Episode 14: Follower-Centered Leadership
with Kevin Riley

As the editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kevin Riley knows what it’s like to have all eyes on him, and yet he recognizes that leaders need to pay careful attention to their followers and work for their betterment. Through moving memories of his father and learning the importance of tough feedback, Kevin's story helps us remember to focus on what’s most important in work and life.

About our guest

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Learn more about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Kevin Riley is the Editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a position he was named to in January 2011. Kevin is a long-time employee of Cox Enterprises and began his career in 1983 at the Dayton Daily News while a student at the University of Dayton. He also writes columns in the Journal-Constitution.  

During his time in Atlanta, he has led a rejuvenation of the newspaper’s investigative journalism. The newspaper was named a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize in 2017. The AJC’s coverage of Atlanta City Hall won the 2019 American Society of News Editors’ First Amendment Award and the University of Florida’s Freedom of Information Award. The newspaper won a 2020 National Headliner award for its investigation into senior-care homes.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has also been recognized with two Emmy awards for broadcast projects related to its investigative reporting during Kevin’s tenure.  

Kevin has emphasized a digital approach to news coverage, including hyper-local content focused on communities, and garners the largest audience of any local news site in metro Atlanta. He oversees the state’s largest reporting staff covering Georgia’s governor, legislature and state government.  

Kevin is an award-winning podcaster, receiving the American Bar Association’s prestigious Silver Gavel Award in 2018. His podcast, which was part of the AJC’s popular “Breakdown” series, recounted his experience as a jury foreman in a Fulton County double-murder case.

Kevin was a judge for the 2019 and the 2020 Pulitzer Prizes. He testified before U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law in 2019 on the importance of local journalism, and the impact that social media and the large tech companies are having on it. He is also a regular guest on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Political Rewind.”  

He is a member of the Atlanta Rotary Club, the News Leaders Association, and he serves on the board of the Empty Stocking Fund. He was named one of “Atlanta’s 55 Most Powerful” people by Atlanta Magazine.  

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Kevin is married to Tracy, his wife of 34 years. They have three children.

Episode transcript

Keith: Folks, we are so excited to have with us today Kevin Riley, the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Kevin, welcome to the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast.

 Kevin: Well, gosh, Keith, thanks for having me. It's good to be with you and I'm looking forward to this conversation.  

Keith: Same here, same here. Hey, you have been, I think, in the newspaper business for your entire career, is that right?  

Kevin: Pretty much, yeah. That's a fair statement. If you wanted to count my years in college, we're talking about four decades.  

Keith: Wow. Wow. Tell us a little bit about your journey through that industry and especially from a leadership perspective. Where have you been? We know where you are now and I know you spent time running a paper up in Dayton, Ohio, and some things like that, but give folks a little bit of insight into your story.  

Kevin: I don't know how much people are interested in, but I attended the University of Dayton in Ohio. I grew up in Ohio--in Cleveland--one of six kids of a Cleveland, Ohio police officer. When I originally went away to school, my plan was to become a lawyer and I remember I had worked on the student newspaper in high school and I was working on the paper in college, too, and I remember when I changed my mind and decided I wasn't going to go to law school. I was a sophomore sitting through this really boring political science class and said to myself, "Oh my God, man. Six more years of school, I'm never going to make it. I got to do something else!" So I ended up changing to journalism. Now, the reason I tell that story is because I didn't go to a school with a big journalism school, and with all of that going on, so when I came out of school--and while I was in school, I kind of felt that maybe I wasn't as well prepared as I should be, maybe I had no business thinking that I could do this thing. I think it gave me some doubts as a leader. But one thing that helped me tremendously--you know, I think about this all the time, I've told this story to friends--because I wasn't in a big time journalism school where you had a lot of people interested in the field and a lot of people really working to make their way, my job at the student newspaper was different than some of the people I've run into professionally, you know, the things they experienced. Meaning that a lot of people who were there were there voluntarily working on the student newspaper and there for fun and they really weren't always getting class credits or anything like that. So it affected my leadership style because you couldn't--you had to be a little bit more persuasive, be a little bit more consensus building, in order to motivate people because you just couldn't order them around and that has always stayed with me as a as a leadership style that I would much rather convince people of what we need to do and why we need to do it rather than play the, you know, the authority game or order people around. I think that can cut two ways. There are times when a leader just has to say, "Here's what we need to do, we're in a crisis," but I also reflect upon those college years. I had this really fantastic professor in a writing class and one of the things he said at the beginning of the class was, "If you're going to be a good writer, you're going to do a lot of bad writing first. So let's get that out of the way," and I think leadership's the same. I think if you're going to be a good leader, you're going to be a bad leader first, maybe for a really long time and that's how I feel about myself. Like, you know, there are things I did a couple of years ago that I think, "Why did I do it that way?" It’s just this idea that you got to keep working at it and you have to be devoted to it and I've had a lot of leadership experiences, even from a very young age, going all the way back to high school and places like that and I think, "Yeah, he was pretty right about that. A lot of bad leadership in the Riley record, you know?" and it gave me some pause coming on this podcast. At first, when we first talked because I'm like, "Oh my God, someone who was victimized by that bad leadership is going to listen and they're going to really they're going to send you a nasty note." I'm afraid of that. So, yeah.  

