Tough Times Call for Strong, Steady Leadership -- Q&A With Leadership Expert Ken Shelton
From 1979 to 1983, Ken Shelton worked as assistant director of public communications for Brigham Young University. In 1983, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) recognized him as the national editor of the year in higher education. But, shortly thereafter, he was fired. Out of work and tired of poor leadership, he decided to start his own leadership magazine, Executive Excellence, in partnership with top thought leaders: Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Tom Peters and Warren Bennis, among others.
Since it launched 25 years ago, the monthly print magazine has sponsored and cosponsored hundreds of seminars and conferences on personal, team and organizational leadership, including the Global Institute of Leadership Development (with Linkage). It also co-hosts the Best Practices in Leadership Development conference.
Through his experience of being fired, his focus shifted toward educating people on the importance of strong leadership. Shelton spoke with Publishing Executive Inbox about the role of leadership in business, especially at publishing companies.
Inbox: What characteristics make for a good leader?
Ken Shelton: I have written extensively on this topic in my book "Beyond Counterfeit Leadership." However, I'm not fond of listing "Boy Scout" virtues. (I've known too many "scout" leaders who mouth such platitudes and then abuse people.) Good leaders, above all, are consistent, reliable, responsible, open and direct. They do what they say; and how and why they get results matter as much to them as what, who and when.
Inbox: What actions or duties are required of a leader?
Shelton: They are duty-bound to see a desired (better) future and engage people in creating it. To treat people with respect. To cultivate trust. To keep focused on what matters most. And when the work is done, to have fun and share the recognition and rewards.
Inbox: Why is it important for publishers or top executives at publishing companies to demonstrate strong leadership skills?
Shelton: Otherwise, you won't have a publishing company. Publishing is a talent game. If you can't lead people and manage resources, you go out of business. Sadly, many so-called leaders and managers of publishing companies today (called "leaders" by virtue of their positions) have sold out. They no longer operate as self-sustaining, independent entities. Rather, like teens, they rely on direction from parent organizations and depend financially on them. Once they lose their independence, they lose their voice and viability -- and even lose a customer (reader) orientation. They publish more to placate a few powerful board members and advertisers than to educate, entertain and enlighten their million of subscribers or readers.
Inbox: How can a strong leader guide his or her company during tough economic times? What specifically can he or she do?
Shelton: First, be as transparent as possible, treating people as responsible adults who share in the problem and solution. Show and tell people what is at stake (survival, life as we know it, everything we hold near and dear). Present the facts of the case. Invite their energy and ideas. "Strong" leaders often appear "soft" on people, hard on the problem. They break down silos, entitlement mindsets, us-vs.-them thinking, inequities, and blame games. Rough times often cause them to share ownership and invite participation. Watch what President-elect Barack Obama is doing.