Carolyn Bivens, Former LGPA Commissioner & Community Leader
What does great leadership look like? What a terrific question. We all study great leaders and leadership principles but that’s different than what others see. We experience great leadership (and the reverse) at various times in our lives; some of us become great leaders. But what great leadership looks like is much more about an organization, what drives it, the values by which it operates, the people it attracts, what is accomplished and how.
The vision for USA TODAY was articulated and driven by Al Neuharth, the Chairman and CEO of the Gannett Company. Al painted a clear vision of a national newspaper produced in color with late-breaking news. Al oversaw the research and planning. Strategy and detailed execution were painstakingly reviewed and fine-tuned for more than 2 years. No doubt, Al was a great leader. But once the newspaper launched in the fall of 1982, every senior staff member, department manager and each employee, understood their role in relation to delivering the short and long-term goals. Editorial, production, distribution, advertising, marketing, human relations……. every single person knew the short term and ultimate goals for USA TODAY: to become the most widely sold newspaper in the USA and to contribute to the profits and reputation of the Gannett Company.
The media and advertising industry was slow to accept USA TODAY for many reasons, some real and others rooted in skepticism of the new. But inside USA TODAY, we were clear about the vision, tasks, messages to be delivered to customers and partners, and driven to succeed in the marketplace. No one looked around waiting to be told what to do; there were no complaints about the work, the company or each other. There was just a great deal of work to be done and energy about being part something “big.”
Over the course of the next 10 years, what was expected from all departments and each person was aligned and communicated regularly. Research, both formal and informal market intelligence, was shared widely so we could use our resources more effectively. Coordination and cooperation existed within departments and throughout the organization. We celebrated successes and milestones and corrected the course when we missed a goal.
We ignored the criticism from the industry but listened intently to feedback from customers. We felt intense commitment to the readers, our customers, the organization and each other.
Lest anyone think the launch of USA TODAY and drive to make it profitable was filled with only achievements and celebrations, missing goals or failing to execute a plan or process was a painful, often internally public occasion. Whether we missed a news story, failed to uphold the reproduction quality standards, didn’t re-stock high selling newsstand locations quickly enough, or failed to meet a budget projection, department reviews and then newspaper-wide meetings were convened. The process was always the same; what happened? Why? What did we learn? What processes were being put in place to insure a better outcome next time?
Was Al Neuharth a leader? Absolutely. USA TODAY, the newspaper, was the result of a concisely articulated vision, which resonated with employees, readers and eventually, advertisers. Yet when asked, “ what does leadership look like?” my answer is the USA TODAY organization. It was the hundreds of ordinary people who fully bought into the prospect of doing their part to deliver the product and then the profitability of this country’s first national, general interest newspaper. The staff of USA TODAY, employees, managers and department heads were each integral to delivering a vision and displaying what leadership looks like.
Carolyn Bivens is currently devoting much of her time to charitable causes, not only raising much needed money, but personally spending several weeks in the depths of the Amazon River country helping the very needy people in the back country area of Peru. She is also teaching leadership and team effectiveness skills to corporate executives. Prior to this, Carolyn had been the Commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). In the eyes of a great many close the business of the LPGA, Carolyn did exactly what was needed, insisting that tournament owners offer appropriate prize money to the players and fees to the LPGA to enable the tour to grow, ultimately benefiting the players.
Prior to the LPGA, Carolyn had joined Initiative Media North America, at the time a burgeoning media consulting firm, in June 2000 as managing director of its western region. One year later, she was tapped as its president and chief operating officer for North America.
Before Initiative Media North America, Bivens enjoyed an 18-year career with USA Today. She joined the “Nation’s Newspaper” in 1982 as part of the original launch team, and subsequently held various roles, ultimately Senior Vice President and Associate Publisher.
Carolyn is a savvy businesswoman. She is intelligent, driven and well respected throughout numerous industries.