She was one of the early adopters of advocacy journalism, which is the foundation for many newsrooms today, including Fisher’s television and radio stations. Under Katharine’s leadership, the Post was one of the first media outlets to adopt this approach – and I believe they have set the standard for the rest of the industry.
We also can benefit from Katharine’s leadership principles of doing what was right and what was needed. That was especially true during the Watergate Era, when the Post wrote the defining stories of the day. For Fisher, that means continuing to hold the powerful accountable and using the reach of our stations to connect our communities, enable local commerce, and help our neighbors in times of need.
Colleen Brown is President & Chief Executive Officer of Fisher Communications.
Fisher, a Seattle-based company, is a leader in local media innovation, focused on creating, aggregating, and distributing information and entertainment to a broad range of audiences. Fisher operates 18 television stations, including KOMO and KUNS in Seattle. The Company also owns Seattle’s KOMO Newsradio, KPLZ and 570 KVI. Brown began her career at Gannett and rose through the ranks. After Gannett, she served as president of the Lee Broadcast Group, and was then appointed senior vice president at Dallas-based Belo Corporation, one of the nation’s largest media companies. She currently serves as founder and chair of the Mobile500 Alliance and on the board of the Open Mobile Video Coalition, DataSphere, Inc., Port Blakely Companies, Washington Roundtable, University of Washington Foster School of Business, Seattle University Albers School of Business, and the United Way of King County. She graduated summa cum laude with a double major in political science and business administration from the University of Dubuque and holds an MBA from the University of Colorado at Boulder.