What motivates you?
It's a simple question. When asked, it might get a long pause and be answered slowly, purposefully, unlike many other workplace questions answered while the other person is still asking. When I considered this question for the first time in my career two weeks ago, I saw how different parts of the answer came together: slowly, purposefully, with great consideration of other important questions my answer would bring up.
Many questions like these emerged from the first ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, held at the Poynter Institute two weeks ago with a class of 25 attendees from media outlets all over the world. Throughout the week, we realized the effects we each could have and already have on our work environments and co-workers.
One seminar taught by senior faculty member Butch Ward that started the most conversation consisted of six questions, including the one above. As managers, we have to consider and care enough to articulate and sometimes blatantly ask the people we work with:
How do you do your job?
How can I best help you to learn?
How can I help you embrace change and thrive?
What's your dream job, and how can I help you get there?
How can I communicate genuine optimism?
We may care about our co-workers and wonder how we can change things to make all of our work lives better, but without asking the right questions and truly listening to the responses, it's hard to make any real changes. Something as easy to ask as "How do you do your job?" makes us realize we may not know how anyone on our team works. It could be that a writer turns in all of his posts close to deadline because he writes from beginning to end, or that a developer hits her real stride around 1 p.m. and has trouble working in the morning. Both of these people would benefit from articulating their processes and getting feedback from managers who could help with workflow suggestions, experimenting with flex scheduling, or restructuring and shortening meetings and one-on-ones to make them more useful.
Once we are made to think about something outside of the common "problem-solution" model and more of a career goal we have to articulate before moving forward, we can begin taking steps to achieve it and think of who and when to ask for help along the way—and how can we bring up people who come after us.
For those working in media, it benefits everyone to learn and keep exercising the initial skills of reporting no matter where we go. Caring enough to ask questions will lead us to more honest, considered responses that help us and our teams become better communicators. Striving to be a manager who helps develop hard-working people on your team will make more talented people want to work with you in the future.
The ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media is a week-long leadership and management training class with seminars and panels from leading women and men in media, and is tuition-free thanks to generous sponsors. I had the great privilege of representing Vox Media in the inaugural class. If you read this entire post, you should apply to next year's academy and ask me anything about the first class.