Sunday, April 29, 2007

BoSacks Speaks Out: Where are Today's Mentors?

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."
John Quincy Adams (American 6th US President (1825-29), eldest son of John Adams, 2nd US president. 1767-1848)

BoSacks Speaks Out: Where are Today's Mentors?

By BoSacks
Publishing Executive Magazine sid=48494&var=story

In these pages I have pontificated many times about the positive nature and direction of our industry, about the belief that we are headed to a new golden age of publishing, and that new technologies should be considered the friend of information distributors. But there is one aspect in this new world environment that has me worried and concerned. It is the area of mentorship where, it seems to me, we have fallen behind and by that loss as an industry we have been greatly diminished.

What has happened? When and where did we loose the skill set and the will to teach the younglings? Have we so trimmed our business models and our work force that there is just no time to teach and mentor? Have we lost sight of the power of the properly groomed apprentice? Is there just not enough time now with the diminished workforces to add the burden of schooling for the future?

I do not know how to quantify the value of a properly mentored apprentice except through my own experience. But I know that as I passed up the corporate ladder, each of my teachers built upon the foundation of the other guild members that went before them. And I can tell you this, having been a mentor myself, there is a tremendous joy in the successful transfer of knowledge and power.

I have had the great pleasure to be mentored by supervisors, many of whom were great leaders in an era that fostered and promoted genuine leadership. Today I am paying homage to the process and naming names of those friends and giants.

For me, Vito Coliprico, (NY Times Magazine Group), Lowell Logan (McCall's Publishing) and Irving Herschbein (Conde Nast) were giants in their day and took the time to reach out to a young and inquisitive subordinate. The results of their tutorship is the man who stands before you. I have attempted to return the favor to them and the industry by using the technology of the day to mentor others, through my e-newsletter, and my column in this magazine.

Without mentorship we are collectively less than we might have been. It is the aggregate of this loss that will be felt and perhaps is being felt now. Who are the leaders of your corporation? Who are the genuine leaders of this industry? I don't mean who is your immediate supervisor or who is the CEO - those are just job titles. I am asking, where is the leadership? A generation ago if you asked anyone in publishing who the leaders were, the names I mentioned above would be high on the list. Who is on the real leadership list now?

We have many problems ahead of us as an industry. We will need good leaders to provide direction. If you think about it, we are trying to prepare publishing personnel for jobs that don't yet exist. These publishing students will be using technologies and concepts that haven't yet been invented, and they will be trying to find the solutions to problems we don't even know are problems yet. What we can do is take the time to teach our subordinates to think and reason. We can teach them to take reasonable risks. We can teach them to be leaders.

Here is an idea taken and amended from my mentor Vito Colaprico. Each and every one of you should start a "publishing school" in your company. It doesn't matter how big or small your company is. It could meet once a week or once a month. Here is how it works.

All magazines have the basic components of editing, production, ad selling, ad management, circulation and distribution. In most corporations there are walls around those functions. I say it is time to breakdown those walls. Have the apprentices teach their disciplines to the apprentices of the other departments. What happens is, in order to teach you must learn your own skill set first. In order to teach, you must learn to stand up in front of a group and be articulate. The learning of your own field and the capacity to teach it is the start of leadership skills.

The byproduct of this process is the cross-pollination of skill sets. Various departments will have comprehension of exactly what the guys in the other departments in fact do for a living. This will promote a greater team spirit throughout the company and facilitate unimagined efficiencies, and perhaps even camaraderie. And among those students will be the leadership of tomorrow that we so desperately need today.

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