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My lessons in organizational leadership

At the end of May 2015, I went on another long break from News That Matters Not. Pratul Bagri and Rakshit Ranjan, the new editorial heads, three months into the role, were doing pretty well. Here is the email (slightly edited) I wrote to them before going for the break.

Dear Rakshit and Pratul

I will be on a long leave from NTMN, hoping to return some time soon, but not until the end of July. I will need some time to settle down in my journalism course — where I will definitely learn a lot in order to guide NTMN better — after which I will assess my availability for NTMN and inform you accordingly. With the kind of learning curve both of you have shown, I am confident that you will succeed beyond all expectations in your work.

As I move out, I want to share some of my lessons of leadership, learned over the past 5+ years. You anyway get to read a lot about leadership, so I will mention just four points, which have meant the most to me in my own journey.

1. Know your people; care for your team. Learn about them, their personalities, and who they are beyond work. Be transparent. Be respectful and empathetic with them. Keep them happy. Be accessible. Be a part of them. Be vulnerable. Say sorry when you have to. Share your deepest fears — but give them enough confidence even in times of crisis. Know what they want — each of them as an individual. But also know what each of them rightly deserves. Appreciate them — if they didn’t do much, point out even the smallest thing you can spot that they did. Show gratitude. Make them feel they are part of a team with one common goal. Along with this, let them be their own selves. Call out actions; don’t give them adjectives as a person. Understand their strengths and weaknesses; leverage the strengths of one member to cover up the weakness of another. When they falter, find out their perspective; believe in them — they might be struggling with something which you can help with. Always remember they are in it for themselves too: care about their personal growth. Give them opportunities to work on their weaknesses, and let them develop. Invest time in them and their personal growth. Learn to give. Experience the joy of giving.

2. Persevere. Times will be tough. I remember only the two kinds of moments in my leadership experience at NTMN and beyond: the times when I was extremely successful, and the times I struggled the most — the rest doesn’t matter. The first kind taught me what it takes to create success, and the second kind taught me what it takes to recreate success back. I use the word “success” in the second case too; the day you stop finding success even in your worst times, you will fail and quit. They are called the worst times, because there’s something better — it has been there in the past, and that’s the very reason it will be back.

Also read  On seven years of writing

3. Learn and grow as individuals. Do it for yourself. Do it, even if you have to pretend doing it for your organization — your learning and growth will impact your work as well. Research. Spend time reading about the arts, history and society, meeting people and building relationships, understanding different perspectives, thinking, writing, maintaining a journal, travelling. The kind of work we do at NTMN has the potential to drown you in the big black ocean of social media information overdose. Take time to come out of the water to take a fresh breath at times — learn for yourself. Come out of your comfort zone, and do things you dislike doing. Reach out to the right people for help.

4. Create and respect structures. An organization can’t function without structures and a central ideology in place, and it’s same for NTMN. Even a leader who doesn’t like structures and goes by instinct will have to give way to them at some point of time — (1) to keep things from piling up, (2) for convenience, (3) for efficiency, (4) for unforeseen circumstances. Have documented rules, policies, plans, databases in place. While some of my legacy — like elaborate training documents, satire writing guides, databases; structures like <certain internal structures at NTMN>; and complexities like <a certain example> — may sound ridiculous for a simple satire website, do understand that even if you ignore them, you will have to create them at some point later, when you learn by making mistakes. It’s like a process of evolution — it’s there because it made its requirement felt over a long period of time. In our case, this long period is over five years. You have the luxury of having so much experience passed down to you in such a systematic way.

It’s true that our website is mainly content-based and it can function even without paying attention to too many details, but not satisfactorily for too long: running an all-round successful website would require a lot of micro-management at the operations level, going beyond editorial and content think-tank level.

I have no worries about NTMN’s future; I know the best is yet to come, and it will be under your leadership. Keep going guys.

Good luck!

Tanay Sukumar

Founder, News That Matters Not

P.S. Do spend 45 minutes of your time, to watch this amazing talk on what leadership is. Don’t miss this; a lot to learn and think about.

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