Be careful with those blood oaths
“Here,” she had said, handing me an ad for managing editor of some dinky Colorado paper in the mountains. “They’re looking for you.”Little papers are such hard work. But the luster of bigger had worn thin within months of a move to Southern California, even with somewhat regular shifts and actual days off. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Just more people.This woman, my wife, I swear she knows things. A couple of months and a few phone call and e-mail conversations later, I was in a new brown suit and asking at the front for the publisher, Bob Brown.A tall, lanky guy in cowboy boots and blue jeans came out to greet me. He didn’t have a Stetson on, but he looked me in the eye and had the key quality I look for in a leader when I meet someone, particularly someone who might supervise me. He listened. After all, job interviews work a couple of ways. While I may have been restless with my current posting, I was hardly desperate. Actually, my role as night editor at the area’s “little” 95,000-circulation, nine-edition North (San Diego) County Times of late had gotten a lot more interesting since I had sent out a couple of resumes for the heck of it earlier that summer. We’d largely solved the organizational problems that come with putting out so many editions all at once on a tight time frame and out of three offices up to 30 miles apart, and I was beginning to edge into the bigger challenges of coordinating nine independent-minded editors of those editions. This would be fun. Not that I have had a problem with saying exactly what I think in the workplace (my personal challenges go quite the other way there), but I approached the whole Vail Daily job on my terms, answering questions exactly as I thought, blunt if need be, and frankly not planning to take the job anyway. It would have to be awfully amazing to move me, even if we weren’t all that crazy about living with a few million neighbors in Southern California.Turns out it was.It helped that Sept. 28, the aspens were ablaze in their fall glory. It helped that Sept. 29 it snowed. It helped that within a couple of hours I could find an excuse to shuck the suit and tie and dress comfortably. It helped that while the place seemed so small, the people struck me as bright, good-humored and essentially optimistic. It helped that the Vail Daily didn’t deal with that vitally important question that my current one had every Friday and Saturday night: Is this murder a brief on B3, a B1 story, or is it wacky and interesting enough to merit A1? And oh, in which zones should it run?The closer for me was Bob. “Why should I pick someone who moves so often?” he asked. Fair question, since in journalism I took new jobs about every two years, never staying longer in one place than three years. I got a late start at near 30, after ruining a knee in wildland firefighting. I pushed for better positions as fast as I could wring out the challenges and learn everything possible from my current ones. We also thoroughly enjoyed taking the slow tour of this great country by living in different regions. Well, I did; my wiser wife wasn’t entirely enthralled with every stop, looking back. But there’s no better way to see and get a better understanding of the nation, as far as I’m concerned, than editing papers in towns large and small throughout it.I was already smitten with this mix of culture and very wild country practically right out the back yard of every home here. I could see the upside economically – that’s important, having faced the rather more severe challenges of communities that are fading. And Bob cinched it. Here’s a guy I felt I could trust completely. I do still go on gut much too much for a curmudgeonly, cynical journalist who has seen enough to not be overly surprised at anything. But I trust that gut as a calculation that maybe my mind just hasn’t caught with yet. That or I just get lucky more often than not.Before I knew it, I was doing something I never do: Making a promise, an oath, a vow. “Hire me and I’ll be here to celebrate your 50th birthday,” I said. I think Bob was 40 then.So it was that my wife was right, as usual, and we came to the one place I don’t want to ever leave. And we’re picky people about communities, believe me. But five years here and we love this one for all its flaws borne mainly of too much expense and too much attraction for others like us. She said the first day we moved in: “Next life or next wife. I’m not moving.”Ah, but Bob is. Maybe I should have worked more detail into the fine print on that blood oath, some clause that tied him down more firmly to this little valley. I should have known, of course. The same qualities that had me blurting out a heart-felt vow that I hold fast to eventually inspired the selection of Bob as the new chief operating officer of the entire company. He’ll do great, although he’ll do it mainly from our Reno, Nevada, headquarters.Of course, blunt as always, I told him I wanted my blood back. No so fast, he replied, and he suckered me (again!): “How many people are between you and me?” Or something like that. Now, every organization of any size has a hierarchy, and as a former firefighter in the next most rigid system to the military, I hew to it strictly. In the realm of all things dealing with business, I answer to my publisher, who until a few weeks from now answers to Bob, currently the general manager of our Central Rockies newspapers; and the general manager answers to the COO, who will be Bob.Bob knows I know this. But he also knows I’m an inveterate smart aleck, one who is so contrary as to be almost completely predictable if you are paying attention.I snorted. “I’ll just pick up the phone,” I replied.”Exactly.”He knew what I’d say before I said it, before I knew I’d say it. This is the work of a listener, a very scary quality in a leader. Especially one to whom you’ve made a blood oath. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or email@example.comVail, Colorado
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