Keith: As you were in those early years and I know from our conversations that we've had over the past several years that you're always bumping up against stuff, right? But that failure, or bad leadership or whatever, you didn't use the word "failure" but you've got to do some things wrong to learn how to do it right. Was that something that you stayed up at night thinking about or was it something that you feel like you incorporated fairly easily?  

Kevin: I think that there were times when I could incorporate it easily and then times when I was maybe too stubborn to realize that I needed to change and I think it--there was a moment I came to where I said, where I examine my motivation. "Why...?" There were a couple of moments where "Why do you want to be a leader? Why do you want to do this thing? What's motivating you?" There were sort of two moments that came together for me on that, fairly far apart, at least I would say close to 10 years apart. That's how maybe slow I was at learning some of these things. The first was at a very young age. My wife and I, when we had just bought a new house, we had two young kids, another on the way and I got--I was in Ohio and I got the big job at a big newspaper. I got the offer. I had gone to the interview and pretty much agreed to take the job when I came home and a few details to be worked out, not everything, and my wife, as we talked about it that weekend, she said, "Well, I'm not going," and I said, "What? What do you mean you're not going?" and it turned into a very difficult weekend-long discussion--tearful at times--where she forced me to think about what was motivating me. And the way I describe that now to my friends, it was at that moment that I realized, and I don't think I really put it this way, but I realized she was the CEO of our family. She was setting direction. She was the brains behind where we needed to go and why we needed to go there and I was the chief operating officer of the family and I think since that time, I had--again, I'm not even sure, I hope she's not overhearing me--I'm not sure she would enjoy hearing it that way, but it is true. Like her vision of what we were going to do and why we were going to do it was better than mine and I was better at figuring out how we might get there and all the things that come with that. You have a family and a lot of people do, finances and all those things that you work your way through. She kept me from making a big, big mistake. So that was the first moment and then years later, over a decade, I think when my father died it really, really was a moment for me. Now for many of us, and I had a great relationship with my dad, and for anyone who's close to their father, when their father dies, that's a big moment, a difficult moment. I have this wonderful story from his funeral that I'll tell if you're if there's anybody still listening, maybe--I hope they enjoy the story.  

Keith: I'm sure there are.  

Kevin: So, again, I came from a big family, six kids. My dad was a cop in the city of Cleveland for almost 30 years, knew a lot of people and at his funeral visitation, it was in Cleveland, Ohio, in January, it's snowing like crazy. It was just a terrible day. People are lined up outside the door to come to that visitation and so my mom insisted that all of her children stand there with her and greet people, sort of receiving line. As people are making their way up through the line, one of us knew who they were if my mom didn't. So, we could say, "Oh, hey, Mom, this is, you know, so-and-so. I work with them.” But there's this guy coming up through the line and none of us recognize and we're kind of looking around, you know, we're all very close and kind of panicking a little like, "Who is this guy?" So he comes up to my mom and we're like, "I got nothing, you know, I don't know who this guy is," and he says to her, "You don't know who I am," and he proceeds to tell her, "I'm here because your husband arrested me many, many years ago and he helped me get my life back on track."  

Keith: Wow.  

Kevin: And he said, "I just wanted to say, 'thank you'."  

Keith: Oh, my gosh.  

Kevin: And the reason I tell that story is because at that--excuse me--at that moment, I thought, "I would love to have anybody say something like that to me or about me someday." And from that moment on, I was a different leader.  

Keith: Wow. What was the takeaway? I mean, I think people can put some of these pieces together, but what was the--what did you learn new about you in that moment?  

