When Katharine Graham became president of the Washington Post in 1963, she was terrified. She assumed the position after her late husband killed himself, and most people thought she would sell the paper. She had never run a newspaper and she was competing in a male-dominated industry. But she didn’t sell.
Her biggest challenge came with the Watergate scandal in 1972 and 1973. Bob Woodword and Carl Bernstein, now-famous writers for the Washington Post, persisted with the Watergate story after others stopped, and Katharine Graham made the courageous decision to publish their work. She felt that a free press was at the core of our democracy.
The Nixon administration fought back and along the way challenged ownership rights of several of the company’s profitable TV stations. The legal battles were costly. This intense pressure exacerbated an already shaky financial position for the paper, and its stock price fell from thirty-eight to sixteen dollars per share.
While many leaders would have caved in to the pressure, Graham did not. She remained committed to her core beliefs. Not only did she help make journalistic history with her courage, but that move combined with other decisions from 1963 – 1991 improved the paper’s revenues from $84 million to $1.4 billion. Not bad for a widow who had never run a newspaper.
What are your core leadership beliefs? How do you navigate through difficult decisions?
Without question, leadership requires courage. And courage helps us remain committed to our core values and to have the patience to persist especially when situations are difficult.