By Wythe Walker
Management 101 Series
Years ago when I was first working as a publisher one of my mentors was Alan Leveritt, publisher of Arkansas Times. Alan is a master networker, a great salesperson and promoter for causes he believes in, and a terrifically loyal boss.
I learned a lot from Alan about caring for people and keeping your word.
Here are just a few of the life lessons he taught me.
One, if you make a mistake or if you’ve made someone mad (in the news business, inevitably, mistakes get made and people get mad over things that have been written), immediately go meet with that person face to face and talk it out. This is hard to do but is almost always the best course of action. What I found, and Alan knew I’d find, is that, usually, if I could get in front of someone, let them be mad at me and tell me their perspective, and I could tell them mine, almost always the relationship could continue. And many, many times, be better than ever. At a minimum, the other person would respect my willingness to defend my position or acknowledge the mistake.
Two, when managing employees, make sure they understand what your expectations are. Don’t be a mind reader. Often employees don’t know what you want and that’s why they’re not doing it. He told me the story of a time he was working in a grocery store and was stocking the shelves wrong. The manager wasn’t happy with him but didn’t tell him about it. They secretly fumed, incorrectly thinking he had a poor work ethic. Finally, one day they told him, or he found out the proper method. Alan wanted to do the work properly, he just didn’t know what to do. I tried to always make sure my employees understood the task and had proper training. Sometimes they weren’t well suited for a job, but at least we both knew what the job was.
Three, one time Alan and I were on a sales call and we started brainstorming about one idea and another. We were really riffing. I got excited about one, in particular, etching out its possibilities in my mind, and said, Should we keep this one close to the vest? Alan looked at me and said, Wythe, it’s a good idea, but don’t worry. Ideas are easy, execution is hard. Over and over, I found that to be true and have said it to other people. It’s easy to spend time daydreaming. What counts is making things happen.
Four, Alan is one of the best publishing promoters in the country. His circle of contacts is vast and his ability to listen to a prospect’s needs, come up with an interesting marketing idea, and then sell it to them is pretty amazing. Over and over, he showed me the truth in the adage that clients don’t want to buy an ad, they want to buy an idea.
Five, when I first became publisher of Arkansas Business and was worried I wouldn’t be able to maintain the sales revenue that kept the publication alive, Alan gave me this insight. Wythe, he said, just make 10 sales calls a week and everything will be alright. He was correct. Making sales calls (usually riding along with the sales reps) allowed me to meet many, many people, build relationships, learn about their needs, our value. Within a year or two, my network of contacts was extensive, my sales skills improved and my confidence enough to help Arkansas Business grow successfully for the seven years I was there. Alan was right. Learn by doing, as John Dewey counseled.