Learning to Shepherd

Every manager I’ve reported to over the last quarter century has helped me become who I am, as both an employee and a person. Many have guided me towards better paths, towards self-learning or self-realizing.

Some have guided me towards fits of rage, but even in those moments I have learned.

Most of my industry career was spent as someone who was managed and I was lucky enough to work for a couple of really great editors. I was also lucky enough to work for a couple of truly horrifyingly bad ones, so when I put the cameras aside and made phones and facetime my primary duties, I thought I had some ideas on how to do it better.

Notice the past tense in that last sentence – while I went into management for the right reason, I’ve never been sure I was all that good at it. The numerics are there to say I did a decent job (developed a stable of over 100 solid freelancers for a national sports magazine in less than six months, my staff took more than half of the available awards in a big regional competition), so I can say my staffs produced.

But did I manage them well? Harder to say. I fought really hard to get them the tools and time they needed to tell stories, but I don’t think I let them know enough about what was happening in the office while they were out shooting. There were a lot of little things that I just dealt with that they didn’t know about.

That lead to some resentment, a sense sometimes that I wasn’t working as hard for them. What we had was the classic communications failure and, at the very least, I don’t think I ever said, “You have no idea how much worse it would be if I wasn’t here …”*

Now, I manage in a different way – expectations, hope, knowledge. I have students who learn well in a lot of different ways and I try hard to figure out what each one needs to do better, to grow, to set themselves up to continue learning after they leave the Photo Cave. Sometimes they see my pushing them out the door as abandoning them, I fear.

Ask any of them and they’ll tell you my two most common answers to their questions are It Depends and Figure It Out.

So, what is your role is you are in management? Hopefully you knew before you applied for the position because too many photo managers make the move for a better paycheck and better hours – which are the two worst reasons to do it.

You have to want to help, you have to want to see your community thrive and be a part of that by giving your staff the opportunities and ability to do great work.

When I was talking with my last paper about their opening I had some trite comment about how I saw three responsibilities for the photo editor:

  • To the publication, to make sure they had the images they needed and to manage the resources wisely
  • To the staff, to make sure they had the resources and support they needed
  • And to the community, to make sure they had the visual information they needed to understand themselves

High minded, especially coming from a 29 year old college drop out. But if I were to interview again, I think I’d have the same answers. I would do a better job of communicating, for sure – I dealt with far too many things on my own without enlisting the support and assistance of my staff.

Cropped LOAA Header 05 26 2013Why this today? Bob Borson over at Life of an Architect posted about the difference between management and leadership. Take a look at his thoughts.

I still think there’s a desperate need for a photo management seminar. Not a photo editing event, but one that relates purely to managing the diverse personalities in newsrooms and balancing their needs with the needs of the audience and the organization.

Maybe that’s next summer’s project …

* It took my last publication more than a year to replace me. Six months or so after I departed, the staffer who had been appointed to run the shop during the search contacted me and apologized – she said she had no idea how much stuff I had to deal with on a daily basis. It was a very minor victory.

Mark E. Johnson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment