Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A skeptical journalist tries coaching

In 2003 I was publisher of the Baltimore Business Journal and agreed to chair a major charity campaign. Our company, American City Business Journals, measures all kinds of performance indicators, and our paper was below average compared to the other 40 in the chain. I decided that I couldn't do justice to my day job or the charity campaign without doing things differently.

At that time, a respected colleague told me that she had been using an executive coach and strongly recommended that I try it. I had been highly skeptical of the idea for a number of reasons. As a journalist, I had often been unimpressed with the work produced by consultants hired by government agencies. And how could an outside consultant with no journalism experience understand what my job was, and more specifically, our particular journalism niche?

But my colleague's strong recommendation led me to interview three potential coaches. In a 45-minute trial run with the coach I eventually chose, Alan Dobzinski, he asked me compelling questions that made me think. What part of the business, if it improved, had the most potential for immediate positive change in business results? he asked. He drilled down with questions, and by the end of the session, I was saying out loud the changes I needed to make in some critical support areas.

Over the next three years, I met three hours a month with Alan and worked on my leadership skills, on getting accountability, and on developing people, among other things. The results were both immediate and long-lasting. My direct reports became much more open and honest with me. We identified problems and worked on them together. The business results were significant double-digit increases in revenues and earnings. Our paper had significant growth in paid circulation two years in a row at a time when daily newspapers were losing subscribers. We began to work together more as a team. Our events became better attended, better executed and more profitable.

For me, work became much more rewarding and less stressful. The paper's successes made it easier for me to retire on a high note in July 2006 to accept a Knight International Press Fellowship.


Here's a photo of my coach, Alan Dobzinski. He and his former business partner, Margaret Wilson, have written a book on coaching called The Accountability Factor, which I've been using in my own coaching.

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