Kevin: I think that what we have to recognize as leaders is what is motivating us and if that motivation is our self-satisfaction and our achievements, we're on a perilous path that will inevitably lead to disappointment. If our motivation is much more the possibilities in those who we work with, the possibilities for our own learning, our possibilities for what can be accomplished when a leader really draws people out into what they are motivated by and love to do and can do and want to grow, then you're on to something and the reason for that is when you look at it that way, disappointments and shortcomings aren't really failures, they're just along the way, you know. And I started accomplishing so much more in my career at that point. I was so much happier because it wasn't about the next thing I could get done or the next job I would get and that combined with that episode with my wife, where we had made a decision at that point, I wasn't going to chase after getting a big media job in some big market, because we were going to have a life where we had other things that motivated us. And of course, what happened, I ended up with a big job in Atlanta, which is about as big a place as I could ever have imagined being because I quit worrying about it, if that makes any sense. And so I think that the there's a lot to be said for asking yourself, "What motivates you as a leader? What is it that is central to what you're trying to get to?" And if it's--Pat Lencioni in his, one of his latest books, I know you're a fan. That's the "Five Dysfunctions of a Team" guy--talks about that. I think the book is called "The Motive" and he literally has like a little Q&A and it and everything. But I think that if what we search for and most what is most attractive to us are those rewards or perks or trappings of leadership, whatever you'd like to call them, that eventually that's not going to be enough, that there's got to be some really core motivation. And so that day, I thought, "Man, I would love for someone to think that way about me."  

Keith: Wow, what an amazing story. How old were you about? Ish?  

Kevin: Let's see. My dad died...I'll do the quick math in my head, I was about 41 or 42 about 40-ish, I mean I could get the calendar out, but I'm pretty sure that's very close and so that's how long it took me. I had three kids. I'd been married for a long time. I mean, I'm kind of embarrassed and it took me that long, especially when I reflect on all the leadership opportunities I had in big and small ways. I was the worst high school baseball team captain I could have possibly been, you know, but what an opportunity, you know, to be the captain of the baseball team. But when you're only thinking about was a bad season, man. It was a frustrating season.  

Keith: And are you telling me, I mean, I don't want you to rat yourself out too bad here, but are you telling me that for 20 years, the early part of your career, that the motivation was more about like the achievement than it was about others that's the switch that flipped for you?  

Kevin: I would say, yes and I don't want to I mean, I hope, but I guess suppose others could answer this question better, I don't mean that I was blindly ambitious, just rolling over people and not caring about them. At least I don't think I was. But I'll betcha I made some people feel that way. You know, I'll bet that because when you're thinking more about yourself as a leader than others, you're in trouble. You know, you really are. And I think we're going to probably get to this in a conversation, but during these times of this pandemic, man, has that become clear to me that you got to do all you can for the people you lead. I mean, you have to pay attention to yourself and you have to know what you must accomplish as a leader. I mean, those are all givens, right? We all have tremendously demanding jobs as leaders. Results, we just have to get results we sometimes don't reach and are disappointed and frustrated by, of course. But it's the people for whom you're responsible, the people who are looking to you for leadership that you really have to think about and do the best you can for at all times, I believe. I mean, that's where I've come to.  

Keith: Yeah, I love that, Kevin. That is a conclusion that a number of people never draw. It's a conclusion that, most people who ultimately draw wish they had drawn it earlier, right? But--  

Kevin: I wish I had done it sooner. I mean, you know, I'm familiar with your work and I'm going to guess at least some people who listen, in terms of these levels of leadership and all of that stuff that I've learned from getting to know you, and it's one of those things I realized about my dad. You know, like he was a very high-level leader, even though he was a front-line cop and detective his virtually his whole career. He was never the commissioner of police or the or the captain or the homicide squad or anything like that, but he was definitely the leader of his family and a leader? And when it finally hits you, and I'm going to guess a lot of the people you work with say this, it's so obvious and you're like, "Why did it take me so long to see that?" You know?  

