NMG president learns: Asking the right questions applies to leadership as well as reporting

NMG president Martha Waggoner at leadership training in June 2012 in East Aurora, N.Y.

Good reporters know that the best questions lead to the best stories. “Why did you need the money?” is a better question than “Did you take the money?”

Asking the right question also is true when it comes to leadership training, at least some parts of it. In June, I participated in a weekend of training in  East Aurora, N.Y., led by Barbara Saxberg of the Canadian Media Guild.

One of the most popular parts of the “Re-Imagining Leadership” training involved “world cafes,” where participants sat at a table for 10 minutes, discussed a question and then moved to another table and another question. One person, the host, stayed behind at each table as the host, writing answers with markers on paper draped across the table.

One talented host illustrated our answers with drawings rather than words. We explored questions that matter to leadership. By moving from table to table and by changing the participants at each discussion, we carried our ideas around the room and gained new insights into how we want to lead and how to develop new leaders.

At our second café, which occurred on the last day, we weren’t asked something as simple as “what have I learned?” Instead, we discussed “What do I know now that I didn’t know when I arrived? What have I discovered about myself?” And finally, “How will I take forward what I’ve learned?

As the News Media Guild approaches bargaining in 2013, we’ll have our usual mobilizing meetings where we connect with people whom we may know only through bylines or Shoptalk. What I hope will be different next year is the way we talk with each other about issues for the next contract.

We always have to consider what the company will want. But we spend at least as much time considering what we want. In other words, let’s ask the right questions.