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John Cords

Reflections of a Managing Editor

Startup Teamwork Brainstorming Office Meeting Room
aurielaki © 123RF.com

When I started my current job managing a team of editors, I panicked. I had no idea what a manager did. Seven years on, I’ve learned a few things. Some days I feel like I’m still stumbling along, but I’d like to share some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Personality

When I took the Myers-Briggs, I scored as far over on the introvert side of the scale as possible. I used to think that in order to manage people I had to be someone I wasn’t — more outgoing, more schmoozy. On the contrary, it was possible to manage as an introvert. People thrived if I basically left them alone. Perhaps the introverted style is uniquely suited to managing editors and others who do “deep work,” but other styles work fine too. I learned to not try to be someone I’m not.

Meetings

If I’m going to break an editor’s concentration, I have to have a clear objective. I don’t meet just for the sake of having a meeting. I also try to stick to a half hour. Some experts recommend even shorter meetings.

Self-reflection

Before I confront an editor whose work is suffering, I try to ask myself if I had a role in the problem. Maybe my expectations and guidelines aren’t crystal clear. I then own up to my role in the problem and use it as an opportunity to improve my performance.

Conflict management

I want to hear legitimate concerns, but drama for drama’s sake should be quashed before it spreads and leads to sloppiness and missed deadlines. With only a month under my belt as a manager, I had two editors with festering complaints. So I held a meeting that was little more than a venting session. I thought this would release tension. It did the opposite, exacerbating the negativity. A better approach would have been to address root causes while clarifying that missing deadlines and poor work quality wouldn’t be tolerated.

Hiring

Having hired many editors, I now specifically look for “soft” skills more than I did at first. For me, flexibility, being nice, and a willingness to learn are key. Frankly, lots of people know Chicago or APA style, but you can’t train someone to be a decent colleague to work with.

Managing (or killing) expectations

My primary responsibility is to facilitate my editors’ ability to do their jobs. A significant part of this is serving as a buffer for other people’s unreasonable expectations or anxieties that may not have anything to do with editing. I listen to them and maybe even affirm their concerns. But I try to avoid distracting my editors with the noise.

Full disclosure: I have (unintentionally) broken each of these rules. I’ll probably break them again. Sometimes circumstances demand a different approach. Nevertheless, I stand by them. Give them a try and let me know what the results are. If you have a different approach, let me know that too.

If you aren’t a manager but work with one, keep in mind that most managers, even the bad ones but probably not the truly sociopathic ones, want to do a good job. They might not know how. Consider how you can help them become the manager you need them to be.

___

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10 Comments on “Reflections of a Managing Editor”

  • Kristine Buchholtz

    says:

    Thank you, Mr. Cords, for your excellent advice — advice that is not only useful to the managing editor but also to many, many other situations where leadership is required.

    I have saved this article for future reference.

    • John Cords

      says:

      Thank you!

  • Gael Spivak

    says:

    My team can’t stand meetings. So we just have them whenever we need them. They usually last just five or ten minutes. They’re always focused on solving a problem we’ve come up against.

    I also have a 15-minute walk every day with one of my staff and we often talk out her assignments when we do that.

    • John Cords

      says:

      The walk is a great idea. Who among us doesn’t spend too much time sitting? Plus, walking is a good way to generate ideas.

    • John Cords

      says:

      Thanks! I appreciate the feedback.

  • Anna Biunno

    says:

    John,

    Your advice is insightful yet practical. All managing editors (MEs) should read your post.

    I’ve worked with some amazing managing editors and some really mediocre ones who had no idea what they were doing (and who didn’t want to learn). That’s why your closing paragraph is on point. Editors should set expectations at the beginning and continue to tweak them as the team moves forward.

    Editors should also bring ideas and tools to the table to facilitate the ME’s role and theirs. That’s when editors must flex their collegial and diplomatic muscles.

    Well done. The post is worth saving.

    • John Cords

      says:

      Thanks for reading, Anna. I agree with you that setting clear (and achievable) expectations is key.

  • Anne Brennan

    says:

    You’re right about setting realistic expectations and protecting your editors from noise from above.

    But I think the most important thing is to give your people the tools they need, then step aside and let them do their jobs.

    Too often, people don’t have the tools they need to do the work well. In my many years as a managing editor, I found that getting those tools for them was one of my most challenging tasks.

  • Good column. Enjoyed it.

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