Keith: Yeah. It's amazing, though. There are a couple of things that I'm hearing in the story. I mean, one is this shift from sort of from outside-in to inside-out, right? Allowing the things around you to define success for you. But that moment, and for so many people, the loss of a key parent, one of their parents, both of their parents, either of their parents is such a defining moment for them. It's a point of reflection, I think. I don't know when the last time we talked, but I lost my dad about 18 months, 2 years ago, something along those lines and just the shift that takes place over time is a real shift but even though it's over time, it's a compressed period of time compared to just letting life unfold. It's too constant a challenge, too constant a restructuring of how we're making sense of things. And, man, that story is as powerful and to know that it was kind of a "BOOM, I want someone to say that about me," that's a big point. That's a big inflection point. One of the main reasons that we're doing this podcast is that we think when people understand that a big part of their working years journey is moving from the outside-in to the inside-out, and that this is what maturity looks like, this is what growing as a grown-up looks like, right? That we begin to author and take ownership of who we're going to be, that we can accelerate others progress on that journey by getting them to intentionally focus on it. I mean, honestly, that's the whole reason for this podcast, is that in a weird way, you were lucky enough to have something happen to you that flipped the switch.  

Kevin: Yeah, and part of what affects me is in the end, it comes down to a couple obviously key people in my life, right? My wife, my father...And I'll try this too, for the sake of people who are listening and trying to grow as leaders. I think some of what I'm saying, right, about, you know, kind of being in service to people who work for you and really caring about them and loving them and trusting them, you know, that can sound a little too touchy-feely for some people "I'm about getting stuff done. I'm not about making people feel good. I'm about results." I mean, we all know that reality of the workplace and leadership, whether it's in an intense corporate environment or if it's in your personal life, I mean, what's the point if you're not getting something done? I think that it's just really, really important to remember that you have to do hard things and do them well. And I'm going to give you an example. And this is a tough one, Keith, and I don't know when we do the listen to the podcast, maybe I won't want you to include it but, you know, I work in an industry-- newspapers--that has faced a lot of financial challenge and turmoil. I've been in a position where I've had to lay people off, a lot of people. I mean, I don't even want to count but it's a lot.    And this is going to sound crazy and might sound insensitive, but I've really worked hard to get better at it, you know, and I've talked to people about that and people I've worked with who I've learned from, because, look, if you're a young, inexperienced leader who's not working to have this perspective that you need, what's worse than having to tell someone they don't have a job anymore? I mean, in the workplace that's the--that is the ultimate difficulty, whether it's happening to someone, which is the worst, or if it's someone you are someone to whom you are delivering that message, you know? And I think that you go through stages of that, too, right? I mean, who wants to wake up--it's that sort of part of your theory. You grow through these difficult moments. Who wakes up in the morning and says, you know, "I'd like to lay some people off, that I think that be a good experience for me," you know? I mean, no normal person is going to do that and we are filled with dread and the need to escape that fate. I mean, all those things that are so human and I mean, if you don't want to avoid laying someone off, I mean, you're not human, right? But you have to do it. I've had to do it and it's been awful and what I've learned as you go through--I don't know if I'd call them stages? I'd love to study this. I'd love to find someone who does work like you to study this. But, you know, the first time you do it or at first you kind of want to talk yourself into it, like somehow people deserve this. Like somehow they had it coming because you've got to steel yourself to deliver that news and that's the wrong way to think about it, right? You're not a tough guy. You're not doing the hard things because you do this. This is like a terrible moment and you've got to fulfil your responsibilities as a leader, right? Well, I think you do that with compassion and with thought and with honesty and I've just sort of learned one of the greatest moments I had in my entire career was I had a person I laid off, in during their final couple of days, come into my office and thank me for how it was handled. "I appreciate that you handled it this way, that you said these things." Now, I don't think the line of people who would say that to me is very long, I don't want to give people the wrong idea because, again, this is not some self-congratulatory thing when you lay people off, but I think it's really important to know that if you are going to be centered on the people who work for you and caring about them, that does not mean you avoid difficult decisions or difficult things, but it fundamentally changes how you approach them. These are people with lives and stories and cares and worries and if you have to tell them they're not going to have a job, think about how you tell them. Think about what they deserve to know, when they deserve to know, how they deserve to be treated, all of those things. And those moments, I think, have made me a better leader but I never I've never gotten over having to do that. I can see almost every person, you know?  

Keith: Yeah, it is almost impossible for me right now to not be reflecting on how much you might be like your dad was, and why that guy who came up at his memorial service, right? And what was the spirit that your dad must have had for someone to move into that "I'm grateful" --it's different than grateful for being arrested. I've heard people tell that story before. I've never heard them call out the person who did the arresting. But there must have been some sense of compassion, some sense of this is about...It's about this person and their life and their story. There must there must have been something there in that.  

