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Thursday, March 25, 2004

Passionate leadership

I had the good fortune last summer to attend the Ted Scripps Leadership Training presented by SPJ. Even though I've always felt I had leadership qualities, there have been many moments in my career when I felt, quite simply, that my "style" was not the norm, that I didn't fit the mold of a leader. I don't really know how to define that mold other than to say it didn't fit me.

It's because I'm a passionate person. I can burn white-hot on issues I care about, an emotion that is not always greeted with enthusiasm. Leaders are supposed to be cool, nonreactive, diplomatic. I can be, but not always. And I really struggle with that... I don't want to overreact or be defensive or hear my voice getting shrill or find my hands shaking. Honestly, that happens to me when I'm passionate about something. The reason I feel badly is that I've been made to by others who think I don't react well. And it's worked. When I'm emotional, I mentally flog myself for having reacted so strongly.

But in the past two years, several things have begun to change how I view my passion. First, I'm getting older and with that comes a certain degree of emotional maturity. I also had my Myer's Briggs done and learned that I am an INFP (introversion/intuitive/feeling/perceiving). My first reaction was, "I'm no introvert!" But I learned from my counselor that introversion in the Myer's Briggs represents where you draw your inspiration, motivation, etc. In that case, it absolutely fits me. I'm my own worst critic and the only person capable of motivating my actions. I also learned that Abraham Lincoln was an INFP, no shabby company there. So when my husband asks why I want to change the world, I can simply reply that I am of the same inner stuff of Abe Lincoln. I'm sure Mary Todd probably asked the same question of Abe.

More importantly, I learned that my feeling (or passion) was not a curse, but a blessing, something I needed to embrace and channel to use in positive ways. The Myer's Briggs personality types reflect our gifts if we choose to use them well.

The second realization of my leadership gifts came during the Ted Scripps Leadership Training, where I and my colleagues took the DiSC Profile (Dominance/Influence/Steadiness/Conscientiousness). In a roomful of journalists, there were many who fell into dominance (the Ds as they were known). I was not one of them. I was part of the second-largest group—I (influence, though I'm not sure why it's lower case in the title). The DiSC definition of an I is someone who has an emphasis on shaping the environment by influencing or persuading others.

An influencer's tendencies include: contacting people, making a favorable impression, being articulate, creating a motivating environment, generating enthusiasm, entertaining people, viewing people and situations with optimism and participating in a group. Folks, that's me in a nutshell.

While I may be gregarious and persuasive and self-assured, I also can be emotional, impulsive and obstinate. (I just love that word. Reminds me of a line from Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Lady Catherine de Bourgh says to Elizabeth Bennett, one of the great literary heroines, "Obstinate, headstrong girl!" Love it, that's me at times. Just ask my parents.)

The point is, the leadership conference reinforced in me the notion that I do have something to offer, and that something is my passion. I wear it on my sleeve and there are those who think it improper. As I get older, I'm learning how to put it to better use. I'm a work in progress, no doubt. But I care about a great many things and if I were to lose my passion—for life, for words, for creativity—well, that would be very sad.

I'm nearing the end of two years as president of the Cleveland Pro Chapter of SPJ. It's been a tremendous learning experience. I hope I've brought enthusiasm, energy and, yes, passion to the organization. I know that I've learned a lot from so many people and am better for having them in my life.

A good organization has leaders of different kinds—the quiet, cool, diplomatic leaders are a good balance to those with white-hot passion. You need the relationship-builders and the task-masters. You need risk-takers and the more cautious leader. There's room for everyone at the table.

My colleague, Allison Conte, wrote far more eloquently on this subject in the January 2004 COSE Update. Her cover story, "You Gotta Have Heart," talks about the need for emotional intelligence in good leadership.

As for me, I'm taking my "vigah" (as JFK would say) on to the national level of SPJ by co-chairing the National Freelance Committee. It's my passion that has taken me to this point and each day I learn to embrace it as my gift. I encourage you to embrace yours.

Happiness is…
Dancing in the living room with young Master Michael. How sweet it is…

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