John McIntyre

Take me to your leadership

At one end of a shelf in my office at the paragraph factory a plaque collects dust, through which it can be seen that John E. McIntyre successfully participated in The Times Mirror Leadership Institute for Managers. Twelve years ago, when there was still such a thing as Times Mirror.

Having been selected, I was given a choice of seances in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Huntington Beach, California. Not being entirely dim, I packed for the West Coast.


The Leadership Institute for Managers turned out to be a kind of summer camp for grown-ups. We did a group bonding exercise in which we were all blindfolded put through some square-dance-like rigmarole. We did team-building by figuring out how to cross the "crocodile-infested waters" in a room on pieces of plastic that didn't quite reach. And we did a Project. We had all been run through the Myers-Briggs mumbo-jumbo, and I would dismiss it, as I have before, as astrology for Mensa, save for this: Every member of our group was a J. We nearly killed each other. And at the end, our Project was not particularly good, but because we had actually managed to complete it without the shedding of blood, Teacher gave us each a gold star.

No doubt if you have ever been a manager in an outfit that had money to throw around, you, too, have learned Leadership by similar means.


Or perhaps you have learned it through reading the vast literature. There's a book on the leadership secrets of Genghis Khan (father hundreds of children and stack your enemies' skulls in pyramids?). There are books on the leadership secrets of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, carefully premasticated for those who would find The Prince or The Art of War heavy going.

For my part, I mainly watched what Andy Faith did.

Andy hired me for the copy desk at The Sun in 1986. He was the chief of the copy desk, and I worked alongside him for years. What feeble efforts at leadership I've made have been attempts to emulate his example, and I think that his example did me more good than The Times Mirror Leadership Institute for Managers.

First off, you have to know the job, and you work alongside your people. Andy had to attend meetings and perform administrative functions and deal with paperwork, but he was a working editor. He didn't ask anyone on the desk to do anything that he was unable to do or unwilling to do, and he did it all.

If you have a chance to hire, you hire the smartest and most energetic candidates you can find, you show them how they're expected to operate, and then you let them work. If they're smarter than you are, so much the better.

When you're asked to perform a task, you take it on. Most people start to generate lists of the obstacles and start telling you how difficult the task is going to be and all the reasons it won't work. Andy always started to think about how he was going to manage it.

You form alliances. Some of them are with those smart and energetic people you hired, who proved their worth and moved on to other positions in the organization. (Andy had moles scattered through the newsroom.) You never make the mistake to think that you can act unilaterally or in isolation from the other desks and departments.

You take responsibility. And you take collective responsibility for your people. If one of your people gets called in on the carpet, you don't run around to the other side of the desk to join in berating him. You stand alongside, like a lawyer with his client.


When there is pressure from above, you absorb as much of it as you can yourself, so that your people can do their work unmolested.

You cut people some slack when they're having a hard time, but you expect them to find a way to do the work, and their share of it. You know what each subordinate's strengths and weaknesses are and how to capitalize on the former while minimizing the latter.

You tell people the truth. Sometimes you can't tell them all the truth, and sometimes you have to be evasive, but you don't tell them lies. They merit your respect, and if you don't offer it, you won't get it.

You don't give up, no matter how many times your plans have been thwarted, no matter how many simple-minded, wrong-headed, and dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks instructions come down from someplace higher up.

And you never forget that you are doing this because you love the work, because the work is important, and because it means something to do it right.

These are some of the things I learned by watching Andy Faith all those years. I haven't had to perform any functions blindfolded in the past dozen years, I don't expect to have to cross a crocodile-infested river, I try to keep a safe distance from most of the other Js, and I don't expect to get around to reading about Genghis Khan's leadership secrets. Andy Faith retired four years ago, but while he was here, I learned what I need to know.


Update: If the comment by Picky Picky is not visible to you, it should not be missed:


And as to the leadership thing, it sounds horribly familiar, except I got no plaque and my team had to cross the river using only two goldfishes in a bowl, a plate of corn flakes, the collected works of Karl Marx, a threepenny stamp, two paperclips and a bottle of Laphroaig.  Or something like that.  Otherwise identical, and identically useful. Oh no, hang on, it wasn't California, it was Yorkshire.  That was a bit different.