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Editorial: Training season

by Michael McCoy
October 30, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 36


Summer is well past, and fall is here in the US. For employees of large organizations, that means training season. Our companies rightfully want us to grow in our jobs and become better managers or scientists or salespeople, so they arrange training opportunities for us.

I’m trying to be positive about this fall’s training, I really am, but it can be hard.

Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder because I am not a trained journalist. C&EN has great reporters and editors who went to journalism school and great reporters and editors who didn’t. Yes, the learning curve was steep at first, but I became a journalist on the job. Likewise, I can’t help thinking I can be a leader and manager by figuring it out as I go.

In recent weeks, I participated in training on three organizational levels at the American Chemical Society: training for ACS leaders, training for managers in the society’s Publications Division, and training for the staff of C&EN. C&EN is published by ACS.

The ACS-level training took place in a nice hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The keynote address was by Hamza Khan, an author and speaker who wrote a book called Leadership, Reinvented. And that’s what he spoke about—reinventing leadership and leading people rather than managing them.

The talk was pretty inspiring at the time, but to be honest, the takeaways are a little hazy now. ACS is helpfully sending a copy of the book to those of us who requested it; I hope it reinspires when it’s on my nightstand.

Next up was a series of Zoom meetings for Publications Division managers that focused on emphasizing our strengths rather than our weaknesses. Before the sessions, we all took the CliftonStrengths assessment, which fired a barrage of questions and then delivered our 34 strengths, in order. My top 5 are harmony, context, consistency, restorative, and adaptability.

It was cool to see how the seemingly random questions yielded these terms, which actually describe me pretty well. The assessment also used my particular results to put me in one of four broader domains of strength. Mine is executing; the other domains are strategic thinking, influencing, and relationship building. The challenge for me now, 2 weeks and many distractions later, is to put this self-knowledge into practice. I’m working on it.

I’m writing this editorial on Oct. 20 on the Amtrak ride home after the third of my training events, C&EN’s annual staff meeting in Washington, DC. It was my favorite of the three, both because it focused on journalism and because it was an opportunity to break bread with C&EN staffers from across the country and Europe. We’ve had a tough year. It was cathartic to come together.

I said goodbye to my colleagues only hours ago, and the takeaways are still fresh. The first day’s main event was a brainstorming session with Butch Ward, a former newspaper reporter and editor. Over 4 h, Ward led us through an exercise that reminded us of our strengths and why we are proud to work at C&EN. We then worked in groups to identify ways that we, as individuals, could help fix the very real problems in our newsroom.

The next day we heard from a project manager at JournalismAI, a Google-backed organization that trains newsrooms to use artificial intelligence as a tool for news gathering, production, and distribution. And a social media expert talked to us about the best channels to use now that X, formerly known as Twitter, is in such flux. (Answer: There’s no good answer!)

It all seems clear now. But I’m flying to Las Vegas for a wedding tomorrow, and then I will be catching up feverishly when I return to the office on Wednesday. I hope this latest round of training still resonates then.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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