Priorities and Leadership Lessons

I learned a lot about leadership through my position as editor-in-chief of my university newspaper. My lessons were learned the hard way, mostly through failures, complaints and push back from the administration and advisors. Honestly, I earned the position by default. I was the only one willing to do the job after the current editor-in-chief quit in the middle of the year. As managing editor, I was prepared to lead the team should our leader leave, but the advisor of the program was hesitant in my leadership ability.

I think he would disagree with that statement, but that is how I truly felt. Mostly, because he asked a dozen or more individuals to take the position before he officially approached me. I actually don’t think he officially approached me. I don’t remember a conversation where he asked, “Hey Kristy, could you lead the Oracle since the editor-in-chief quit?” In a last ditch effort to put anyone but me into the office, he attempted to divvy up the responsibility between three different writers. I believe the actual term was something like, “You guys can be a three-headed dragon.”

After every single person refused the job, I was all he had left. It was frustrating, but I was ready to do the job. Well, I guess nobody is ready to do the job per se, but I was definitely ready to try, and try I did. During the semester, I was pushed to every single limit. I got angry. I cried (I hate crying). I contemplated a decision to quit. I fought for what I believed in. I inspired others. I learned how to motivate a team (mostly through pizza and soda). I worked hard. I drank a lot of caffeine, and I survived.

I wanted to do a good job because the Oracle deserved a strong leader. I also wanted to prove to myself and those who had their doubts that I could lead.There were days I had significant doubts, but I pushed forward.

Throughout my life, I have encountered many leaders who had problems maintaining priorities i.e. Oklahoma Legislature. I have witnessed good people sacrifice their families and important relationships for their careers.

When I ran for student body vice president, my goal was to prove to myself I could maintain my integrity. When I was the editor-in-chief, my goal was to prove to myself I could maintain my priorities.

My leadership role gave me the opportunity to exercise the skill of keeping priorities and it was not easy.

Listing priorities is different than maintaining them.

My priorities for the semester, in order, were:

1. My relationship with God
2. My relationship with my husband
3. Classes
4. Oracle
5. Anything else (There wasn’t time for anything else.)

Obviously, I wasn’t willing to lose my faith or get a divorce to be editor-in-chief. I also wasn’t willing to sacrifice my G.P.A. I was willing to sacrifice everything else, and I did.

Saying I have priorities and actually keeping my priorities straight required knowing my limitations and having a plan.

To maintain my faith, I had to know God, and I had to have a strong relationship with him to combat the many conflicting messages I received as a leader.

To maintain my relationship with Corey, I had to be home ever night by 2 a.m., so we could talk about our day, and fall asleep together. We also tried our best to have quality time, even if this meant he had to hang out in the Oracle office.

To maintain my G.P.A. I had to do my homework, complete projects and study for my exams.
 
However, I learned that my sacrifice would never be enough, and I just had to draw a very specific line that I would not cross.

I remember one particular evening where my priorities were tested. I was proud that I made the hard decisions to not sacrifice what is dearest to me, but I received significant push back.

A tornado caused damaged in a town near the university, and that was our lead story for the next edition. The problem was we did not have a photo of the damage, and we wouldn’t have a photo until the next morning when there was light outside.

It was 1:45 a.m. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I knew I needed to drive home, or I would miss my 2 a.m. deadline. I also knew if I was awake much longer it would be dangerous for me to drive.

I left.

I knew I could finish the job the next morning, but the next morning I had to face some very hurtful words.

I walked into the office refreshed and ready to tackle my tasks. The advisor was already staring at the computer screen when I walked in. I asked what he was working on, and where I would be the most help.

My advisor said, “It is too late to care, Kristy.”

In that one moment, I debated quitting. I wanted to walk away, but that is not who I am. I swallowed my emotions, my hurt, and I silently walked to my office.

My hurt turned into discouragement and then into anger.

I channeled that anger into developing a plan to get the job done before 1:45 a.m. going forward. I began taking action confidently and without permission.

I found a few team members willing to put in some Sunday hours. I encouraged editors to start editing earlier in the day between classes, and I decided to start experimenting with the schedule because the current standard was no longer working.

I learned that it is never too late to care, but it is always important to remember priorities and to never cross that hard line in the sand.

I learned many things and here are a few:

1. I don’t need to hear a good job to know I am doing a good job.
2. Food is a great motivator for college students.
3. There is a difference between perfection and publishable.
4. There is a difference between pointless criticism and constructive criticism.
5. Not everybody likes me, and that is okay.
6. Sometimes I make mistakes, and that is also okay.
7. I am confident, but I need to work on being more humble.
8. Leadership requires confidence in decision making for others to follow confidently.
9. Publishing a newspaper is hard.
10. It is always good to plan at least seven steps ahead, with three good alternatives.
11. Most importantly, I learned I cannot accomplish anything without a team. Quite frankly, the Oraclers showed me how incredible students are when they truly believe in something. Also, graphic designers have more patience than I.

The one thing I wish I knew then that I know now is the importance of role clarification and how it improves team efficiency.

I think if I would have clarified each team member’s job things would have moved a little smoother.

I think college newspaper writers and staff do not get enough credit for all the crazy (and I literally mean crazy) work that they do. Every single one of them impacts the world around them, and ultimately that is the goal.