Kevin: I hope you're right.  

Keith: I don't know if I'm reading too much in between the lines but that sense of knowing that it's not just about you is actually a very elevated way to construct meaning around leadership. And in the most transactional way in that relationship with that man, your father was the leader, right? I mean, he had his job to do, he was in charge, it was going down the way he wanted it to go down, and he chose a way that, again, I don't want to read too much into that story, but there had to have been something about him.  

Kevin: Well, you know, it's kind of funny because one of the things that has been on a little bit of a parallel track and it is almost, you know, kind of silly but I'll tell this story too. You know, when I see my parents' old friends, which is pretty rare, they will always say, "Oh, my God, you look just like your dad," and it used to really make me angry because my dad's a lot shorter than I was. I feel like I'm in better shape than he was, all those things like, you don't want to be just like your dad, right? And what's changed in me recently is I accept it as a huge compliment, not just because of what I think you're seeing, but also what it is is they see him in me.  

Keith: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and that--    

Kevin: Could there be a better compliment, you know?  

Keith: Right. Right, no, there can't be.  

Kevin: It's not just the gray hair and the double chin and all the other things that come along with looking like him, I suppose, you know?  

Keith: So as you think about all of these past experiences that have that have shaped you, right? And if we went back and talked about story after story, some of them big, some of them small, I would propose that there was an element of challenge in almost every one of those stories, right? You and I have talked about this plenty but what happens is the first time we need to lay someone off, the first time we experience something, a lot of times our existing lens, the way we see the world, the way we're making sense of things, is challenged by a new circumstance, by the loss of somebody, by the loss of something, by a change in position, and that lens no longer makes perfect sense. And that's an opportunity for growth, right? And so when we go back and have people tell stories of, we don't even have to use the word "challenge", we can just say "key" or "landmark" times in your past and people wind up recalling times of challenge. Nobody talks about the time that they were laying on the beach for an entire spring break in 1980-whatever or 1990-whatever and all they did was they read this great book! Nope, that doesn't come up on anybody's key events lifeline, right? It's always the hard stuff that comes--if you got arrested on spring break in 1980--whatever. Yeah. Then it comes--  

Kevin: Is there something you want to reveal to the audience? You keep up bringing this spring break thing.  

Keith: I've never been arrested on spring break, so.  

Kevin: But yeah, you're right. I mean, it's the truest thing in the world, right? And again, something we've talked about, which is if you have a room of 100 people and you asked them what the most important or significant thing they've ever done, 99 of them will recount something very, very difficult. And, you know, it plays out in so many ways in the real world of life and in the workplace because you're not human if you're not looking to avoid difficult moments like that. It’s kind of like we talked about the layoff thing. You know, no one wakes up wanting to do that and then is struggling through it. And you talk about "lens", you use that word when you can shift it and say, "It's really about these people that this is happening to," Or that I, as a leader, have to deliver this message to, that changes everything. That changes how you think about it, changes your approach. And there are so many things like that, right? I mean, as you're pointing out, it's  those hard, what seem like impossible, moments that change you.  

Keith: Yeah. Hey, let me shift gears for us a little. When you think about--I mean, we just put a wrap on 2020. It's January 25th when we're recording this and the New Year has started, I think people are hopeful for some change. But when you think about everything that's going on in your world right now, what do you see as the thing you're bumping up against today? What's the biggest challenge? What do you imagine, if you look back 10 years from now, you will say are the landmark key events about this time period?  

Kevin: Yeah. So let me, you know, I'll kind of go really big picture and then try to bring it, you know, more narrowly focused to my situation but I just think we're living through a time in the country where the media, you know, obviously the work I do, is extremely challenged for all kinds of reasons, much of it having to do with credibility and presence and all those things where we're trying to earn the right and earn the trust of people to believe in what we're doing, right? And I think you have to do that every minute of every day and there are a lot of forces working against you. You have to have the courage of your convictions and the confidence and in what you're trying to report and try to--the information you're trying to bring to people. You know, we don't want to lose track of each other because all you really have in this world I work in is the people who do the work, you know, and it's their commitment to it and their sense that they are just so dedicated. This readership of ours. Our public, the city, the state has to be informed about what's going on. We just every day we want to make sure they know and if that makes the mayor angry or the governor angry, OK, but if people don't know what's going on, they can't live effective lives. They can't be safe. They can't be well informed. They can't make good decisions. And that's what we're trying to do, and it's been challenging and I've been amazed by people's commitment and some of the work that that we've accomplished and it hasn't slowed down, you know, there's no end in sight. So people are pretty tired out.  

