On Aug. 6, 2021, I woke up at 5 a.m. and drove to Philadelphia from my hometown of Bowie, Maryland, excited yet nervous for my first staff orientation as editor-in-chief of The Temple News. Although it was conducted entirely on Zoom, I traveled to the city hoping to get a sense of what it’d be like to run the paper in person after operating virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I started our call shortly after 9 a.m. and welcomed everyone to the staff, but my internet connection was interrupted nearly halfway into my opening presentation, and my call froze. I raced to restart the meeting and told everyone I had technical difficulties, but I was upset that everything hadn’t gone as I intended
I was put in charge of leading people throughout my life, and I’ve always had expectations for how things would go. Every move had to be perfectly choreographed and any deviations from the original plans were undesirable.
Although leadership was something I was familiar with when I joined The Temple News, I thought leaders needed to be perfect, and admitting mistakes was a sign of weakness. Those expectations were drastically shaken during my time leading the paper and helped me realize successful leadership comes from realizing one’s limitations rather than seeking to always make all the right moves.
My initial path to being a leader wasn’t necessarily a choice. I am the oldest of four siblings and my parents often relied on me to look after my younger brothers at night due to their busy work schedules. When I was nine, I’d prepare dinner for them and ensure they’d completed their homework before tucking them away for bed.
I took pride in being a reliable resource for my parents in helping them make decisions as they navigated life as immigrants in the United States. They always sought my input in planning vacations and were frank with me about the state of their finances.
The values they instilled in me also led me to take leadership roles in other groups at my church and in youth sports; I felt comfortable guiding people and assuming responsibility when things didn’t go as planned. I enjoyed shaping my vision for a group and loved working with other people to help my goals become a reality.
However, The Temple News was an entirely different experience. During my first few weeks of running the paper, I was routinely confronted with situations where I questioned whether or not I was fit to be a leader.
People occasionally missed deadlines or some staff members made mistakes that led me to question whether or not I adequately prepared them for their roles. Those feelings were amplified when I’d disagree with members of my senior staff and felt compromising meant I was somehow getting a watered-down version of my goals.
I believed any staff-wide shortcomings were a reflection of who I was as a person to the point where I forgot to use those experiences as an opportunity to learn lessons about journalism or how to lead a team.
Despite the growing pains I encountered during the first few weeks of the job, I learned to enjoy seeing people take constructive criticism and rely on me for guidance. Our former Opinion Editor Julia Merola repeatedly accepted my feedback on ways to improve, and I was inspired by how committed she was to getting better despite how direct I could be at times.
It was refreshing to know my staff was learning alongside me, and producing content was an educational experience for everyone involved.
As I reflect on my two years as editor-in-chief and new additions to our workflow, like podcasts, newsletters and social media engagement, I take pride in the fact I cultivated an environment where staff felt I was accessible and relatable. It brings me great joy when people listen intently to my feedback and are comfortable acknowledging what I can do better.
Whether it’s pursuing a leadership position in a media organization or in government, my leadership at The Temple News helped me develop personally and professionally, and laid a foundation for how I plan to continue growing after I walk across the stage on graduation day.