If I had to pick one thing I pride myself on, something that has helped steer the course of my career, it would be my willingness eagerness to look beyond my job title and responsibilities. Over the span of 10 years beginning in 1996, I served as editor-in-chief of CollegeBound Teen Magazine, which, during its heyday, was the créme de la créme of glossy publications for smart and savvy teens. We did what we did — engaging and educating readers with information on getting into and succeeding at college — exceptionally well, and received plenty of accolades along the way. (The decision to shutter the magazine in October of 2007 wasn’t due to any editorial shortcomings, but because of the migration of our readers from print to online, readers who have stayed with us as that one magazine emerged into the 12 education-specific niche Web sites I managed through 2015.)
Back then, being at the editorial helm meant connecting with directors of admission at top colleges, best-selling authors, and leading college-bound celebrities, from Mandy Moore, Hilary Duff, even Lindsay Lohan (they all used to be college-bound… sigh). It meant I was invited to speak at teen marketing conventions, appear on morning TV news shows, and serve as a judge for everything from “Why I need this scholarship” essay competitions to an apple-pie recipe bakeoff for teens vying for admission to the nation’s top culinary college.
I was responsible for our company’s editorial direction, management strategy, and the content arm of all new business development. Yet still I whipped my red pen out to edit everything that appeared in print; eyeballed most queries (the majority of which were from students and other aspiring writers); and took time out to speak to college journalism classes.
I have always strived to be a “writer’s editor.” I can count on one hand the times I had to rework an article without a writer’s collaboration, since doing so would go against most of what I believe in. Being a good editor means not red-lining shouts over someone’s words, but rather helping them express themselves in a more eloquent way. And part of being a good editor means being a good leader.
No matter what the industry, a leader worth his or her chair in a corner office is someone who can command with knowledge and experience, not only of the most high-level aspects of a job, but of the lowest levels as well (oftentimes some of the hardest tasks to accomplish). How else can she motivate her team members?
And so it was that I found myself parking WWE champion John Cena’s truck.
It was years ago, on the morning of an exciting photo shoot for CB Teen, one in which I had helped wrangle the 6’1″, 240-lbs., four-time world-champion wrestler to appear in an exclusive cover story about brains and brawn. What many didn’t realize (and still don’t, probably) was that Cena is a proud college graduate (he received a degree in exercise physiology from Springfield College). Being able to share the story of his “scholastic muscles” with hundreds of thousands of impressionable teens was part of what made our magazine unique, innovative, and successful.
Of course, the wrangling part wasn’t easy, since Cena was a top-notch score. The planning involved in getting him to us was, I’d say, more difficult than putting a whole magazine to bed. When the day finally arrived, we waited with baited breath for the star to shine. Our photographer was all set up; the mag’s art director was focused on developing her vision; my senior reporter had her tape recorder at the ready; and stylists were standing by.
And then my cell phone rang with a question that was really a command: “We’re pulling up in three minutes. You’ll have someone there to park for us?” said Cena’s publicist. My eyes quickly scanned the room… everyone had a job to do and was intent on doing it. We didn’t have a valet on payroll to jump at the task, so I grabbed my coat, told my crew I’d be right back, and down I went.
When I met Cena and his rep in front of the studio entrance, I don’t think it registered that I was the magazine’s editor-in-chief. They just handed me the keys and listened to my directions upstairs. I hopped in the Ford Explorer and laughed to myself. Here I was, parking John Cena’s truck — a surreal career moment, to say the least.
Upon my return to the studio and after a more formal introduction, you could tell the look of confusion on Cena and his rep’s face… like, Why did she park the car? It was simple… something needed to get done and I could do it. I should do it. I felt the same way the time I handed out magazines at a college fair; sealed envelopes with entry forms for a scholarship contest our magazine was sponsoring; and carried boxes of back issues to the elevator bay during office clean-up days.
I truly believe that when you get caught up in power trips where the destination is “That’s Your Job, Not Mine-ville,” you stop doing your job well. An exceptional team leader knows how to accomplish a goal by understanding her team’s strengths and weaknesses, realizing the importance of stepping in when necessary, and never deeming oneself “too good” to do any particular task.
For me, turning that key in John Cena’s truck signified a turn in my outlook on success. It’s not about what you do that necessarily makes you great, it’s the attitude with which you do it.