Keith: Well, earlier, you know, a few minutes ago, you used the word "the courage of your convictions" and the intentionality with which you lead, the intentionality with which you think through things, has always impressed me in all of our conversations. But when you have to bump up against--when the courage of your convictions are in some ways going against the grain, or what you perceive to be is going against the grain--what's the thing in you at this stage in your life that you're bumping up against? We use the term "worry, fear, or resistance" a lot in the work that we do. That we need to identify that thing that we're trying to keep from happening in order to realize this new way of understanding, this new us, this continually growing person. Is it easy for you to know what you're bumping up against or what you need to bump up against to keep growing at this stage?  

Kevin: Yeah, I don't know. I think it's never easy. I guess I lack a certain self-awareness because I never seem to see things clearly until I have a little distance. I wish I were smarter and more perceptive than that. But what I feel when you were talking about that, what was coming to mind is—so I live in this world of newspapering, right? Where we know that what a newspaper does, for all of its flaws, is crucially important. We hold people accountable. We inform the public. We do these things, but our financial model is broken. And we've seen newspapers around the country go under, and we've seen all of that. What I've got to do is keep making what we do valuable as the leader and depending on the people who work for me to the people of Atlanta, Georgia, until we get to some place where it's a purely digital play or where there is a new economic model, because if we give up, if we slip, if we don't let that happen, it will be a great loss to the community. What I want people to feel about us is the way they feel about a lot of other institutions, like a university or a children's hospital or an art museum, where it's like this is part of the fabric. We need this thing to be who we are as a community. And even though we make people angry and there's a lot of divisiveness, there are still also a lot of support for what we do, a lot of "attaboys", especially during this this period and that's what I want people--that gets me up every day, man.  

Keith: You know, Kevin, if I were living under that pressure, I think I could make a pretty immediate, long list of worry, fear and resistance.  

Kevin: Well, you know, if I wasn't spending all night trying to sleep, I would be maybe making that list, you know?  

Keith: Yeah. Oh, my gosh, I love that.  

Kevin: It's hard because during the pandemic in Georgia, one of the things we have done has been very demanding of the governor in our reporting, right? And when the governor calls a press conference to literally criticize the work of the newspaper, of people who work for you, you know? I mean, like, the guy--the folks writing those stories are at the very press conference he has called to talk about how terrible their stories are, right, I mean, that's a demanding thing and people need to feel from me and from a lot of other places that someone's behind him. That, "OK, we'll let the governor do that and we'll be back at work again tomorrow."  

Keith: Yeah. Yeah. Hey, just because of time--  

Kevin: I know, I'm carrying on here, I'm sorry--  

Keith: No, gosh, it's so good. People who may be in their late 20s, into their 30s, about to walk the journey that you have already walked, what advice do you have? What do you think are some of the key pieces for folks who want to keep growing, want to have influence, want to make a difference in the ways that they do? Looking back now, what would you say to them?  

Kevin: Wow, there's so many things. The first would be patience, you know, I think that we're all especially when we're young, we're impatient. We some--we were measuring ourselves against the progress other people are making or the what someone said in the alumni newsletter about a friend or a colleague, you know, that can be a trap. I say this to people all the time: you are most likely to hear the things that you most need to hear from a person you would least like to hear it from. And I think about that all the time now, like bosses I didn't like and people like that and even though I believe I'm very different from some of those bosses, I still heard things from them that have stuck with me and needed to stick with me. You know, I think young leaders-- I have this conversation when I do some of the workshops and stuff I've been asked to do at the newspaper, for Cox-- by the time you get to your first leadership job, the first front line manager job, you have reached the point of almost zero good feedback from anyone, and here's what I mean. I'll do this little exercise where I'll take two people in a group, when we're having this conversation who I know know each other. And I'll say, "Hey, Keith. Tell Kevin just one thing, one really simple thing—I know you guys are friends—that he could do that would be that would be better than what he's doing now or would improve. It could be anything personal and professional, the way he dresses, anything," and people cannot do it. And then I always say, you see what I mean, like, this is a safe environment, you guys are friends, it's a simple thing and you can't quite--because it's just so hard to tell someone something you know they don't want to hear like, "Hey, Kevin, really get a better haircut.” I point that out because if you have someone and I don't care who it is--could be your spouse, could be a brother, could be a co-worker, could be, you know, your priest, it could be anybody who is willing to come to you and say, "You're screwing this up" or "You're not doing a good job." You know what the first words out of your mouth have got to be? "Thank you. Thank you." Especially if that person is a subordinate because the first time a leader reacts poorly, the signal's there: "Don't tell him anything he doesn’t want to hear" I mean, we know that guy, right? We all know that person. And it is so hard in that moment because, you know, back to your point about facing difficulty or challenge, who the heck wants to hear anything bad about themselves? I mean, you're not human, anyone who says, "Oh, I like good, strong feedback about how I can improve--" that's B.S! No one likes that unless they're not human. But if you can weather the storm and in that moment where you feel like, "I'm going to argue--" like you kind of come out of your chair a little bit, you're going to you're going to argue with this person because they're not seeing it the way they should but instead, if you can stop yourself and say, "Keith, thank you. Thank you, man. I'm sure it was hard for you to come in here and say that. Let's talk a little bit more," or "Give me some time to think about it and I'm going to come back. If you have a bad temper like me, a little trouble controlling your anger when someone told--those three things, if you can find some, will actually tell you stuff you want to hear that's like, so precious. You know, it's unbelievably precious.  

