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79 chapter four How to Lead Change Community newspapers are currently facing a life-threatening shock to the ecosystem that supported them over the last century. In order to survive , they need to adapt—and quickly. But having realized the imperative to change, publishers and editors are often surprised at how difficult it is to enlist others at their newspaper to follow them as they head off into uncharted territory. Why is change so difficult? Thousands of books—written by CEOs, Ivy League professors, and business consultants—have pondered that question . “There’s a joke I tell on myself,” says Clark Gilbert, a former Harvard Business School professor who in 2008 became the CEO of Deseret Management Corporation, which publishes the Deseret News. “I tell my former colleagues that it’s a lot easier to lay out a strategy on a PowerPoint slide than it is to do it in real life. I vastly underestimated the amount of cultural work that would be needed to turn around a company. I now believe that a good strategy is, at best, only 49 percent of the solution.” According to Ronald Heifetz, founder of the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University , all organizations face two types of challenges: technical and adaptive. Technical challenges can be fixed with current knowledge and institutional know-how. For example, a component in the printing press breaks. The unit is repaired or replaced, and life at the newspaper returns to normal. Adaptive challenges, however, are much more difficult for an organization to address, Heifetz says, since it “involves both conservation and innovation . It’s about understanding what we want to preserve from our history, while also moving people and organizations into the future. Innovation is about tinkering until you figure out a model that builds off the lessons of history. Without learning new ways—changing attitudes, values, and behaviors—people cannot make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in the new environment.” implementing a new strategy 80 In training to be a psychiatrist before he joined the faculty at Harvard, Heifetz learned that “the deeper the change and the greater the amount of new learning required, the more resistance there will be. For this reason , people often try to avoid the dangers, either consciously or subconsciously , by diagnosing and treating an adaptive challenge as if it were a technical one.” The sort of adaptive change that community newspapers must currently embrace is very difficult to organize and lead, he says, because it “requires ongoing experimentation—keeping people in the game over a sustained period of disequilibrium.” Gilbert says he “spends at least 60 percent of [his] day, not building strategy, but building culture” as he attempts to lead “dual transformations ” of the 162-year-old Deseret News, owned by the Mormon Church, and the Deseret Digital Media division, which he created when he assumed leadership of the Salt Lake City–based company. “I feel a tremendous stewardship for all the media in the Deseret group. But we have to think differently in both divisions.” Similarly, Charles Broadwell, publisher of the 200-year-old daily Fayetteville Observer in eastern North Carolina, serving residents of ten counties and the large military community stationed at Fort Bragg, has become the consummate juggler of multiple “experiments” as he attempts to guide the paper ’s employees through this era of adaptive change. “We have to get off the island we built for ourselves,” says Broadwell. “We have to try some stuff. And when it fails or has outlived its purpose, we have to move on. That is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn, because we are used to holding on to things.” In recent years, the Observer has started a magazine for army officers, built a “social network” for “military moms,” and contracted to print dozens of other newspapers and magazines throughout the Southeast, “so the press room stays busy 24/7.” All the while, Broadwell is constantly reassessing what goes into the paper and onto the website,, which has almost 600,000 unique visitors monthly and is currently receiving a major facelift so it is better suited for mobile access. “Adaptive change forces people to question and perhaps redefine aspects of their identity; it also challenges their sense of competence,” writes Heifetz in his 2002 book, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, cowritten by Marty Linsky. “No wonder people resist.” Richard Foster of Yale University’s...


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