Keith: Brilliant. And you're on the same page, I don't think I can quote it directly, but Emerson said something along the lines, "Have you only learned great lessons from those who have loved you, been tender with you and stood aside for you? Have you not also learned great lessons from those who have disputed passage with you?" And that's the idea, right? As hard as it is in the moment to say "thank you", to realize that even if they're wrong, they're giving you something in the courage of deciding they are going to say something to you. You know what? Thank you for sharing part of your life with this audience. It's so much fun for us to get to just interview and hear stories from people who have accomplished a lot. I know you'd be the first person to say this--but people who've accomplished a lot are normal people who have challenges, who have struggles, who sometimes don't know what to do, but it's in the battling through that it refines what they bring to the table.  

Kevin: Yeah and what's important for me and especially for people who are listening, obviously people in Atlanta, I hope they read and subscribe to the newspaper and continue to support us because we need you, of course, and we'd like you to do that. But also, it's important for people to know these folks who work in the media and just take me as an example in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, we're regular people, we're normal. We have these opportunities, these struggles, these life journeys. We're your neighbors. We're your friends. We may be the people you go to church with, your kids go to school with, and it's these things that the media can be demonized or talked about in the abstract, but it's real people doing real work out there, doing their best, trying to make sure that the people to whom, you know, they are important or who to whom they give time are well-informed. I hope we're doing the best possible job that we can, and I just want people to know I am very committed to it and hope that they sense that.  

Keith: I have to tell you, the paper under your leadership, not to diminish anything in the past, I've just so appreciated the approach that you guys have taken. I know "credible, compelling, and complete" is kind of the tagline that I get to hear all the time but it's so true and I appreciate that. I'm assuming that's one of the main things you're most excited about in your life. And I do, I would encourage people. It's my online daily read newspaper, catch up, what's going on in our community and I'm assuming they just go to That's where I go, right?  

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And obviously they can still get the paper delivered at home. They can get the PDF replica version of the paper online or to their iPad or another device. But yeah, we'd like people to subscribe, whether they do it digitally or in print, because that's crucial to supporting us.  

Keith: Anything else? How can people how can people find you? You're on Twitter. Do you have lots of social media handles that I'm not very familiar with?  
Kevin: I'm "AJC Editor" both on Facebook and on Twitter. You can kind find me there. I try to stay pretty active.  I don't like to invite too much of the craziness on social media and I encourage people to, if they have a choice, go to our site or read the paper because if you're getting your news only through your social media feed, you're really not treating yourself well. You need to have some good news sources that you go to make sure you're well-informed.  

Keith: So good, Kevin, thank you so much. Thank you for your time. Thank you for carving a window out for us and for this audience to get to just hear. So appreciate it.  

Kevin: Yeah, it was fun. Thanks for having me.  

Keith: Absolutely. Well, we will look forward to seeing you soon and folks, I'm serious. If you--even if you're not in the Atlanta area, the Atlanta Journal Constitution is kind of my go to source. It's one of my favorite reads and I just--it feels so balanced. It feels right. So I appreciate the work you do, the leadership for our city. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Folks, I hope you enjoyed this. I did.